Briefly describe the work you do.
I create figurative landscapes of individuals traversing a harsh, post-civilized environment. These images examine one’s relationship within a society increasingly devoid of shared meaning or consequence. Detached figures are left to meander through an anonymous world, performing acts of violence and deviance. Attempts at reconciling lost purpose arise in the form of futile contraptions or makeshift rituals.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I received a BFA from the University of Iowa in printmaking, and an MFA from Northern Illinois University. I was very fortunate to work with faculty at both institutions that understood my interests, and not only put up with, but encouraged me to obsess over individual pieces of work. This allowed me to develop a somewhat unique but time consuming approach to making an image.
The concept of the artist in the studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio practice probably seems painfully traditional to some. The process for each piece can be lengthy, so time in the studio is essential if I want to maintain a consistent output. I keep a minimum 40-hour week in the studio in addition to any other obligations I may have. The actual work taking place in the studio consists of preliminary drawing and sketching, a lot of drawing on the copper, and the occasional night at the press to proof or edition a plate.
What roles do you find yourself plaything that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I never really stopped to think about the nuts and bolts business end of being an artist until after undergrad. Everything from managing social media to boxing and shipping work are tasks that weren’t necessarily in my periphery.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I’ve always been a night owl and preferred working late. Since I’ve been teaching, however, I find myself in the studio from mid morning through 8 or 9 at night on free days. This schedule allows me to maintain a hint of night owl status without being too worn out in the classroom. On days that I teach or have other responsibilities that schedule usually shifts a bit later into the day.
How has your work changed in the past 5 years? How is it the same?
The underlying motivation for making work has remained consistent for quite awhile now. I’ve been exploring similar themes since around the end of my undergraduate work. The aesthetics have changed dramatically however. Several years ago I made the shift from what was almost pure abstraction to a more historical imagined representation.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Family members have had a great impact by inspiring a strong work ethic. Authors such as Cormac McCarthy, Brett Easton Ellis, and Katherine Dunn provide inspiration as well. I get a lot of ideas and titles while listening to music in the studio from misheard song lyrics. This seems to happen a lot with Marc Bolan.
Have you even been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Fortunately I’ve been able to have a pretty single-minded approach to art making for quite some time. I’ve had full time jobs, and worked outside of the art world, but have never really been distracted by anything else. As far as interests go, for some time now everything seems to be in service of the art practice. If I do sit down and read or watch something, it’s usually with the hope of pulling part of it back into the studio practice. Any real hobbies I had faded away while I was working towards applying to graduate school.
Joshua Johnson was born in Clinton, Iowa, 1984. He received his BFA in Printmaking from the University of Iowa, and holds an MFA in Printmaking from Northern Illinois University. He currently lives and works in Illinois. Additional work may be viewed at www.joshuajayjohnson.com.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.