Saturday, 9 June 2012

Artist of the Week - Alexander Johnson

Alexander Johnson produces abstract distillations from the figurative world, limited edition silkscreens and vibrant oils on canvas.

Where did you train? What did training teach you and what do you wish it had taught you?
I trained in Worthing at what was then West Sussex College of Design for two years on foundation then went to Cardiff Art College to do my degree. In retrospect the most important things I learnt were all practical, how to make and stretch a canvas, how to make etchings, lithographs and most importantly silkscreen printing. What I wish it had taught me was how to market my finished work - we had one mornings 'talk' towards the end of the three years from a visiting lecturer talking about how to put a portfoilio together, approach galleries, what to say etc. It was pitiful! I have spent the last 30 years gradually learning what could have been taught me over those three years, at times it's been a real struggle.

One favourite living artist?
Ai Wei Wei. For his Bravery, ambition, vision and imagination.

One favourite historical artist?
Obvious as it is, I would have to say Picasso. As a boy of 12 on holiday in the South of France, it was a Picasso sculpture of a bulls head (made from a bicycle saddle and handlebars) that first captured my imagination and made me decide there and then that I wanted to be an artist. He was the first art superstar - before Warhol was even born. Apart from his artistic genius he was also a formidable businessman which is an unusual combination. Whenever I see a piece of work by him that I'm not familiar with, it still gives me a thrill.

If you could collaborate with anyone living or dead, who would it be and what would you do?
I am soon to begin a collabaration with Fraser Taylor, a Scottish artist who lives and works in Chicago. He approached me suggesting we make some work together and I was thrilled as I love his work. The prospect is exciting and daunting at the same time, but I'm really looking forward to it.

At age 16 who most influenced your style?
At 16 I was probably most influenced by punk LP covers by Barney Bubbles (who worked for Elvis Costello and the Damned amongst others), Caroline Coon who designed the Clash's forst LP (which I still adore) and obviously Jamie Reid. It is impossible to explain now, out of its social context, how utterly stunning and 'new' a cover like the one for the Pistols first LP was.

Last book / film that blew your mind?
The last book I read that I loved was Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, written from the perspective of a young man working for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera covering the time that Trotsky came to stay and was murdered. He ends up living in McCarthy-era USA. The ambition and attention to detail of the book is astonishing, I don't know how these writers do it. I also love William Boyd. I haven't seen a film that really blew me away for years, but I enjoyed Steve McQueens 'Shame' - tho it was a bit depressing!

What music are you currently listening to?
Mark Stewart's new one, Orbital, Bon Iver, Mogwai, Joy Division (having seen the spectacular performance 'Live-Transmission' at the Dome by the Heritage Orchestra and Scanner commissioned for Brighton Festival). Also some jazz; Sonny Rollins and John Coltane, Miles Ahead by Miles Davis is always amazing. I collect vinyl records so whatever I find in the charity shops of George Street for 99p!

How many hours do you waste on the internet each day?
I don't really waste time on the internet, but I spend a lot of time tweaking my website, researching potential new galleries and emailing clients etc. I restrict myself to 2-hour sessions a day. Sometimes I browse for vinyl records on E-Bay in the evenings.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

I love the UK now, I have lived in Barcelona and in Holland and was away for five years, but I missed the people, especially their humour. It would be nice to live somewhere that gets really hot, I loved the uninhabited areas of Lanzarote when i visited a few years ago, there was a little town called Haria, it would be nice to have a studio there over the winter months.

Do you have a good work/life balance?
My work is my life really, I work pretty much every day, I don't really need to relax that much (or know how to) - I am quite happy the way things are and feel very lucky to have the life I have and be able to live and work as an artist, as was my dream when I was younger.

What one word would describe your feeling of doing your work?

What would your dream commission be?
I'd love to design abstract stained glass windows for a massive new cathedral. I went to the Modernist cathedral in Rio when I was in Brazil a few years ago, it was overwhelming.

If you could exhibit in any gallery in the world which would it be?
Anywhere in Cork Street or New York - I'm doing the Parallax Art Fair in Chelsea, New York in August so I'm getting closer to where I want to be!

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