A Whole Lot’ Shakin’

A Whole Lot’a Shakin’: Reconsidering Midcentury
Cholla Needles Press

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The middle of last century, the 1950’s, bore close resemblance to where we find ourselves now.  At a time when cool irony has become displaced by cynicism, situational truths have become a tolerance for lies, and historical construction outright denial, we need more from our art.  Even midcentury angst is back, as is the turning back toward the arts as something more than social critique. Examining the conceptual underpinnings of our current dislocation isn’t enough. We must find ways to to give it voice and find meaning and hope beyond it.  We need to be pointed again beyond.  

This set of 17 paintings and accompanying written reflections reconsiders the modernist effort.

A review:

(Johnson) presents his memory of the time and its art in the only way that makes sense – – fragmented and disjointed, both celebrating and loathing it.  His midcentury is both out-of-control nuclear ambition lighting the night sky and the experimentation of Jackson Pollock.  This is the way we experience the world, in pieces and flashes.  You are holding a truly admirable collage and collection.

John Brantingham

Poet Laureate at Sequoia and 
King’s Canyon National Parks

A Midcentury Riff, 2017 Midcentury Series, #1
Acrylic and canvas (Detail): original 40X30”

A Midcentury Riff

A lot went on in those post-war times. 
Those cats just didn’t have the time
others took for granted so a lot, 
just a whole lot went on.


Just a lot going 
on during those
nuclear times. 

Nobody played ironic or blasé;
nobody felt they had time not to care.

Backyard Bomblast Blues, 2017 Midcentury Series, #2
Acrylic and canvas (Detail): original 40X30”

Backyard Bomblast Blues

the bomb shelter business is booming underground 

sanctuaries concrete blast
door threats of erratic missile
lobbing intransigent clerics
hell-bent on getting nuclear weaponry 

nuclear weaponry 
impending total collapse
of the global financial system 

Atomic Hideouts
hardened exterior
capable of resisting a barrage of automatic weapon fire 

concrete cocoon
can withstand a 10-kiloton
improvised nuclear device. 

so you’re safe
doomsday condos
guaranteed to leave a crater in your bank account 

Moving Past Ego, 2017 Midcentury Series, #3
Acrylic and canvas (Detail): original 40X30”

Moving Past Ego 

I found Pollock
on to something so big it just absorbed him
expression, abstraction, color
careful concern
aesthetic nuance 

material transcending material 

Sitting with gesture 
confronting enormity. 

Another summer
standing next to ocean
and once again called beyond. 

The Bad News of the Good Times, 2017 Midcentury Series, #4
Acrylic and canvas (Detail): original 40X30”

The Bad News of the Good Times 


amoral politics 

distracting threats
governmental surveillance
spectacle trance 

Fall moon above town 
ignoring ten thousand lights 
vast darkness beyond. 

Standing on just one foot means
there is never enough time.

In the News 1955, 2017 Midcentury Series, #1
Acrylic and canvas (Detail): original 40X30”

In the News 1955 

Disney bulldozed a 160 acre orange grove to open Disneyland
Ray Kroc purchased a small menu fast food restaurant in San Bernardino, California 

James Dean drove his new white Porsche 550 Spyder head-on
into a 1950 Ford Tutor driven by Donald Turnupseed on Highway 41 near Cholame, California 

14 year old Emmett Till kidnapped, beaten, tortured and lynched 
by a white mob in Money, Mississippi. 

Wind shifts toward south
barometers dropping, I
turn off T.V. as
storm clouds darken horizon; 
a good night to stay inside. 

Changing Drivers, 2017 Midcentury Series, #1
Acrylic and canvas (Detail): original 40X30”

Changing Drivers 

approaching midnight
we drive east over the lonely Mojave
headlights burn pale tunnels into emptiness 

somewhere past Barstow on I-40
we change drivers
stepped out of car into indigo 

Desert night heat close
red moon rising over ridge
coyote aria. 

Shadowed volcanic hill haze 
silver lost light luminance.