This IM interview between Chicago artist Stacie Johnson and curator Katie Geha is the second of two parts. Part one–in which Stacie gets a new refrigerator and discusses with Katie illusion vs. abstraction–appeared yesterday.
Katie: In terms of “painting from observation”—in your artist statement you say that you create portraits of objects, something that might be found in say, My Protection. How is a portrait of an object different than creating a still life? Or is it?
Stacie: It’s about the same, but I feel like I always veer away from observational at some point and make the formal stuff sorta overpower … like in My Protection the background and symmetry kinda take over. The “object” in this case, the plant, is kinda like a character observationally painted but stuck inside an abstract painting.
Katie: It always feels super uncanny when I’m in your apartment or your studio and see all the items in your paintings in real life. What is the difference between the “real” objects that you paint, say in still lifes, in a work like Curtain and Palm, versus what ends up on the canvas? Or, I guess maybe not still lifes but portraits of objects? And, really, maybe portrait is correct since these objects feel more personal somehow?
Stacie: The main difference is that in the paintings the objects are often hyper symmetrical or of a different color. In the paintings it’s about clarity and stillness/stiffness.
Yeah, I say portrait because they are kinda like self-portraits. In the way that a high schooler’s bedroom becomes a self-portrait.
Katie: Exactly. How do you choose these objects? Is it formally how they fit in the picture? Or is it even more personal than that?
Stacie: Usually it’s either an object I spend a lot of time with (something I’ve had for a long time, or looked at for a long time) or something I make or alter in some way. So yeah I tend to use things that are loaded with meanings for me at least.
Katie: Love and Fame is a bit of a departure for you in that it’s so graphic and flat and hard-edged. Yet the subject matter seems to encapsulate abstractly what you’ve been thinking about for years—Feng Shui. Can you talk a little more about this idea of arrangement of objects as it has appeared in many works such as Love Corner in Summer and then how it was translated to this newer work?
Stacie: Well it’s not always Feng Shui—but stuff like Feng Shui.
Katie: Okay, but whereas you literally painted “corners” before, this work is sort of an abstract representation of a corner.
Stacie: Uh, yeah the transition from the more straight up interiors to something like Love and Fame, super symbolic instead of observational, is pretty drastic in a visual way. In ideas it is so similar to me, though, and that’s why it made sense.
Katie: I think those ideas are pretty important to you work, no?
Stacie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think they are more decisions than ideas. I make decisions as a way to make work about something, and not about everything. Those decisions revolve around ways to make paintings about this desire to make objects important. To make paintings about how physical things (a plastic crate or a symbol of a heart) become filled with life and how a painting is just a flat rectangular object that gets life poured into it.
Katie: Ah, yes, that makes sense!
Stacie: I hate to always talk about painting as so self-reflexive though—when it points to itself again and again.
Katie: But it doesn’t in your work, necessarily. The objects point to all sorts of other things and hidden meanings, like the little diamond in Love and Fame.
Stacie: Yes—the little diamond is our little secret.
But you know, viewers really responded to that little diamond. I think formally it works in the same way that it does for me as an idea.
Katie: Exactly! Which is why I don’t think it is self-reflexive, but, instead, has all kinds of points of entries and exits.
And I think this flipping in and out of abstraction and representation also pushes it further from being just about the painting. Instead, it starts to be about perception.
Katie: Yes! Phew, we’ve gotten to it!
Okay, you were named most improved artist in grad school—what did that mean to you?
Stacie: I could look at it and think about how bad I must have been in the beginning, but I won’t. I was still very new to the game of making art, so I think it means that I can get better which is awesome. I would rather that my work can get better and more interesting than the opposite. The opposite would be if I was clever but it only gets so far. Plus, I think with painting, paintings get better and better with time because you really have to develop good skills. And since I didn’t really go to art school for undergrad, I needed time to develop those skills.
Katie: That makes a lot of sense—rather then be a one-trick pony that hits it big. You’re slow and steady and changing your work.
Stacie: And it’s nice that it was described as a steady climb up.
Katie: Does teaching painting help you develop those skills more?
Stacie: Teaching has a pretty big impact on my work. I am always giving myself assignments.
Katie: The same assignments you give your students?
Stacie: Sometimes. Variations of them.
Katie: What assignment are you working on now?
Stacie: Right now I am trying to work on paper. Changing mediums after 8 years of mostly exclusively using oils is tough. That’s my current assignment, but I’m not ready to talk about that work yet. I do know that I am doing more sculptural arrangements and making drawing/paintings of them.
Katie: Good, I like those. Thanks for the interview Staciers!
Stacie: Thank you! That was fun.