Artist Interview / Whitney Johnson


Tell us about your body of work.

Some things I've been thinking about lately are preciousness, materiality, tactility, and the impact of a space or place on our feelings. Our connection to the physical world is important to me. And I'm interested in nature as an idea, because the idea is wonderful and sublime and magical and inspiring, and dangerous because it can draw dividing lines.

In the studio lately I've been making a lot of tiny paintings. They're experiments on pieces of canvas. They begin to pile up and talk to each other. These sometimes become part of a final work, or exist as a group of tiny paintings later.

The process really started as I was making a different series of 'prints' on canvas. They’re monotype paintings, from mushrooms I'd found over time. That project is called "Fungi (A Study in Resilience)." And it's morphed into this new project, and each matters in its own right. I'm looking at tiny pieces and moments, both materials and fragments of experience as they hold on their own, in their own small parts. I like the similarities between the words experiments and experience, too.

Describe your work in three words.

Hopeful, Tactile, Forgiving

How does modern culture influence your work?

Looking back, I can see that older video game aesthetics are often in my head. Games made when the limits of what a screen could produce were strong. The original Pokemon "Red" and "Blue" came out when I was just old enough to get my first Gameboy. You could explore the world with these incredible creatures by your side! And, when I was 10 or so, I poured my soul into Harvest Moon for N64. Harvest Moon is a farming game, set back in time in a rural Japanese town. There is a lot of repetition and loyalty needed in that game. What really holds my heart about these games is that there's a certain simple idealism in their visuals. In them, movement is set on a soft and fluid grid. Also, I think about the feeling involved when you get totally absorbed into the world created in a game. I think it involves some longing, hope, and definitely fantasy.

What is one thing you still have from your childhood?

I have so many vivid memories. My brother, my neighbors and I would play in the woods all day. There was a beautiful, old Ginko tree, and you could lay down flat on its limbs. Each of us "lived" on a branch. We made up a system of currency, which involved all sorts of things: the smelly ginkgo seed pods, different kinds of leaves, pine needles, walnuts, a gum wrapper...whatever we could find. I'm not sure what the goal was, we made up the rules as we went on. We would be out all day, sometimes getting lost and a little scared, but we always made it home.

What would be in your ideal art collection?

I love collecting work made by friends. There's an intimacy of drinking from a cup that's been handmade by someone who truly cares about the object. Or waking up to a print above your bed. And I have so many gifts from friends made at the Ox-Bow School of Art in Saugatuck, Michigan, which is where my current questions really started. Knowing the story and person behind the work reminds me that there's so much potential for change and positivity in the world.

Who or what has most influenced your practice?

It has to be constant trial and (error)! I've been working on putting myself out there, before I have an answer. And just listening. There are so many stories to be heard.