Featured Artist | Sarah Jane Johnson
Q:What was your first memorable experience with art?
A: Seeing Watson and the Shark By John Singleton Copley. It was at the Chicago Art Institute and I was about five. I couldn't believe anyone could paint like that - it was so real, vivid, and scary. It's still a favorite painting.
Q: Can you explain when you first knew you wanted to become an artist? Who/What turned you on to Art?
A:My parents exposed me to art - they loved visual and performing arts. I took a pottery class from my friend's mom, a local artist, when I was in 4th grade. She was unlike everybody else's mom. She had crazy red hair and painted giant nudes, fed her dogs from china bowls and encouraged us to be messy. I adored her.
Q: Is there any single piece of artwork that impacted you as a child? An adolescent? An adult?
A: The Copley mentioned above, an apple wood ash glazed vase by an unknown California potter I saw in 1982, and Heather Goodchild's The Anna Ward Browse Project which left me stunned for days.
Q: What artists influenced you the most? Current Influences?
A: I was lucky my parents took me to all kinds of performances and museums (even though I grew up in Benzie County). I saw operas and poetry readings, paintings and sculpture exhibits, symphonies and theater - all of it influenced me, I'm sure.
Potters/clay artist favorites include Bernard Leach, Peter Voulkus, Maria Martinez, Ken Ferguson and Don Reitz. They are all different - it's one of the things I love about clay - how versatile it is. Clay can be functional (Leach), sculptural (Voulkus), culturally focused (Martinez) functional and sculptural (Ferguson) or a palette (Reitz).
There are a lot of really amazing people working in clay right now. Currently I'm in love with a bunch of functionalist, like Tara Wilson and Anne Mette Hjortsh who make art for everyday use, beauty you can hold in your hands and fill with soup. I love Jamie Perry's paintings, Tim Burton films, Robert Hass poems and anything by Ai Weiwei.
Q: What do you like most about the medium and surface you use?
A: The possibilities - see above - there's so much one can do with clay, and if I don't like it I just smush it and recycle.
Q: What ideas are behind you current work?
A: I am an environmentalist, a native of northern Michigan, and my work is about place - bio-mimicry - what I see in the woods, walking the beach, the color when you open your eyes underwater swimming in August - what an amazing turquoise - and utility. I like the idea of everyday art, that life is richer and more interesting when we surround ourselves with the work of human hands and connect with the surrounding environment. Drinking tea from herbs I grew in a cup I made, surrounded by the creative expressions of other beings is very satisfying.
Q: What do you want people to respond to in your work?
A: I hope they recognize place and respond to the human element of handmade/useful. I hope for an engaging aesthetic experience, the little jolt of pleasure that may come from a well made bowl with glaze the color of maple leaves in October that connects to a common experience or memory.
Q: Do you have a predetermined idea of what your finished work will be like, or do the ideas emerge in process?
A: Both. When throwing, some days I have an agenda and work towards it. I need to get 30 lake blue mugs out. Some days I let the clay decide, follow the muse. Unlike other art or craft, ceramics is highly unpredictable. The alchemy of elements - all of them, mud, water, air and fire - have an agenda of their own. I can use the same materials and have different results. Unlike most visual arts, I can't refine after a certain point. Once committed to the fire, it's literally written in stone(ware).
Q: What are your goals for your work in the next few years?
A: To work on pattern and texture for visual disparity. Right now I like some of the satin and matte glazes that emulate stone I've been working with, but monochrome surfaces can be uninteresting without some kind of discontinuity to break up the surface. I like the idea of physically manipulating the clay rather than using color and multiple layers of glaze to create that visual shift. I'm interested in subtle surfaces and objects that don't necessarily create a big oh wow reaction initially, but that have depth, are calming, and remain interesting after the 50th pot of tea has been served from it.