Daily Art Moment: George Johanson

City with Small Skull, George Johanson, 20 x 27 15/16 inches, etching and relief on paper. A horizontal, rectangular, black, white and gray work of a dramatic landscape showing a swirling sky over a cityscape with large trees in the foreground. The etching is divided into three sections by two narrow vertical strips of solid black. Another narrow band runs across the top of the work and a wider band of black runs along the bottom. This suggests the viewer is looking out at the scene through a window. A large silhouetted fir tree almost fills the window section at left with smaller, irregularly shaped fir trees featuring in the lower portion of the other two sections. The turbulent sky fills the upper two thirds of the work. Shades of gray and black represent swirling clouds and night sky. Nestled between the sky and the trees in the foreground is a view of city rooftops, a bridge and a distant Mount St. Helens. At center diagonal etched lines rise from a spot beyond the bridge and appear to drift off to the right. A coyote skull sits at bottom left as if on the ledge of the windowsill.

“For the last week, thick yellow smoke from wildfires across the West Coast has choked the Portland skies. I am reminded of George Johanson’s evocative print City with Small Skull in which the swirling clouds suggest an unnamed menace. The ghostly silhouettes of fir trees sway in the night, bent by the strong wind that propels the clouds. At the center of the composition, just beyond the Fremont Bridge, etched lines represent an explosion, or, perhaps, a burgeoning fire. A coyote skull at the lower-left serves as a memento mori. Although created almost forty years ago, Johanson’s print speaks to this moment as we weather the fierce fires and winds that endanger human, animal, and plant life across our state. We evacuate or remain sealed behind windows watching, waiting, and hoping for the best. Our thoughts are will all those displaced and affected by wildfire.”

Mary Weaver Chapin, Curator of Prints and Drawings

George Johanson (American, born 1928). City with Small Skull, 1981. Etching and relief on paper. Gift of the Artist, 90.29.10 © George Johanson

Related Content