Q+Art: Artist Carl Johnson Weaves Wire Sculptures with an Air of Introspection
Carl Johnson is a process-driven artist. His brutalist wire sculptures contradict the introspection that goes into their creation with stark simplicity. An errant thought, number, or isolated moment runs through Johnson’s mind and crystallizes into crude steel, soft cotton, and open air.
Johnson comes to his craft with an analytical mindset. In elementary school, the Washington DC-born artist obsessively memorized times table equations and counted cars instead of hawking spitballs on the bus. “I create art to escape the constant bustle that goes on in my head,” Johnson writes in his artist statement. “My thoughts tend to be abstract and in translation, so is my art.” Now based in Savannah, GA, and finishing his bachelor in fine arts, the young artist channels his preoccupation with math and logistics into visual poetry.
With a background in the fiber arts, Johnson translates the traditionally feminine art of weaving into a typically masculine presentation. “Weaving has the right amount of structure, as there is always a constant within the process, but also plenty of freedom to bring my visions to life,” Johnson notes. The artist uses thin wires and cotton to create woven geometric patterns that emulate the designs on hand knit blankets and rugs. However, Johnson isn't interested in creating fully realistic versions of the home decor available to shoppers at Pier One. His work, equal parts fiber art and sculpture, is monochromatic, and despite the patterns, would look right at home outside a maximum security prison. “Since beginning to use wire in my work, I have eliminated most color, which allows me to focus more on the relationship wire has with form, structure, and light,” Johnson explains.
It’s this relationship with formalist concerns that lets Johnson explore the systems, laws, and logic of his own brain. Far from seeking out lofty ideals or complicated philosophies, Johnson revels in the process of thinking, making, and the fascinating mechanism that connects the two.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Carl Johnson discusses the need for early arts education, opening yourself to different mediums, and getting comfortable with grant writing.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Carl Johnson: Whatever gives you inspiration! I don't read a great number of books, but I do like to look through books with lots of pictures of different artists' work. Don't feel limited to just look at the work of artists in your field. Look at and learn about artists that work in a totally different medium, as you may find a connection to them.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
CJ: Jackson Pollock—one of the first artists that I was particularly drawn to. I would love to pick his brain and try to gain some sort of understanding of how it functions.
What are you trying to express with your art?
CJ: My art is a physical representation of the numerous calculations that go on in my head daily. I try to isolate one of those calculations and make a tangible work of art that can capture that moment.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
CJ: It depends on the audience I would reach. I am not opposed to the idea, especially as a young artist, but I don't want to sell myself short. My work is for me first, and I don't want to get too far sidetracked from that. That being said, I see a great benefit to meeting new people and networking, so I'd definitely keep my options open.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
CJ: Being selected as a 2021 Windgate-Lamar Fellow.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
CJ: Apply! Apply yourself, apply to shows, apply to competitions. Just apply!
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
CJ: At this point in my career, yes. It has opened up a number of opportunities for me post graduation.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
CJ: Make art more accessible. Art and creativity should be encouraged from a young age. In schools there shouldn't be a right or wrong, good or bad, beautiful or ugly when it comes to art. What is considered wrong, bad, or ugly, often leads to growth and a better understanding of the medium or process.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
CJ: Right now I'd like to be commercially successful. That being said, I want to stay true to myself as an artist and continue to find joy in what I do.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
CJ: It has allowed me to grow as a writer. By writing more, I have become more comfortable sending emails, asking questions, applying for shows, jobs, grants, residencies, etc.
How do you think the coronavirus pandemic will impact the art world in the long term?
CJ: I am hopeful it'll have a positive impact in the long run. I know many artists that have been able to spend more time thinking about and working on their own art. I think people will be more adapted to creating in their home studio. Even if that means clearing off the dining room table during the day so you have somewhere to sketch.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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