Some call him the Frank Zappa of the visual arts world.
Like the late composer/guitarist/alt-rock pioneer, Byron Johnston has made visual and aural sound-scapes that appeal to all the senses.
Johnston’s unique sculptural installations have been seen, heard, and felt in galleries all over the Okanagan and internationally, and his choice of materials is often from sources that people wouldn’t associate with the making of art, said Julie Oakes, co-owner/artist of Vernon’s Headbones Gallery, which is about to open Johnston’s exhibition, It Begins with a Zee, at its space on Old Kamloops Road.
“Johnston has more in common with The Mothers of Invention than his California leanings,” said Oakes, referring to Zappa’s former band as well as where Johnston went to study art.
“Just as Frank Zappa took the definition of music to a new level and turned the ideas of what constituted music topsy-turvy, so Johnston turns around our idea of what makes up visual art.
“Zappa’s musical creations rose above the pop song and ended up being praised by serious music critics throughout the world. Johnston as well –– without forfeiting invention, curiosity or plain, old fun –– pulls up what could be termed ordinary, daily materials into the realm of fine arts with such assurance that the acceptance of his unique and inventive art is impossible to contest. Yet above and beyond the marvel of his daring, he keeps a firm hold on the object as high art.”
Headbones first hosted an exhibition by Johnston in 1995, back when the gallery was situated at the corner of 30th Avenue and 30th Street in downtown Vernon.
The show was a duel exhibition, with artist Richard Suarez, entitled Windows and Passages.
“Johnston installed a number of metal cased windows on the walls of the gallery with different coloured blinds in them,” remembers Oakes. “They could be opened and closed, raised and lowered to create a different framed picture upon the wall. Many of Johnston’s works have this aspect of participation built into them.”
At the Vernon Public Art Gallery last year, Johnston created an installation that involved walking through a defined space.
“During the walk, the space was changed physically because the floor covering was trampled to pieces. The space also changed temporarily as the musical instrument at the heart of the installation could be played so that sound offset the impression,” said Oakes.
Johnston, who received his master’s of fine art at the University of California, has been a professor of sculpture in the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s creative studies department for many years.
He has inspired many students –– not only through his own work, but also within his teaching practice –– who have gone on to create works that expand our concept of fine arts, said Oakes.
For the Headbones exhibition, Johnston will be mounting pieces that include such diverse elements as an antique canoe, a chair and green apples. There will also be sound elements, movable parts, and a large outdoor piece, said Oakes.
The gallery is also officially launching its new sculpture garden, an on-going installation of sculptural works by the likes of Doug Alcock, Carolina Sanchez de Bustamente, Sandra DeVries, Jock Hildebrand, Angelika Jaeger, Byron Johnston, Reg Kienast, Geert Maas, David Montpetite, Julie Oakes, Bruce Taji, and Deborah Wilson.
An opening reception for It Begins with a Zee, with Johnston in attendance, and the sculpture garden takes place on Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. Headbones is located at 6700 Old Kamloops Rd.