Johanna Barthet presents a new body of work, curated by Justine Balzan Demajo, at Studio 87. “Now/you/see/me” is a collection of paintings spanning a timeline of four years—a period marked by personal upheaval for the artist, ultimately influencing her artistic expression and performance.
In 2019, artist Johanna Barthet had her very first solo exhibition. Shortly after that milestone, she began to experience episodes of anxiety and panic attacks. To find solace, Johanna turned to creating a multitude of spontaneous drawings on wooden blocks, all measuring 15 x 15cm. Over the course of several months, she added color to these drawings, giving birth to the artworks displayed in her current exhibition.
These small squares depicted a wide range of personalities and different faces, providing a source of comfort, especially during the COVID lockdown periods when physical separation from others was prevalent. Like many individuals, Johanna also felt the decline in her mental health during this challenging time.Following this surreal period, there was a noticeable lull in Johanna’s artistic output, marked by a period of creative dryness and silence, which mirrored her state of mind. However, as we fast forward to summer 2023, something within her propelled Johanna to rediscover these works, and she expressed a newfound passion and intensity in their execution.
Her artwork, titled “Now/you/see/me,” serves as a testament to her journey through phases of darkness and loneliness, which eventually gave way to a period of self-discovery and healing. These works beckon viewers to engage with them, inviting them to “see me, make of us what you will. Stare at us while we stare back at you. Now, you see me.”
Psychology has often been a strong force finding its way into art, after all art is a personal expression from within. Now/you/see/me is an emotional and psychological journey of self- discovery, embarked on by artist Johanna Barthet. The artist is brave in that she allows us, better yet, invites us, to see her exposed as both an artist and person. What may appear as amusing, appealing and at times playful, is a far deeper confrontation than one may imagine. Johanna’s vulnerability is transmitted through these time capsules, portraits depicting different phases of anxiety, confusion, enlightenment and acceptance. Small in size, yet bursting with emotion and depicting a plethora of moods.
The curatorial display is intentionally dramatic. Johanna’s work echoes French impressionists and expressionists, and with this in mind the intention was to create an atmosphere subtly reflecting a French salon, typical of that era. Salons were a source of inspiration and an integral meeting place, particularly for women, to engage in intellectual conversation and cultural activity from the start of the 18th Century. The texture and sense of line in her work recalls that of Roualt, Degas and even Picasso at times. Whilst also capturing the mood of expressionists such as those of Derain and Matisse and even Munch. The inclusion and installation of mirrors are an invitation to embark on a personal journey of self-reflection both psychologically and physically.
Bearing witness to the evolution of Johanna’s work has been a joy and an interesting sight to see. With each work, her paintings illustrate looser brushstrokes and an impasto like texture, breaking away from rigid lines. The colour palette is also at times more freeing, and perhaps this too might be representative of her current mood. This technical and visual climax is visible to anyone if you look closer at the many different portraits.
This project was supported by Fenech Farrugia Fiott Legal, Ecabs and M Demajo Wine & Spirits. Please let me know if you have any questions.