Grits: Ian Johnson

Good evening good people,

Today I am pleased to introduce the Grits Series – a collection of artist interviews over breakfast.  Each of the artist featured in this series possesses  a spirit of fearlessness and tenacity that is translated into their work in a raw, inspiring and captivating way.

I feel so fortunate to kick this series off with the very talented Ian Johnson.  Ian is an artist living and working in San Francisco. His work has been exhibited around the country and internationally.  Much of his work is heavily rooted in music and celebrates the artists that brought the music to life.   Ian’s drawings and paintings demonstrate his ability to capture an explosion of complex rhythms, forms, and personality, in a way that is both eloquent and familiar.  Ian and I discussed a myriad of topics ranging from his beginnings as an artist to his opinion on what it means to stay relevant as an artist.  One of things that stood out most in our discussion was the importance of understanding the value of an artist’s work and determining one’s personal means for investing in art.  Ian notes, that as collectors one of the many ways we can support artists is by “meeting them at the price they or their gallery sets”.   The take home for me was that buying art is a choice just like buying a pair of shoes.  You just have to find a pair that speaks to your aesthetic and your budget.

And without further ado, “Grits”…according to Ian Johnson.  Thanks Ian!  It was an honor!

Art Is Luv:  Where do you call home?

Ian Johnson: I live in San Francisco, I've lived here since 1993.  I guess it is more home than anywhere else at this point.

Art Is Luv: What is your earliest memory of painting and/or sketching and what did you create?

Ian Johnson: My earliest memory is drawing with pens on yellow legal pads my grandmother had in her desk drawer for work.  They were usually long battle scenes of some kind with random characters from cartoons and toys.

Art Is Luv: For many artists, art as a career is often an indirect pathway.  What were some of your oddest and most memorable detours along the way?

Ian Johnson: I can't really think of any specifically odd detours per se.  I never intended to make a living in art so i guess it has all been pretty odd.   Well, one time my mom got me a job doing a logo for a comedy club that was opening inside a strip club in manhattan.  That was only time i've been in a strip club to meet the owner and it was pretty early in back room of the club.  While we were talking a few of the dancers were eating dinner before work.  They were in their show gowns, all made up and housing very large steaks.  It kind of killed the illusion for me.  I don't know why, but I never thought strippers ate at work.  It was kind of stupid thing to assume, but it just struck me as odd.

Art Is Luv: I noticed that many of your pieces are inspired by jazz artists.  Are you often inspired by music?  If I pressed your Pandora play button, what would I hear?  

Ian Johnson: I primarily work from portraits of jazz musicians so music is my primary base of my inspiration.  Of course music influenced by the lives of those that made it so it is also filtered through the context of thinking of their lives and the time period in which it was created.  You couldn't push play on my Pandora because I don't use it, ha.  But like most people I listen to all sorts of music.  The musicians I'm working on painting or drawing like Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Yusef Lateff, Bill Evans, Nina Simone, etc.   More contemporary things like King Krule, Sachillpages, Shabazz Palaces...  Classical sometimes...  I listen to podcasts a lot now as well, comedy, npr, sports, history and science ones mostly.

Art Is Luv: How do you stay relevant as an artist?  What advice would you give to an emerging artist?

Ian Johnson: I'm not sure how to stay relevant as an artist.  I don't know if I am, ha!  I'm not sure you actually can either.  Opinions sway and artists come in and out of fashion.  The ones that last connect to base human emotions, feelings and aesthetics in a unique way i suppose.  As far as advice I would say not to worry too much about how you fit into the art world at large.  Just do work you like and are into and if your good you'll probably find a fit.  However, you might not, life is complicated and timing is a delicate thing and it doesn't always work out how you think it will.  To be successful in most anything you have to work very hard.  For art you usually have to do that have a solid aesthetic, be stylistically fashionable, have an bullshit intellectual subtext for your work and play the political game of the art world.  Even then it still might not work.

Art Is Luv: What was the last piece of art you purchased?  Why do you think it's important to invest in art?  Who is one of your favorite artist?

Ian Johnson: I buy art books and prints and trade other artists for work.  I haven't bought a piece of art work in a long time unfortunately.  I haven't really had the disposable income to do so and now I have a child and still I can't really afford it.  I think it's important to invest in art if you like art and want to see more of it from that person or want to show your appreciation for what they have done so far.  I don't think its more important that food or shelter but if you have the means and enjoy it its worth supporting.  Some of my favorite artists are Jules de Balincourt, Francesco Igory Deiana, Harley Lafarrah Eaves, Alicia McCarthy a bunch of people... If I ever get a lot of money I will buy stuff from them and others, ha

Art Is Luv: What direction do you think your paintbrush will take you next?

Ian Johnson: Not really sure.  I plan on continuing on painting and drawing and hopefully getting better at them both.  What that leads to, I guess I'll find out when it happens.

Art is Luv: Where can we see more of your work?

Ian Johnson: On Instagram @ianmjohn. I try to post things once i finish them on there now.  My website has a sample of work.  As far as physical shows, the next one have is a Park Life in San Francisco, October 17th through November 9th.

Art is Luv: Finally, what's for breakfast?

Ian Johnson: I don't have much time anymore in the mornings so I usually just have coffee and toast.  Sometimes my lady has some extra time and makes me chia pudding or something more time consuming like a frittata or portuguese sausage, rice and eggs.  I'm ashamed to say I don't really cook much unfortunately, but she is a fantastic cook.