Briefly describe the work you do.
I make photographic things and videos that typically address ideas about nature and place in a contemplative tone.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
My mother is from Thailand and my dad worked for an airline during a time when employee benefits actually mattered, so we travelled internationally quite a bit. I collected exquisitely designed flight schedules from Ozark Air, Cathay Pacific, JAL etc. and became eternally intrigued with the intersection of the global and local.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio is the outdoors. I spend money on backpacks and travel sized deodorant, not studio rent. When I started studying fine art in graduate school, I was really blown away by the idea of the painting and drawing studio. But there were guys that had their dogs with them and little beer fridges, so it did seem like a fun place to hang out. Everyone gets in the creative mood in different ways. I was initially trained as a photojournalist, so I feel the most creative when I’m reacting to colors, sounds and things in real time. Our bodies weren’t meant to sit at computers all day, and my neck starts to hurt after an hour or so of clicking the dust removal tool in Photoshop. I like to walk. I do have a re-modeled shed in my backyard that functions as a traditional studio–there’s no internet connection, so I usually use it for editing video and photo files and for collaging old issues of Artforum and The Economist. I also do writing and the other “business” aspects of my art practice in the studio.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I teach art at a small liberal arts college. I get stressed out about finding the balance between teaching and studio time, but I feel very fortunate to have a patron in the form of my college, they support me so that I can make art! Sure, I’d like to have more time for it, but so few people can make an actual living from being an artist. More and more I’m incorporating pedagogical projects into the fold of my studio practice. I like poetry, so I got together with a creative writing faculty member, and now our students make photo-video-literary art work together–it’s one big collaboration.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
In order for me to survive creatively, I’ve had to expand my idea of making. Reading about current events in the newspaper or a tutorial about some software program and going to artist talks are all part of the art making process for me. I do set aside one whole day a week for making, but I’m usually applying to shows and doing research throughout the week in short increments. I find that mid-morning is best–I’ve had my coffee and biked to my office (or walked to my studio) in freezing weather. Nothing gets you in tune with the world like biking in the cold, gray mornings of central Ohio.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
More and more I’m incorporating video into my practice. I’m starting to find a way to communicate consistently through moving, still and collaged imagery. My work is getting a little more sculptural as well–thinking about various sizes of images, frames and how to configure them in an exhibition space.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
The philosopher Edmund Burke who wrote about the idea of the Sublime; Liz Wells writes about the landscape in a way that makes it seem like it should be dinner table conversation for everyone and my wife has great attention to detail, so I usually show her things before they go out into the world. And what about Ryan Seacrest? What is his talent other than being the hardest working man in show business? He’s made a career out of nothing except the American dream.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
A photojournalist. I had an inkling of skill and talent for it before I turned to fine art and teaching. I also used to be very charismatic. I think good journalism is more important than ever–it plays a large role in developing our world view and sense of responsibility.
Jonathan Johnson is an artist-educator who uses various forms of photography and video to explore ideas about place and nature. Johnson received his BA from the University of Alaska and MFA in Photography and Intermedia from the University of Iowa and has exhibited his films and photographic work in over 30 countries at venues such as the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio; Gallery Sment, Braga, Portugal; Africa Centre, Cape Town, South Africa; Sofia Arsenal Museum of Contemporary Art; Keuruu Museum, Finland and the EXiS Film Festival, Seoul, South Korea. In addition to working in academia, he has held positions in public affairs and in the music industry. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor of Photography and Digital Media at Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.