Kathryn Jill Johnson
Web site: www.gravitypi.com
Here? Christian Brothers
I believe that an engagement with art, as maker or viewer, is necessary for actualization of individuals and cultures. This belief is essential to me as an artist and also fuels my teaching. My genuine enthusiasm about both the works that we study and the art that the students produce is infectious. This sincere concern allows me to help my students to discover and realize their own artistic ambitions.
When I develop a curriculum I couple exercises for technical skills with more complex conceptually based projects. Students learn to apply design concepts or drawing techniques through sketchbooks and assignments that lead to completed works of art. Often the problems require independent research, self examination, and a struggle with sophisticated ideas new to the student. I support these explorations by working to understand the student as an individual, and developing a vision of each students potential. Depending on the students needs, I may offer practical guidance, technical tips, or ask questions to help him/her clarify ideas. I may simply express my own confidence in their ability. Often the students produce work that is quite wonderful, but even with less successful projects they learn and grow.
I know that in order to produce good work, artists must be able to examine art critically. Working with a student body that includes many different levels of experience requires careful attention to the varying needs of students. In addition to visiting museums, galleries and artists studios with students, I utilize slides, library research and the internet to expose them to work that relates to concepts and techniques we are working on in class. For some students, I suggest artists and readings that apply to their particular interests. Class discussion of the works studied helps reinforce the lesson and also aids in critique of student projects. Critiques give students the opportunity to assist their peers while they learn to clarify and articulate their own ideas. I vary the structure of critiques throughout the semester to help all students actively participate.
I place a strong emphasis on establishing productive work habits by moving from structured projects early in the semester to a looser more self directed environment later. Students learn to keep sketchbooks, work consistently, and to focus. I make an effort to learn what each students goals and needs are, so that I can assist them with their work. Because I view learning as a cooperative effort between instructor and student, I approach each class with flexibility and aim for responsiveness.
One of the great gifts of teaching is a connection to the ongoing process of art-making. Working with students, whether they are at the foundation level or beyond, has enriched my studio practice in a number of ways-- by recalling the learning of skills, reframing my personal experience as artist and student, and inspiring a close consideration of my own beliefs and conventions related to art-making. I reciprocate by providing opportunities to develop technical competence, critical skills, conceptual vision, and work habits essential for a solid studio practice.
In my mixed-media paintings I combine drawing, including both recognizable images and abstract marks, with an attention to surface, both found and created, by using distressed panels of bare wood as supports for the graphic elements. My imagery focuses on devices humans craft to control flesh: medical instruments, horse tack and, most significantly, orthopedic devices. I use medical and scientific illustration as source material for my work because these images suggest the way imperfect forces, thwarted desires, and damage are critical to the development of identity. The physical restraints suggest both injury and correction.
Images of childhood entered my work because I discovered that the figures of children in the medical and scientific source material were quite potent for me. I began to connect these historicized images of children to Freudian and Lacanian theories about personality development and had an impulse to add references to children's playthings to the paintings. These toy images enriched the suggestive power of the work. The paintings began to
playwith the notion of children as objects of desire and beings with desire. The drawing elements create a distanced quasi-textual view of human experience while the sensual qualities of the panel; powdered pigment and glistening varnish re-direct the focus to the physical.
In all of my paintings the body remains central-is it vessel or source, trap or vehicle, friend or foe? I believe we are creatures of flesh shaped by chemistry, physics, joy and desire. What ravages us? The forces of denial, interruption, indulgence or transcendence hone us. We know intuitively that we
are, that we live inside our flesh-
call it mind or soul or consciousness, but where? For me the self is always shifting location in the body and in the frailties of memory. The relentlessness of time leaves us sure that this moment is the authentic one and the past, it's us, and a stranger too.
Other contemporary artists share my conceptual concerns. In the catalogue for the 1993 exhibition Corporal Politics, Helaine Posner, Curator at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, discusses
(a)... startling phenomena in late 20th century art, the striking preponderance of the body fragment as highly charged metaphor for the psychological, social, political, and physical assaults on the individual.I have long been interested in the work of contemporary artists, such as Robert Gober, Kiki Smith and Louise Bourgeois, who deal with issues of embodiment, identity and trauma. Further, I am intrigued with the conflict in feminist theory between the discussions of identity, particularly gender identity, being rooted in physical experience (Irigary) versus Judith Butler's notion of sex itself as a social construct. The work of artists who explore the body as metaphor and these feminist theorists coupled with my interest in Lacanian theory, are a point of departure for my studio work. Lacan's ideas about need (which can be satisfied), demand (which is impossible to satisfy) and the ever shifting focus of desire (which can be satisfied, but never is) as motivating factors in development of identity and narrative are difficult to comprehend. My work in the studio offers a way for me to think about these things. I mediate the ideas about desire and subjectivity through the physical act of mark-making, reinterpreting and reconfiguring graphic images into a sort of visual caesura --a poetic rhythm that relates to speech. This process is a way for me to consider, to think kinetically and associatively. I believe the resulting work invites the viewer to engage in a similar process, by reversing the traditional depiction of the body. The images of
peoplein my work, function more like text or verbal abstractions. The wooden panels, the abstract marks, the scarred surfaces and glistening varnishes suggest a more visceral bodily experience.
I want to evoke both self-evaluation and empathy. The use of visual references that are often damaged or fractured along with similarly
brokenand repaired surfaces on the
bodyof the works invite identification with both self and other. Revisiting these traumas that are at once mundane, intense, and integral to growth sets the stage for little vignettes. These medicalized fairy tales are nostalgic and dirty, spun between the pseudo specificity of the science book and the translation into metaphor. Images are configured on a flat plane like text, yet their meaning is less specific and grittier. They are stuttered open, spread out like a story or like a joke with a half remembered punch line that is not quite right. I am interested in the real; the beautiful, the resonant and my paintings are a way for me to get at these things. I hope my work invites those who view it to join this poetic investigation.
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