Kysa Johnson’s drawings, paintings and installations explore patterns in nature that exist at the extremes of scale. Using the shapes of subatomic decay patterns, the molecular structure of pollutants, images derived from electron micrography of bacteria and diseases– in short, microscopic or macroscopic “landscapes” – it depicts a physical reality that is invisible to the naked eye. Often these micro patterns are built up to form compositions that relate to them conceptually.
Kysa Johnson (b. 1974, Evanston, IL) received her BFA (honors) from the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. Johnson has had solo exhibitions at The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art (Ridgefield, CT), The National Academy of Sciences (Washington, DC), Grace Farms (New Canaan, CT), Halsey McKay Gallery (East Hampton, NY), Morgan Lehman Gallery (New York, NY), Roebling Hall Gallery (New York, NY), and The Nicolaysen Museum (Casper, WY). Her work has been shown in a number of institutions including exhibitions at The 2nd Biennial of the Canary Islands, the Tang Museum (Saratoga Springs, NY), The Katonah Museum of Art (Katonah, NY), the Hudson River Museum (Yonkers, NY), DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (Lincoln, MA), and Standpoint Gallery (London, UK). Johnson has created sitespecific
installations for KK Projects in New Orleans, LA (2008), Dublin Contemporary in Ireland (2011), and for the New York Armory Show (2013). She is a 2003 NYFA fellow and 2009 Pollack Krasner Grant recipient. She lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Johnson is represented by Morgan Lehman Gallery in New York.
An Interview with Kysa Johnson:
What inspires you to make work? Can you name any particular artists that you look up to?
Nature and images drawn from scientific research inspire me. Drawing and painting is a way for me to explore ideas about the universe and the interconnectedness of processes and patterns in the natural world. I am specifically interested in the massively big and the minisculey small; from the distributuion of matter in the universe to the patterns subatomic particles make as the decay into other particles. I am driven by a curiousity to understand the physical world, how it functions and how we fit in it. Drawing has always had a place in our attempt to grapple with the how and why were are here. I was brought up in a very dogmatic religion that never made sense to me. I was frustrated by it’s lack of connection to anything based in reality. In High School I had an amazing Chemistry teacher who really opened my eyes to the insane beauty of the physical world in a way that was actual and factual. Through science I saw the beauty and wonder of the world in a real and tangible way and it has inspired me ever since.
I look up to Fred Tomaselli, Corneila Parker, Kara Walker, Tara Donovan, Rachel Ruysch, Frans Hals, Da Vinci (of course!),Chris Ofili, Susan Philipsz, Olafur Eliasson, to name a few!
What are you investigating through your work? How would you describe your relationship the work?
All of my work uses micro- patterns in nature as a base alphabet. I use these alphabets to layer over each other to create larger compositions. Often these compositions are related to the micro elements used to build them up. One series uses the molecular structure of environmental pollutants to create compositions based on Hudson River School Landscapes, another series uses the shapes of asexually reproducing yeast and bacteria to build up Immaculate Conception compositions. I use subatomic decay patterns to build up compositions that are about change over time and evolving histories. The current series I’m working on is called “The Long Goodbye” and uses an alphabet of subatomic decay patterns to build up imagery of stars being born and dying. I am curious how similar processes repeat in different ways, or natural processes pop up in our human story-telling.
I hope that beyond my mark-making (which is distinct,) and the boundary I’ve given myself of working with imagery that comes from nature and science, that my work is separate from me, my life, my emotions. I want me as an individual to be apart from my work and how people percieve it. I want it to stand firmly and strongly on it’s own.
How do you find the art scene in Los Angeles?
The art scene in Los Angeles is really, really exciting right now. I went to art school in Glasgow, Scotland and it was an amazing city to be an artist in because there was a fantastic world reknowned art school but not much of a market. The focus was on the community and the making of work. Los Angeles has a similar feeling to me. It lacks the intense international market of New York and is home to several stellar internationally acclaimed art schools. The focus falls more on the art and less on the market, which is great for art-making!
Are you working on anything right now that you feel is going in a new direction?
Over the past few years I have done several large scale drawing installations that incorporate sculptural elements. I really love working that way. I want to continue to expand that practice, but also to find a way to animate them, so that the drawing element changes over the span of the exhibition. I haven’t hit on the best way to achieve that yet but it’s constantly on my mind.
What advise could you give to someone starting their creative career?
It’s really hard. It’s complicated to merge art and money but it’s necessary. You will probably have to work in some other capacity for a number of years while you toil away on your craft at night and inbetween other paying gigs. That should be expected. I worked in retail, in advertising, as a window dresser for a high end luxury goods store, as an assistant stylist/costume designer, and in fashion show production for many many many years as I tried to make the majority of my income from art. Also there’s a high failure rate but that’s okay. You need to fail alot and be okay with that. It gets easier as time goes on. It’s part of the gig, it’s not personal.
The more you try, the more you fail, but also the more you succeed. It’s better to succeed in a slow and steady way because that tends to be more lasting and stable.
My first NYC gallerist always said you need talent to be an artist, but what you need most is persistence and patience, that’s how you succeed.
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