Critic’s Choice: Wonder and despair, frame by frame: The stirring animations of Ezra Johnson


If watching paint dry is the epitome of tedium, watching paint remain wet turns out to be the opposite — magnetically compelling — in Ezra Johnson’s stop-motion animations.

In Johnson’s work, painting happens and keeps happening. Each iteration of a work on canvas becomes a filmed frame, one link on a chain or — more true to their forward-thrusting energy — one car on a long train, continuously snaking forward. Johnson’s works are driven by the momentum of their own ceaseless making.

At Young Projects, one three-channel and more than a dozen single-channel pieces are packed into what amounts to a mini-survey of the Brooklyn-based artist’s animations from the last 10 years. Not every work penetrates deeply, but Johnson’s shaggy, restless style consistently holds the eye and snags the soul too, with its alternating emotional current of melancholy and wonder, tenderness and despair.


“Leaves” (2010) reads like a plein-air sketch, a 30-second loop of fall foliage fluttering downward like so many fiery eyes. In the more piercing “Angry Sea” (2016), block-letter curse words churn up like flotsam from roiling patchwork waves, to the disturbing, disjunctive accompaniment of a laugh track.

A dark humor threads through some of the pieces. Others are more pensive. In “What Birds Remember” (2007), Johnson composes an affecting fugue of observations on urban life, the tainted pastoral, spectatorship and surveillance. Gorgeous, stirring passages occur throughout these works of optical alchemy, in which matter becomes motion becomes life.

Young Projects, Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave. #B230, West Hollywood, (323) 377-1102, through June 3. Open Tuesday through Friday, and by appointment Monday and Saturday.

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