AIR Interview: Christi Johnson
Christi Johnson is one of our new Artists in Residence here at TAC, and I recently had the opportunity to ask her about her work, influences and process.
Your family has a tradition of fibers and textiles. Could you talk a little about how this impacted you and your work?
Well my grandmother was a depression era child, I remember my mother telling me stories about her saving thread and aluminum foil to re-use. Though my mother didn’t really take this on, it somehow got passed on to me. My father had also been pretty resourceful having grown up in the South (providing us with stories like his un-refrigerated mayonnaise sandwiches when we complained about our lunches). Much of my work starts off with scraps from previous projects, gifted items, and found materials. Resourcefulness becomes a part of the process as a parameter to work within, though I don’t limit the materials in my art to JUST found objects.
I spent much of my childhood playing with tie dye, batik, and other surface manipulation techniques with my mother, who still loves experimenting with new ideas and materials. She worked as an engineer and I think these processes allowed her to keep a creative perspective. I learned to sew at such a young age I really can’t remember. My older sister, 12 years my senior, was taking fashion design classes which got me into pattern making at a young age because she passed down her old textbooks. At the time it was just a way to create an ever evolving wardrobe on limited funds, but it was something I found myself continuing to come back to. I eventually went on to study fashion design myself, though I realized I much prefer the art of creating collections of handmade garments to the fast paced world of apparel production.
Apart from these family influences, where else do you draw inspiration? Can you give specific examples?
For years what I was creating was mostly representational, or imitations of other things I had seen, which had been re-enforced by the focus on trends and sales in the fashion industry. I started doing yoga and meditating a few years ago, and it inspired a whole new visual library for me to use. The emptying of chaos through deep breathing allowed for new ideas to come through.
I try to draw concepts and visual inspiration from more intuitive sources, the color story from a dream I had, or the shapes dancing on the backs of my eyelids while meditating. With all the imagery that we are constantly inundated with, it is an attempt to present something that comes from outside our immediate world. That said, I do also try and frequent museums, galleries, and markets to keep up to date on new concepts and ideas, so I’m not creating in a vortex of my own thoughts.
You describe your work as seeking a balance between the “raw and the refined.” Could you elaborate on this?
It’s the idea of working with these perfect geometric forms that require specific tools to create, a circle for example or perfectly straight lines, and then applying them using completely imperfect techniques and materials such as tie dye on raw silk, or embroidery on a piece of salvaged wood. You can try your best to make these precise shapes, but the nature of the technique is that there will be some variations, no matter how hard you try to tie dye a perfect circle. The unchanging precision of math is absolutely magical to me, and the way nature can create mathematically perfect forms that are often tied in with chaotic surroundings kind of blows my mind.
You work in a variety of media and with various techniques. What modes of making are you focusing on right now in the studio and what excites you about it?
I took a natural dyeing class at TAC a few months before beginning the residency and got completely hooked. Though I love the bright colors available by using fiber reactive dyes, the magic of taking something as raw as a tree root, or as easily found as dried flowers, extracting colors and bonding them to the fibers on an atomic level is absolutely fascinating to me, and I’ve been working on refining those skills. I also am really drawn to the meditative quality of embroidery. It’s a slow, repetitive process that forces me to take my time. These techniques have become a sort of daily ritual for me, techniques that cannot be rushed or fast-forwarded. The dye absorbs into the fabric at its own speed, and there isn’t much more I can do besides be patient.
Though I had planned to step away from fashion design, I’m realizing that creating wearable cloth is really my favorite form of art. I started to miss developing this harmonious dance of colors and patterns and shapes within a collection of clothing. I’m currently working on mini-collections of handmade clothes, mostly naturally dyed and hand embroidered silks, with the challenge of creating them in a way that the least amount of fabric is wasted in cutting. I’m hoping for these collections to evolve into an opportunity for more collaboration as well!
You can visit Christi’s website at: www.christijay.com