Hobson’s Choice – Madge Gill & Paul Johnson at the Nunnery Gallery

14 December 2012 By
Paul Johnson, PKBJ, sculpture, paper, 2012. Courtesy the Nunnery Gallery (photo: Hailey Ford)

16 November – 31 January 2013 (Closed 24 December – 4 January)

181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ

Open Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 17.00


Paul Johnson is a British artist based in London, represented by Ancient & Modern.  He is currently showing a very nice body of works at the Nunnery Gallery, Bow Arts Trust which he has also co-curated in response to materials held in the London Borough of Newham’s Heritage and Archive Service by the so called ‘outsider artist’, Madge Gill (1882 – 1961).  Johnson’s practice is overtly laborious, devotional even – a type of obsessive, entirely self-absorbing retreat from the world befitting Gill’s mania.  He creates images of people by collaging together tiny pieces of paper, coloured by hand and fitted together in intricate patterns like mosaics, impressionistic in feel like early Modern painting.  Each element is hand-cut, hand-coloured and then interlocked back into itself with the resultant image appearing to have been excavated like a Roman floor in an archaeological dig.  The procedural and schematic mode of making gives the surface of his works a ‘painting by numbers’ feel which, combined with the evident labour involved, signals an obsessive hobbyist, again akin to the spirit of ‘outsider art’.  His approach endows the image with a fleeting instability: a subject is in the state of being revealed, not quite present, like the shifting encounter of a personality trait.  The exhibition begins with a photocopy of Madge Gill as a young woman – not at all what we might expect: a rather attractive, respectable-looking lady who fixes us with a benign, knowing look.  A mask-like deep red papier-mâché sculpture with a strand of hair fabricated within it follows, alluding to the masks we all wear to conceal and convey as we negotiate our relationships with the world, and is easily read as Gill’s observing presence as we enter the show.  On the walls in the main gallery space there are two collages and an abstract work in a Perspex case on a plinth with a postcard by Gill leaning against it, and a round work higher up, like a planet (Europa), in relationship to the plinth.  A row of delicate and beautiful postcards of abstract shapes in silhouette and studies in texture by Gill is opposite – wonderfully accenting Johnson’s own compositions – in an environmentally controlled display.  This generous show evidences what can evolve from a careful selection of the right artist sensitively responding to another artist with whom they clearly have empathy, creating subtle new readings of both artists’ practice.  Well worth a visit!