Ohio Interviews: Artist Johanna Jackson

Selfie by Johanna Jackson
Selfie by Johanna Jackson


LA-based artist Johanna Jackson is fresh out of two recent shows here in New York. At The Journal Gallery in Brooklyn, her work was exhibited along with work by her husband, Chris Johanson, in a collaborative show called “The Middle Riddle.” At Canada gallery on Broome Street, her work was paired with that of sculptor Sahar Khoury in a show called “Bow Bow.” The curator of that show, artist Tony Cox, noted that:

[Jackson] creates objects that are simultaneously recognizable yet transformed beyond utility; her rugs are hooked by hand, and a grandfather clock stands rendered in clay and frozen in time. The scale of her work is purposefully sized for the body or the home, as though she’s drafting a proposal for a weirder way of living. She tunes an antenna towards the universe, and listens for the mysterious.

OE asked her some questions by email.


"Clock + energy shield agains my mother," 2015-17. Cement and ceramic pigment, watercolor and Cochineal and indigo-dyed wool. Photo courtesy Canada.
“Clock + energy shield agains my mother,” 2015-17. Cement and ceramic pigment, watercolor and Cochineal and indigo-dyed wool. Photo courtesy Canada.


OE:  Tell me about the rugs you are doing. (I am looking at “Clock and Energy Shield Against My Mother” and “Sickness”). How did these pieces evolve?

I am also really intrigued about your collaboration with Chris in “The Middle Riddle.”  Is this a natural outgrowth from your furniture work?


JJ: The rugs, like the sweaters, start from the category of Things I Want but, weirdly, the items from this category always become pieces about sadness and they become objects for soothing but mostly acknowledging sadness. Like those horrible wire dolls that motherless monkeys soothe themselves with in the Harlow experiments. Except not horrible–really, really nice. Maybe actually so full of art magic and concentration that it totally compensates. That’s basically the plan.

So the rug you are looking at, “energy shield,” is latch-hooked with yarn that I’d dyed years ago at a country fair. Except the black yarn which is commercial wool. The image on the rug is a depiction of an energy shield that I once constructed for a visit to my mother. My friend told me to try this. I gave it a shot and it did not work.

She said to imagine a barrier, a glass bubble, a cloak, whatever, and carry it around with you so that your mother stays on one side and you on the other. I made mine the Pacific Ocean–it felt alive. However as soon as my mother got close to it she seemed to spill oil in it–really a lot of oil. And I could not stop [carrying] the ocean barrier even though it was contaminated. I had to stay with the ocean I had brought with me. I don’t really think that energy barriers work with my nature.

I made the rug with visitors and other artists at the Headlands residency. Latchooking takes forever and I sat for many hours with volunteers, tying little knots and talking with each other about feelings and also talking shit.

“Sickness” is hand dyed except the grey. It’s the body changing its composition as it runs out of its living material. It’s punchhooked, which is different and makes a loop rather than a sort of tassel.


"Sickness," 2016-17. Cochineal, hand-dyed wool.
“Sickness,” 2016-17. Cochineal, hand-dyed wool.


The clock is cement, ceramic and pigment. The ceramic and cement threaten and support each other in a way that sometimes makes me freak out. It is in the category Heavy. In this category there is time, (but also that clock only has eight holes like a male body).


Detail from "Clock and Energy Shield Against My Mother." Photo by S. Gernsbacher
Detail from “Clock and Energy Shield Against My Mother.” Photo by S. Gernsbacher


“The Middle Riddle” is my second furniture/life collaboration with Chris. We started making our own furniture and cups, our pants and things–we started trying to change our relationship with the things we make by really living with them and in them. Less a trading away of the husks of our creative processes in exchange for a different set of husks. More an electric garden.

Some of our friends have pieces in it. I see us really slipping between use-object and art object in this show. The differences are getting murkier.


OE: Is your mother an artist as well? What did she think of the energy piece? I am also struck with how you are working in so-called “feminine” media. Any thoughts you want to share about being a woman artist?

I love that you and Chris are making the stuff you live with. Please elaborate on this electric garden of stuff and how it is to live there. How is that experiment working?


Installation detail from "The Middle Riddle," The Journal Gallery.
Installation detail from “The Middle Riddle,” The Journal Gallery.


JJ:  No, my mom is a divorce lawyer. Disbarred, bipolar, borderline and a longtime opioid addict, she is so toxic when she’s toxic, like no one else. Like a joke about mothers. But when she’s ok-ish she’s pretty great–last time I saw her she was listening to Lucinda Williams, and I was like, Lucinda Williams! Truly, I was like maybe she could be healed with the right angry music.

About being a woman artist: it is all of the things we know, and I talk about it with my friends all of the time I’m sure that you have the same conversations. Someone recently taught me the word femme-shaming. That’s been a useful decoding tool for me lately.

There’s so much to be said about the woman thing.

Oh, you asked me about electric garden! I was thinking of our work being something that could be Edenic, I guess, with some elemental creative light charging up just some pretty natural and earthy creativity–just some humans moving stuff around. And the golden light of course.

Right now I’m working on a painting that’s a poem. Soup with Dust. And I’m working on a wheel making the most unbelievably uncentered pottery.


OE: I would love to hear anything else you wanted to say about being a woman artist, and how you are making your world.

Are there any artists of any gender whose work you are excited about right now? What is inspiring you these days, any ceramicists?


Johanna jackson. Photo: Chris Johanson
Johanna Jackson. Photo: Chris Johanson


JJ: Some women artists I am thinking of first are Dana Dart-McLean, Nickels Sunshine, Leslie Shows and Sam Moyer.

Sam has a show up at the LA space called Joan right now. It’s a collaboration with her father who is a lightning designer–well, no, not a collaboration.  She’s the artist. It’s a big, smooth, light picture of a window, with leaves and a fence. It has the white light quality of all the emotions being inside of it; it is ultimately pretty and calm. In another room you can see the tools, the work, the structure and that evidence of effort feels emotionally easy but not emotionally too easy. The dad knew how to do it; Sam knows how to talk to the dad about how to make it.

Dana Dart-McLean works in many mediums–painting, sculpture, performance and always poetry. We like to work together and I love so many things about her and her work. Her work is conscious of the forces that stop art from being made and her objects and performances actively resist the deadening.

Nickels is a choreographer, dancer, performer and also visual artist, like Dana Dart-McLean in total rebellion–when I’m around Nickels and their work everything seems supercharged–for example, things in the room with the piece might start having a voice, too.

Leslie shows works with earth materials like metal and sand and imagery of stone. She’s got these techniques that invent themselves for her–like putting sand through a printer? Leslie is thinking all the time about what the world is made of so a lot of thinking about matter, energy, vibration. Dynamics.

I think what I like in art (and I’ll just say the art of all people facing gender-based oppression) involves alienish curiosity about this world, animism usually, and work that can hold a lot of affect. I think a lot of time an object that is talking and vibrating is an object that we try to tune out. So work that involves tuming in to the tuned-out.


OE: Re this: “conscious of the forces that stop art from being made.” Please tell me more about this–what forces, where located, how one resists. 

JJ: I think it’s scary to think directly on this subject– will the magic door disappear if I look directly at it?

I called Dana to see what she thought but she had to go. “You mean the forces of bullshit?” is what she said. And bullshit is a nice way to put it, as it implies a misdirecting system.

I think the main thing for me is getting alone with the work. Which is weird if the art is supposed to do something, communicate with others, say, or bring in money or prestige. Mine never does, or if it does, I don’t feel it for long, so. I’m not above burning a black candle in the studio if the introjects are loud.


Black beeswax candle for psychic distancing. Photo courtesy the artist.
Black beeswax candle for psychic distancing. Photo courtesy the artist.


So many of us have been to art school and graduate school now and there’s  a lot of investment in a parochial way of looking at art.  I think it’s good to try to keep that out of the studio. Artmaking is not a good place to be dancing for judges. No one really knows anything about art!  Rather than a conversation or a game, I like to think of art as a totally random collection of heavily cathectic matter-poems thrown up by regenerating but definitely dying spiritual-biological animals on a planet in space.

My  studiomate came into the cafe where I’m writing this and I told him about what I am writing and he was like, “alone with the work?” He’s a great painter, but also a fisher and I think it’s his fishing practice that correlates to a sustainable, creative practice for me. I try to get really quiet, let my eyes adjust to the dark and find my own trail.

Also, craftspersonshiply perfectionism can be a real killer, too.

Money is a big problem always.

-Interview by Amy Fusselman