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Time Past Time Present

Pamela Buxton

Ben Johnson has been painting architecture for more than 30 years. His distinctive photo-realism, the result of months of painstakingly meticulous labour, is arresting in its detail and accomplishment.

His paintings generally depict still, contemplative spaces, often shown with perfect symmetry and perspective. While much of his work has shown pristine twentieth century architecture, his latest exhibition Past Time Present, is presented as tackling the idea of layers of time and the scars they leave on an interior space. 

The Neues Museum in Berlin, following its recent rehabilitation by David Chipperfield and Julian Harrap, would seem to be an idea subject matter for such scrutiny. Curiously however, the rooms that Johnson has chosen to depict bear relatively few signs of the wear and tear that is evident in parts of the museum. In the Fatherland room, for example, all is gleaming floor and immaculate order and above all stillness. In the Roman room, while the scene includes damaged decorative finials, the overall impression is of present order rather than past conflict. The only painting where the idea of past scars comes to the fore is in the Room of the Revolutionary, which powerfully depicts the bullet-scarred aftermath of the murder of its owner. There is no body or blood, but the ruined furniture and broken mirror eloquently conveys the violence.

Whatever their meaning, Ben Johnson’s paintings can always be appreciated for their formidable forensic detail, none more so than in his amazingly intricate depiction of the Mirador at the Alhambra. 

Ben Johnson Time Past Time Present, until June 7, Alan Cristea Gallery, 31 & 34 Cork Street, London