American artist Jay Mark Johnson produces photographic images that challenge the norms of perception. Throughout his career, in work spanning the disciplines of drawing and painting, filmmaking, performance, architecture, and photography, he has made visible the intersection of human nature and society.

Johnson studied architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans and the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City. Through the early 1980s, his associations with architects Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas, Aldo Rossi and Lebbeus Woods enabled him to explore questions of representation and time in both built and conceptual architecture. During this period the Museum of Modern Art, NYC acquired his model reconstruction of Ivan Leonidov’s 1927 Dom Narkomjaztpromp.  He was also commissioned by the Smithsonian Institute to  reconstruct Buckminster Fuller’s 1927 Dymaxion House.  Later, that piece was also acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, NYC.

For the remainder of the ‘80s, Johnson was engaged in performance art, collaborating with Robbie McCauley, Lindzee Smith, V-Effect and others on performances at Theater for a New City, Laight Again Club, Pyramid Club, Henry Street Settlement, and The Kitchen, in New York; and at Seward Hall UCLA, and L.A.C.E., in Los Angeles. He collaborated, as well, with visual artists  including Kiki Smith, Nan Goldin and Jimmie Durham.

It was during this period that Johnson began his ongoing political activism, co-founding an alternative television collective, reporting and writing for the Pacifica Network (broadcast radio), and producing graphic work, including the “Postcard Action” series, which is in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution and the Art Institute of Chicago.

In the late 1980s, Johnson moved to Central America where he co-founded two more television collectives in Mexico and El Salvador, at the height of political unrest in those countries.  He wrote, directed and produced television  campaigns for the political organization, the FMLN, progressively mastering digital video technology. 

At the end of 1991, Johnson returned to Los Angeles, where he is now a cinema director with broad experience in visual effects production, having supervised, directed or otherwise contributed to the computer generated imagery for nearly a dozen major studio films and television series, including The Matrix, Titanic, Moulin Rouge, Tank Girl, Outbreak, White Oleander, and music videos for Michael Jackson, Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others.

Having discovered the many ways that a limited understanding of human nature can hinder the advancement of progressive causes, he devoted two years to graduate study in Linguistic Anthropology and Biological Anthropology at UCLA.  Additional years of study focused on reading in the cognitive sciences.

His current SPACETIME photographic series began with rudimentary experiments in 2005.  Over the course of this project he increasingly applies the full range of his experiences, from visual arts and cinema to studies in the anthropological and cognitive sciences.  Work from this period is in the permanent collections of the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation and the Langen Foundation, Hombroich, Germany and Peter Klein, Museum Kunstwerk, Eberdingen, Germany.

The artist was born in 1955 in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA. Since 1996 Johnson has resided intermittently in Europe, in Paris, Antwerp, Rome and rural Italy.  He currently lives and works in Venice, California. 

General Biography

1997 - 1998    Linguistic Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, UCLA Los Angeles, California
1978 - 1980    Institute For Architecture And Urban Studies, New York City, New York
1973 - 1979    Master of Architecture, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
1955               Born in St. Petersburg, Florida

In order to understand the large-format photographs of American artist Jay Mark Johnson (*1955) it is crucial to grasp their underlying paradox: while the images are created purely photographically, without digital manipulation or staging of a scene, and therefore depict actual events, they still create a perfectly illusory pictorial world. Johnson employs a modified camera which over a set period of time keeps recording the same narrow vertical strip in front of the camera lens and combines the successive photographs into an uninterrupted image that flows evenly from left to right. The vertical axis thus retains its spatial dimension, but the horizontal axis is dedicated to a depiction of the passage of time: "x = time." Immobile elements appear as a homogenous background of horizontal lines, only elements (figures, vehicles, etc.) that move through the recording plane assume a life of their own.

Johnson's hybrid combination of spatial and temporal dimensions links back to art historical precursors, above all the chronophotographic studies of movement of the late 19th century (Eadweard Muybridge, Étienne Jules Marey, Albert Londe et al.), as well as Italian Futurism (alluded to in the title with its mention of anarchism and automobiles). But Johnson both visually and methodologically goes beyond a purely technical experimentation by consciously exploiting the permutations and shifts effected by his recording process to examine, on a level of content, the nature and limits of our modes of perception. While his earlier works depicted dancers as amorphous shapes whose complex movement patterns were recorded in a kind of "action painting," his newer photographs play with the illusions brought about by a visual approximation of his time-images to conventional spatial images, while purposefully retaining a remnant of their comical distortions. A remarkable effect of the recording process that combines the image from successive individual photographs is the fact that the figures in the image always move in the same direction. This is the result of the camera writing the image in one direction. The camera thus effectively imposes an order and homogeneity onto the depicted reality that was never there in the first place.