Artist Interview with Donald Johnson
APM Blog: Donald, thank you for taking a moment to tell us about your artwork. Tell us about the artwork you submitted to our international juried art competition. Is this part of a larger series? What are some of the ideas behind that work.
The works that I submitted are part of a learning experience. The subject matter of this work is ambiguous, drawn from the world around me and purposely abstracted into work that could look like one thing or another, or nothing recognizable at all. My work is largely about the process of meandering and seeking with my eyes and the paintbrush. My intention is for the viewer to also meander among the work.
APM Blog: Tell us about the process and materials of your work.
My process has changed over the last year, but has not lost its foundation. I am not just a painter, but an artist and I combine various mediums into my work. The work I have submitted is painting, printmaking, and drawing. I start off by doing small drawings, scanning them and blowing them up to be screen-printed. I have no set formula for my work, but there are many layers of paint, charcoal, graphite, and silk-screen applied to the canvas in no particular order. I spent two weeks in Florence, Italy in the summer of 2011 producing water-colors of the history filled city. Upon the return to my studio I have treated my acrylic paints as if they were water colors. This allows me to include soft washes over each other to gain more depth.
APM Blog: Do you start with a particular idea or image in mind for the small drawings? They seem to be about gravity and/or weight.
In the drawings of this body of work, there is no particular idea or image that influences them. Some are landscapes, buildings, figures, or objects. With these drawings I would take shape fragments or line fragments and juxtapose them with other fragments from something completely different. My goal for the drawings were to take these shapes and lines and combine them to make a whole composition. It was a challenge to myself to make a formally sound drawing. There is definitely a weight and gravity in my work. Some of it came from the drawing where I wanted to show form or space, but most of the weight of the paintings came from the painting part of the process. My previous body of work, what much the same idea behind it, but it was more of a separation of surface of the painting. The lines and shape would fall off the edges of the painting. In this body, I wanted the shapes to become object-like, or interact with the space around it. I am finding out that what intrigues me as I’m drawing is the way our eyes sense a 2-D view and our brain uses indicators to actually perceive this space as 3-D. I find myself trying to perceive what I see the same way that my eyes sense it.
APM Blog: You mention that you artwork has not lost its foundation. Does this reference your background or previous work?
I graduated in 2009 from Augustana College, in Sioux Falls, SD, with a BA in Art and Business Administration. The week of graduation I decided to pursue my MFA. I took a year off to build up my portfolio and was accepted into the University of Idaho with an emphasis in printmaking. When I arrived at school, they said I could do whatever I want. I wanted to screen-print on canvas. Although my works are probably more in the realm of painting, I love printmaking. The process of printing, the hard work, the delayed gratification, it all just turns my gears. Where print shows up in my work is the screen-print, I also tend to use a marker or pen rather then graphite to draw, I use line to gain value and space, just like the etchings of the masters. Looking at those old etchings really help you understand how line can be used to make an entire drawing.
When I mentioned that it has not lost its foundation, I mean that the process has not lost its foundation. I have always been drawn towards artwork that shows the artist’s hand in the work. Work that is physically rigorous, it gains a respect with me. Naturally that is the way that I want my work to be as well. Actual physical work and direct observation has always been a part of my work, so that has remained the same. I also come from a printmaking background, particularly screen-printing. I was immediately drawn to the rock poster scene and the process of screen-printing became second nature to me. I used to play around with screen-printing on my canvas as the final step in my process. When I was making this body of work, I started to screen-print in the middle stages of a piece, then I would draw and paint over it, sometimes I screen-print the drawing or parts of drawing on the canvas over that. When I became comfortable with interchanging my process, painting, drawing or printing over things already on the canvas, my work became more interesting, before it was very graphic with large black screen-printed lines over brightly under-painted colors. It became more sophisticated.
APM Blog: Who are some of the artists that influence your work?
Artists that influence my work begin with the masters in printmaking such as Goya, William Blake, Rembrandt, and Durer. Other artists that influence me are Turner, Guston, Johns, Rauschenberg, Pollock, Dubuffet, Amy Sillman, and Matthew Ritchie. I also believe its important to look at your contemporary’s work. I frequent art blogs and publications with work from today’s artists.
APM Blog: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your work, process and ideas with us. Your artwork is also featured in our Abstract Art Contest at we’ve provided a link to your artwork for our readers to enjoy.