"Playing with containment and the infinite."
That's how local artist Scott Johnson characterizes his recent sculpture series, which he also describes as "origami," fully aware of his potential for sounding pretentious.
Johnson hesitates to speak of his works, informally titled "infinity boxes," over the phone, fearing such a misunderstanding.
Yet when a newcomer approaches his sculptures in person, Johnson's words make perfect sense. Inside his newest addition to the infinity box oeuvre — slated for display this month in the Smokebrush Gallery — glows an unending field of orange grass beneath a dark sky. The lush earth stretches into the night as far as the eye can see. Or, more precisely, 3 or 4 feet.
Created by mounting four plates of two-way mirrors and illuminating the inside of the sculpture brighter than the outside, Johnson's range bounces on ad infinitum. Only a swatch of local switch grass on the box's floor is technically "real."
"This is a container, it's canned in a way, but it also opens up into something beyond what can be contained," Johnson says.
Johnson constructed a similar piece last summer for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, encapsulating a flaking creek bed, or a lunar landscape, he says. A larger box is also in the works for a show next year in Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art.
Johnson, 40, who teaches sculpture at Colorado College, has two other elements prepared for display next to the infinity box. One work is comprised of trays of water, expertly lit to cast shadows of its ripples (caused by the seismic disturbances of passing trains, which neighbor the gallery) on the wall. While planned as a peripheral accompaniment to the infinity box, it shares the ethereal reality of the mirrored landscape in the box.
Such meditative works provoke introspection and, on the surface, seem to lack any social or political viewpoint. But Johnson says a commentary lies below, citing his impression of tourism as something bizarre, a viewpoint adopted from his childhood spent in the ski town of Keystone and his current life in Colorado Springs.
"The way the landscape is visually administered for the tourist in a very prescribed way, it becomes something that can be consumed, something that can be bought and sold. I'm interested in those dimensions of nature or the landscape that defy that or are not consumable or comprehendible," he says.
Johnson references his experiences sailing in the open ocean, and the vast scale of the water unaltered by comforting landmarks, as a feeling he seeks to capture in his work.
"The kind of perceptual experience you have in a situation like that is pretty mind-boggling," he says.
Especially if such wonder can be created in a confined space, at which point it becomes an intuitive journey. Such play with contradictions permeates Johnson's work: an infinite expanse created in a closet-sized space, a perceptual logic cemented in beautiful handling of his materials. The result is a simulated orchestration of a dream-like occurrence in nature: shadows of seismic rumblings, reflections of dusky prairies 6-feet square, which Johnson aptly describes as a "wilderness of the mind."