Headed back out onto Gallery Stroll for what's technically the last one of spring, you could tell summer was in full swing. Which went by rather quickly thanks to the snow. In fact at this rate I'm predicting an early fall, so we;re combining the warmer months into one and call the season Sprummer. ...Why is it every time I do a report on Stroll it turns into a rant on the weather? Let's get to the damn art.
This month I made my way down Main Street, way down the street and slightly out of the way to the awesome little tattoo shop, SLC Ink. On display in the booths and waiting room were several works from the ever experimental Joshua Johnston, showing off various forms of his works from airbrushing, acrylics, lacquering and more. I got a chance to chat with the man himself about his craft as well as thoughts on the local art scene. Plus a couple dozen photos for you to check out here.
Gavin: Hey Joshua! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Joshua: I am a cynical optimist… Not really sure what that means, but that sounds about dead on. I am exactly what I want to be: an artist and I see no end in sight.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some of your early inspirations?
Joshua: Though it might rob me of my credibility as an artist, Chuckie Cheese was my first inspiration. (My mother loves telling the story.) On my third birthday, my parents threw me a party at Chuckie Cheese. On the ride home, I told my mother that I wanted to draw a picture of Chuckie Cheese. Looking back, I probably thought that he was a poor mans Mickey Mouse. Being the free thinker that my mother is, she told me to close my eyes and asked if I could picture the mouse in my minds eye. I said yes. Her reply to that was, “Then you can create it.” Shortly thereafter, recognizing my passion and talent, my father showed me how to draw mountains and bought me my first easel that I use to this day. Being a musician, he understood what the right encouragement meant to an artist in these formidable years. He exposed me to Dali and Van Gogh when I was about twelve. Then I ran with it. What inspires you as an adult? Everything inspires me in my art. All of the hardships and positive aspects come into play. I wouldn’t exclude anything. I would say that life inspires me.
Gavin: As far as education, you didn't go to any colleges or seek out professional training. Why did you choose not to go that route?
Joshua: It was a rather informal education, but I have been sketching and designing since the age of three and painting for the last eight. Stretching out and earning my stripes in anything that I have created has been a timely process and has just as much relevance as any traditional education. A craft or trade is just that and I hold it in high regard. I study each method in possibly in the same manner someone might as a pupil going to an art college. I’m not saying that I am opposed to it and I definitely don’t want to take away from that aspect, but I am less concerned with the processes of materials. It is far more critical arriving to a truly remarkable idea of substance and then acting on it. At the risk of sounding pretentious, this is the truth about art: The real trial in the creative process is to travel to that place inside oneself and emerge with this elixir to connect with the world. Artists have a responsibility to tell stories that convey and spark emotions. Good or bad, that is the vocation. That is the allure of the job… at least, for me.
Gavin: Being self-trained, what was it like for you learning a new craft every time you decided to create something?
Joshua: Painfully rewarding, is what I would define it as. It can be a lonely road as an artist, but to have tapped into the devastating beauty or inner tragedy all alone and then come out manifesting a conception of it can be one of the most spectacular things that someone can experience. After that, I join human race again. When collaborating this process can be different.
Gavin: As you've told me, you work with various materials like oils, acrylics, metals, lacquers, airbrushing, etc. Why did you choose to many different forms instead of mastering a single one?
Joshua: I would hate to limit myself to any one medium. Generally speaking, I work with what is at my immediate disposal. The vastness of tools and canvas are all around us. Working with these methods produces uninhibited possibilities. When I work on commission, the medium and the idea can be very specific. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose. That way of working just causes a more lofty financial recourse.
Gavin: What’s the process like for you in creating a piece from idea to final product?
Joshua: Sometimes I have a theme prepared in my head and the momentum and belief are what carries me through to the end. I edit down and refine the piece as I go. I do try to keep it free of rules, for a large part. John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix broke the rules and look what we have. The boundaries and hang-ups of the processes can be a real detriment to what one end up with. Just to produce without trying to clarify too much, but just enough, works best for me. It’s a balancing act and has possibilities to go on forever. I just have to decide that I have gone far enough.
Gavin: For you personally, is there any set plan as to what it will look like, or is it more experimental as you go, both in design and medium?
Joshua: I can make lengthy plans, sketch, and write things down, take photos, travel and do research on my subject. Majority of the times I have an image and I replicate exactly what is in my head. But it is all relative and everything that I have done leading up to the moment of when I apply the paint to the canvas is what I use. Most times, I easily adapt to most mediums, so I let the brush, stick or syringe rip. Damn the torpedoes. But still, no real rules.
Gavin: Along with these works you also do sketch work. What's the difference for you between that and the other pieces that you do?
Joshua: Because I have sketched for so long and have a perpetual access to paper and pencil this makes me, perhaps, more skilled in this medium. This was also what made me a good candidate for airbrush. The airbrush sits in your hand almost just like a pen.
Gavin: On top of that you also have taken up photography and doing profile shots. What made you decide to start doing that as well?
Joshua: I always wanted to get into photography and just try some amazingly ridiculous ideas. I started playing around with my camera a few years ago on my travels through Italy, Spain and France. I took thousands of photos but then lost them when my hard drive crashed. I returned a year later and worked at a winery in France. They asked to take pictures in the vineyards. Then I tried some Photoshoping ideas in conjunction to some photos. People have always commented on them. So I started getting commissioned for that, as well.
Gavin: What was it like for you when you started getting involved with the art scene and displaying your works in exhibitions?
Joshua: That’s a totally different side and has little to do with creative process, for me. I would much rather leave the promotional realm to someone else. But I do enjoy displaying my art and meeting receptive and fascinated people.
Gavin: Are there any other forms of art you're looking to experiment with or simply managing what you work with now?
Joshua: I am collaborating with custom furniture fabricator, Boyd Linder. First we get it all sketched out, he builds it and I then paint the piece. The passion and impeccable detail he has for his work is unmatched. I have also been working on film, as in moving pictures. I have done a few music videos with musicians, Adverse and Concise Kilgore. In addition, I have written, edited and directed a few short films.
Gavin: Tell us about the works you have on display for this Stroll.
Joshua: I have the walls completely filled inside the SLC Ink gallery. The oeuvre spans over the last five years. Some of the pieces being displayed here are prints because the originals have been sold. I do a limited first edition prints run of these pieces and then never do it in the same way again. Other work includes some multidimensional work in which I incorporate a papier-mché base over wood and then paint on that. I have used syringes to paint on some of the pieces. There is a story to nearly every piece produced.
Gavin: What's made you decide to showcase your work at SLC Ink, and how is having them displayed here?
Joshua: Their emphasis on Gallery Stroll was my main motivation. I don’t showcase my work very often because I am usually very picky on the venue. At SLC Ink, they seem to have the sensibilities of the artist in mind. They kept me involved in the display and were very welcoming people.
Gavin: Moving to local for a bit, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Joshua: The art/music scene in the Salt Lake City area undergo real growth, especially in the last ten years. This has a more to do with the diversity of the opinions, people and climate in which we live. That’s a natural thing. On the other hand, I have been all over the world and have witnessed more admiration of art and music. I feel that we have a long way to go on that level. People that do enjoy art need to really get out and come through to these events. Show some love.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Joshua: Perhaps, artists could get more involved in charitable events and make the art drive home a more specific idea. I am not opposed to giving a large percentage of what I earn at each show to a certain charity. This is my intention at this at SLC Ink. A percentage of my earnings will go to The Road Home Homeless Shelter.
Gavin: What's your take on Gallery Stroll as a whole and how it is doing today?
Joshua: I suggest it to everyone because it is one of those really cool things that you can do and be apart of. It’s definitely not your run of the mill date night. Although, I think that it needs more exposure.
Gavin: What can we expect from you throughout the rest of year?
Joshua: I will be working on some political pieces. Collaborations with some other artists in the Salt Lake Valley are ahead. And I will be working on quite a few film projects, hopefully wrapping up in time to submit to a few film festivals in the near future.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Joshua: I will be showcasing new pieces at the (a)perture Gallery, as well as putting together a fall variety art festival. Check out my art and stay updated on my coming events. And lemme know what you think of my art at: firstname.lastname@example.org.