Johnathan Daily

Painting is connecting; an illusion would never make a good painting. An illusion implies something that is pretending to be something else, which means that there are two things. But there should only be one thing, one painting. In a good painting there is no artist or viewer or painting, there is just a moment of connection – a painted bridge between two people. What makes a painting a real painting is that you forget you’re on the bridge. The view is overwhelming, and in the moment of connection you don’t care about anything else.

A good painting doesn’t capture a moment in time; a good painting is a timeless moment. Paintings aren’t complete without you standing in front of them – you make them real. When they become real, you and I disappear; the painting mixes up our identities, time becomes circular, and we forget that our minds ever had borders.

My paintings can be demanding at times. I reward patience, though. You and I have a complex relationship, which is why I let things happen slowly. Secretive things crawl in the shadows of my work, and I’m hard on you because I know that once you find your way into them, you may decide that you never want to leave! (Even when it’s scary.) 

It’s hard to know how to look at my paintings. I don’t even know if that’s a good idea. It’s certainly a mistake to try to talk to them. Listening is the only way to talk to a painting, or rather, if I do a good job, you’ll lose your tongue. Empty your eyes and mouth.

Painting is an enormous responsibility and it costs you so much of your life. You don’t paint with your brush, you paint with your mind. Paintings are just the accidents left behind. But I am the painter, and only I can paint my paintings, so that is what I do. They can’t arrive without me, no one else can do this for me. But I need you to finish them.

So let go of everything you’ve ever known, thought, heard, felt, or experienced. Enter a painting. Lose who you are and where you’re going, in the middle of a glorious accident.

Navigating the Work
I switch up my styles and techniques continually. If your goal is to take painting to a new level, you’ve got a lot to master. I’m not even sure if I’m really a painter at all yet. But I take on different aspects of painting from one series to the next, and from one painting to the next. I’m restless, uninterested in what I know I can do. It’s an incredibly rewarding journey, I have to say – I’m continually finding completely new ways to see and think about things, and the further I travel the more intuitive and natural painting becomes. I’m now at the point where I can really feel the paint starting to make its own decisions.

There are always a few odd ducks waddling about, but generally my works tend to fall into series where I take the time to explore something that I’m curious about. In a moment I’ll offer you a few thoughts about the more prominent series. 

There are a few things that have tended to be more or less constant. Some intentional, but other things have been unexpected and revealed themselves over time. I like atmosphere, and dreamy spaces. Although I often make efforts to resist it, I’m naturally drawn to flowing lines. It’s important to me to break the plane, so that the painting becomes a seemingly three-dimensional space, however once it’s been broken I don’t necessarily feel compulsion to deepen the space further. I often do, but I let the painting decide. I think about color in a very technical way: they’re just points in a conceptual orb, and there are no beautiful or ugly colors. I love layers and complexity.

Early on I worked a great deal testing various forms of abstraction, and my work was based on visual observation. I moved into working with systems, layers, and complexity in general. Later on I moved more towards surrealism, and I suppose that’s what I’m doing now, actually. My current work might not seem familiar as surrealism because it’s cloaked in my own version of abstract expressionism, but I’ve been trying to maintain a very random approach to my imagery, allowing it take whatever direction it wants. I don’t care so much what the motif is, only about the authenticity of the communication. At the same time, I’m also making a few statements reflecting opinions of mine. (But most of those thoughts get funnelled into Trash Is Free, the conceptually loaded drawing project that I write together with the artist – and my close friend – Maciej Kalymon.)

Early Work. We’ve got a few drawings in classical themes – still lifes, environments, and figurative work – often executed in an unforgiving ink technique in which I practiced two-dimensional distortion. I became too good at this technique and it got boring. Also, this was before you could smear images around in a computer, so it doesn’t have quite the same impact now as it did back then, I believe. I really enjoyed printmaking in school, particularly intaglio, and there may be a print or two lying around.  I brought these works with me when I immigrated to Sweden in 2000, which is why there are no paintings or large works. (There may be a large work rolled up somewhere in Malmö, I’m not sure.)

Complexity. Ironically, it was Jean Dubuffet who led me here. After taking time to consider my natural creative impulses, I recalled how as a child (even though I had a natural drawing talent that put me heads above my peers) I enjoyed drawing mazes most of all. Enormous, complicated mazes in the shapes of things likes hot dogs or hats. And otherwise I liked to doodle little designs. I immediately I began working with patterns and systems, mucking them up with distortion and disruptive elements, testing tricks and ways of interconnecting them. There is no end to how far this work can advance, but I’ve got it up to a very fulfilling level, where the various layers are all integrated from start to finish, giving the eye an endless world to explore. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to form a career if you can only produce four paintings a year (at best) when painting full-time. (One painting in this series took almost two years to complete. It’s pretty, though!)

Shifted/Blended. I began attending art college full-time when I was still 17, and after switching schools later on I spent altogether four-and- a-half years in art school (with a half-year of Uni in-between). It takes the same amount of time that you attended art school to rid yourself of art school. (I’m not critical, in fact I definitely encourage art school, but this is just a fact about the nature of the process.) As I mentioned previously, I had pushed my distortion technique to the brink. I began allowing the lines to overlap, and wrapping perspectives around the object I was drawing. (A microscope, if you’re wondering. I stole if from my brother, which is good – he would’ve welded into a sculpture by now.) Drawings became paintings, and I finally had something interesting to do. These have actually been my most popular works, even though they probably have the least to say, if you ask me. I incorporated very complicated color blending systems into this series, and yet another painting took almost two years to complete.

Plywoods. I just wanted to have a little fun. I bought a gas-pen and solder-
ing iron and started burning away. I have a weird sense of humor, so I used gold-leaf on these paintings (with the exception of the 12.5 meter long work Trouble, because I made it in a shopping mall during open hours for Örebro OpenArt) and a little red acrylic paint. Otherwise I don’t think I need to tell you much more about them. A lot of blood…


The Infinite Scale of Carnality. Searching for greener pastures, I just started having some fun on the canvas again, and whatever happened happened. I started getting into dark imagery (perhaps because my alcoholism was kicking into full-swing by that point), and eventually this series led to the Corporeal series.

Traces. I gradually began working larger and incorporating line work into otherwise generally more atmospheric paintings. But this was yet another style that you could just keep on doing for the rest of your life, and that just ain’t gonna cut it for me.

Corporeal. A tiny painting wasn’t going so well, and so I painted it black,
and I painted the bumpy remains in the middle white, which I filled into a painting. I had become fascinated by the paintings of Lucas Cranach the Elder by this point, and I intended to produce a series inspired by him at a future date. But due to this unhappy little canvas that needed love, I painted one early. After it sold at Liljevalch’s a number of interested potential customers contacted me, interested in more work, but unfortunately I had none in that style. I did very quickly produce a rather similar work for a collector, and after that abandoned my other paintings and painted this series. These are intended (generally speaking) have a portrait-like sensibility, and are meant to capture physical sensations such as disgust, hunger, lust, phobia, and so forth – mixed together all at once. (Allow me to point out that one challenge in painting these was avoided a sense of direct light in order to emphasize the non-reality of them. And although I was an elite drawer early on, I had also moved almost immediately in abstraction when I started painting, so I had only painted “realistically” on limited occasions prior to executing this series, so it was a good moment for developing untapped potential.)

Black Rainbows. One day I saw a rainbow flag on the side of a building. I thought, “Some gay dude lives there.” Then I thought, hold on a second, why am I looking at a rainbow and thinking about gay dudes? (Here’s a good place for private jokes amongst yourselves…) I recalled why the rainbow was chosen as a symbol for the Pride movement: because everyone is included. All the colors, any color you can imagine, they’re all just aspects of an overall system. Cultures all over the world have and still do use rainbows to symbolize all sorts of things, and I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to give everyone a little reminder about just how wonderful rainbows are, so that they might consider just why they’ve been chosen as a symbol [for that particular subject]?”

Because I love rainbows!!! You get thrown into a Here and Now experience, you have to say fuck off to whatever you’re doing and just gaggle dumbfounded at the glorious little spectacle that Nature just happened to be in the mood for. When I thought about all of the other depictions of rainbows that I’ve seen, I’d say over 97% of them look like shit. After all, who has the time paint every single color possible in one painting? So I choose to re-contextualize them by depicting them at night, so that you might see them as if it were for the first time. (Later I realized that it wasn’t at night at all – it was in my imagination.) I painted them in a bunch of different ways, generally also in water themes, but the idea is just to enjoy the rainbowness of them, really.

Blixtfisket. There were a few transitional works building up to Blixtfisket (“Fishing for Lightning”), often made from the paintings I had abandoned before Corporeal, and the big thing was switching from painting on white to painting on black. Suddenly I had this immediate bond with the insides of our minds. These paintings are dark because you’re inside of my imagination. I’m having a wonderful time working with the paint in a completely new way, and have developed a special brush technique which makes things really exciting. The paint has taken on a life of its own, leaving half-transparent trace marks as if stolen from gestures without me even noticing. I’m trying to leave things as abstract, incongruous, and vapid as they are in my mind, avoiding invented details and only letting images ever half-congeal. These paintings are verbs, not nouns, and are moving more and more towards interesting psychological territory.