Saturday, July 7, 2012

Jackie Bell Johnson–Artist Interview

I am so excited to present to my readers my first interview. I hope to do many more. Jackie Bell Johnson is a peer and a classmate at CGU. Her works are sculptural in nature as well as investigations of installation. 

I presented her with a series of questions ahead of the interview and then we talked in her studio as she worked. For me it was a treat to take the time to listen to her–usually we banter about all sorts of topics. This time I focused on what she had to say, or well...I tried harder to do so.

When did you consider yourself to be an artist?

Somewhere in the middle of high school. Before that, I considered the title to be reserved for professionals who show in galleries and sell. A few years into high school and studying art I gained more confidence in my own abilities and gained a broader idea of what an artist is.

After school, where do you plan to locate your studio? Do you have a plan for how you’ll set up?

Immediately upon graduation I'll be moving everything into my garage (which acts as a partial studio now). Once I land enough income to be able to pay my loans and afford additional rent for a studio, I'll aim to get something in East LA. I want to be close to the art scene in Culver City, but I don't want a horrible commute. East LA is a good compromise, and it has many empty warehouses and scrap metal yards.

Does your studio location influence your work?

Being close by means more time in the studio less time driving.

Describe a typical day of work.

What's that? My day is dictated first by how I'm feeling (I have a bad shoulder). If its a good day and I have a large chunk of time I'll work on something more complicated and physically taxing, usually metal or wood. Otherwise, I'm doing something more crafty: painting or weaving.

What materials do you most often use?

Wood and metal are staples in my practice. Wire, linear wooden objects (like chopsticks or toothpicks), and plastics have started to appear a lot. 

What is your most coveted studio furniture piece?

Probably the loft I built over my desk. 

How about this tool rack?

Oh, that...I made it in undergrad, it's just a pallet.

What unique tools or devices do you use which are critical to your creative process?

My hammers, I have a collection of jewelry, watchmaker, and antique hammers. Along with that is my hammering table; I keep it down in the school's metal shop. It's a table with a thick butcher block top which I've mounted a few vices and stake mounts too. The stakes are used to hit sheet metal over to shape it. 

When I was about 14 I asked my Mom to take me to Baltimore for my birthday. I had seen the "big city" driving by it, but I had never been in it. She took me to a bead shop–the best bead shop anywhere.It's called Beadazzled and it is still there. My Mom allowed me to make a necklace while I was there. What I really loved and still have is the hammer and anvil she bought me that day. One is an anvil is a miniature one and all rusty. The hammer is a chasing hammer. Both of them are in my home studio.

Can you tell me about an item in your studio that has significant meaning to you?

My jewelers bench is pretty important to me. It reminds my of all the hard work I've done so far (undergrad was pretty tough), and the importance in craftsmanship in art. Beyond that I keep a collection of antique metal keys. They are a reminder of the "keys to success," as a former boss told me when she gave me the big one hanging at the top.

Describe your project schedule.

I'm working on a lot of things simultaneously and don't really schedule things to be done. I might focus on one or two pieces because of a deadline, but nothing is ever self imposed.

Where/when do you let ideas percolate?

When I least expect them. I start daydreaming while I'm looking at something and I see it change/evolve in my mind. I draw it out and it tends to change even more. I usually sit on the visual for a bit and then I'll randomly see something that sparks a solution for how to build it. Sometimes that takes a month or two.

How often do you clean your studio?

I don't clean. I'll rearrange things and sweep and that's about it.

How do you title your work?

I try to avoid titles that add to the piece. The art should give you everything you need to know, instead of the title explaining it. So I usually use vague yet literal descriptions as the title. Using "Untitled" is a cop out.

Do you have or plan to have assistants?

Budget willing, I absolutely would. For example, I am not the best at wood but still would like to have my wood pieces match the craftsmanship of my other work. Hiring a skilled carpenter would be better than what I'm doing now which is building my own work. I've been doing a lot of labor intensive pieces, and for some of them it would be nice to have some help, just to speed things along.

Have you or would you work for an other artist?

I would like to have the opportunity, mainly because it would give me ties to an artist that is making it, and all the connections they have made in the process. To learn on an intimate level how they function as artists and how they execute their work would be awesome. I would worry about their work influencing mine too much, and so I would be very cautious about working there too long.

Right now I am working with Craig Deines at Mt. SAC. I am learning about classroom administration stuff from him, like grades and attendance. I also admire the intense rigor he expects of all his students. The philosophy of no excuses. Everyone is working to B or A level.

Tell me your artist motto, manifesto or creed.

1. You don't need to fully understand what you're doing, but you need to accept it. Embrace it. It's what makes you you.
2. The idea determines the materials

Any advice for other artists?

Be serious about your career, your studies and your art, but make sure your practice, art, and self are full of humor and playfulness. Notice how art is on both sides of that one?

Any question I should have asked? 

What is your 2 sentence elevator speech?
Do you have any influences, interests, or inspirations for your work that others might find surprising?

Ok so, what is your 2 sentence elevator speech?

I am a sculpture, I use metal and other things. I work to combine industrial man made products and an organic sensibility to see how they correlate while still making a cohesive piece.

Surprise me: influences, interests, or inspirations.

Tori Amos, she's a piano player. I find her work beautiful, although I am aware others might not. She made it ok to have strange sounds coming from a woman. 

Madeline L'Engle, an author. I love reading her books, and not just A Wrinkle in Time.

I am interested in layers in music and electronica.


I cannot pinpoint inspiration. I do like watching people do things, like workers at construction sites or gardeners. I learn from that.

School here at CGU has inspired me to let go of perfection. I am making pieces that I visualize in my head, without the drive for perfection. Later with money and paid labor, I can revisit some of the work I am making now.

To learn more about Jackie:

Jackie - Thank you so much for your time!