Centrum: Could you talk about your development as an artist?
Amy Johnson: This is a huge question for me. My initial inclination to become an artist was a decision for sure–a very clear decision that I made–and from then on I’ve had blinders on to develop to the point where I am now. Sometimes the blinders are narrower than others. But they are flexible and have to be.
I began to seriously consider art in 2001, I was 25, I wasn’t someone who knew right off that I wanted to be an artist. It’s interesting to me because my mom is an artist and I grew up with art, but it really wasn’t until I left home and moved across the country and did my own thing for a while that I realized that it was what I wanted to commit to career-wise.
Over time, I began to realize that I was cultivating a relationship. I was in a relationship with art. It’s like being committed to anything else, it’s hard sometimes, you have to really, really work and the more you put in to it the more you get out of it. At the same time it has been so rewarding for me and has taught lessons I’m not sure I would have learned otherwise. So I keep working to keep questioning and to keep learning.
As I continued to make work, I realized how autobiographical it was. What I make is a reflection of my life and my experiences–whether I realize it at first or not. For me, my work is very personal. It has gotten to a point where the personal has blended with aesthetic (form, color, composition) both subject and political matters; it has become very layered. It can be appreciated on many levels, which I like and I think makes the work more accessible. Having work on the wall or in a room or wherever it is that contains so much of the personal is always scary and risky, but it is always the most rewarding for me and I hope even more rewarding for the viewer, whatever it is that they may take from the experience they have with it.
C: Could you talk a little bit about your process in how you create a piece?
AJ: This is another biggie for me. I cannot say that what I will describe is true for all work, but I find most commonly that something may start as a simple idea and the more I think about it, read about it and make it, it becomes a loaded piece. This happens more with 3-D work than my works on paper, but the works on paper help me get there. My subject matter is my jumping-off point at times, and other times it’s a desire to make something that I think will be fun to make. Whichever it is, the same ideas tend to be present. It’s difficult to run with an idea or begin a large piece that may not seem so grand at first, but something usually keeps driving it and that’s when I know something is going to happen with it.
The foundation of my process is trusting that the work will reveal itself to me and not to worry too much about what it will become. It’s hard to keep myself from forcing myself to make decisions–this is when my intuition kicks in and trust is really necessary. Sometimes I’ll build something and it’ll take a few weeks or a month or even someone else’s eyes to really reveal itself in its entirety. I am still realizing things about work that I made years ago and don’t even have anymore.
It’s a process that is hard to describe, but hopefully it makes a little sense. Also, I tend to think metaphorically, so I choose materials that characterize the ideas.
C: What attracts you to working with rose shapes, and other forms of geometric design?
AJ: Roses first appeared from my inquiry of Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. I think a lot about romantic ideals. The surreal character that the pink and gold gilded roses have in that painting really strike me. It just became a consistent form that makes sense for me and is easily recognizable. The geometric design I’m not so sure I can speak to. I do believe that artists have a distinct sensibility and maybe that’s what mine is? Sometimes forms just happen intuitively…it’s great because it’s something that doesn’t begin as a conceptual idea, but as an aesthetic component and then can turn into conceptual, or not. Many people have said my work possess a graphic quality which I like…I look at a lot of advertising.
The graphic and geometric also may emerge from the process of casting. I use molds to make my 3-D work. The process of casting as well as the finished product of an object made from a mold is important conceptually.
C: What do you enjoy about working with youth?
AJ: Their honesty. Having a foundation of integrity is crucial. I look for it not just in work that I see, but also in the artist. I think youth have a brilliant ability to see through what others may be slower to dismiss. Sometimes it’s a result of being uninformed or not trusting something that they should, however, sometimes they are right on, but no matter what they are always questioning which is what art is for.