When I was asked if I wanted to visit visual artist Chris Johanson’s studio, I immediately answered “yes!” His workspace is a trip. There are colors and shapes everywhere, piles of drawings, paint cans used as thinking stools, and even a little Affenpinscher dog named Raisin. My visit began with us talking about fashion and ended with us speaking about his new custom Prius (red-painted with eggplant leather interior), acquired because the last was “destroyed by LA drivers.” In between, we did actually talk about his art––from his recent total abstraction to his days in San Francisco, and the unconventional path he took in order to become the open, receptive, and perceptive artist he is today. Check out his latest assembled paintings and latticework pieces, and read up on what we talked about below!
Sam Handleman: What is your astrological sign?
Chris Johanson: My sign is mature Leo.
SH: If you had to take a dream vacation with Raisin and your wife Jo Jackson right now, where would you go?
CJ: I would go anywhere mellow near the ocean, and I would eat coconuts, mangos, beans, and sand.
SH: What is your job description?
CJ: It's a hard job to describe. I do visual things like paint and design album covers for friends, but I also play in bands (mainly Sun Foot). I've also been making furniture with Jo, and I just made a poster. Right now I'm in Chicago, where I am making an installation at the art fair with The Suzanne Geiss Company
in a space that I will also share with the artist Kristen Baker. I am a project-oriented person. I live in the land of 1099.
SH: Your art has progressed and transformed greatly in the past ten years. What would you say is the current character of your work?
CJ: The current feeling is to look on the bright side, even when dealing with deaths or uncomfortable energy. My art is life, death, life, art. I just want to be more positive rather than negative with what I do.
SH: What inspires you?
CJ: I find thinking about other perspectives pretty helpful. I listened to this year's political conventions, which was a pretty harsh listen. But if I don't allow people their humanity, then who am I? Personally I know people that are shit out of luck on SSI, and there are a lot of people that fall through the cracks here. I am not into crack or people falling through cracks. I always find inspiration in the political thing called life because we cannot escape coexisting.
SH: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you have with you?
CJ: I would take my partner, my animal partner, how-to books that amazingly also make food, purify water, safe housing, and wine.
SH: Do you have a message for the kids and aspiring artists?
CJ: Remember, school is everywhere. Maybe you can't afford to go to one of those heavy-duty schools, I couldn't. That’s okay. There is great information everywhere. But be careful in the Tenderloin or 16th Street. Go to lots of non-profit art spaces. Lots of artists who have experiences that you seek are friendly. They may look fried, and they may very well be, but that does not mean that under the right mellow circumstances that they will not share stories or answer questions.
If you are having trouble sharing your art experience with others and you want to then try putting on an event of your own, make your own scene. I personally tried to check out many different scenes in my life and I think any successes I have had in life are a direct result from the time spent being a part of and cultivating these different situations.
SH: What’s the current soundtrack to your life?
CJ: I have been listening to Hickey, Jackie-O Motherfucker, Grouper, Lichens, Sonny and the Sunsets, and Crazy Band.
Check out Chris’s show Windows
at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in New York, up until October 20th, as well as his touring band Sun Foot, performing Thursday 20th at the Chicago Art Fair.
MITCHELL-INNES & NASH
534 W 26th Street
New York, NY 10001
Mitchell-Innes & Nash