Kiki Johnson

Kiki Johnson’s paintings make me want to paint. I always get excited when work inspires me to get in the studio. After reading her statement, I was even more interested. As paintings they depict the banal, something possibly found in the garage or in the back of an old thrift store. Though upon looking closer, they extend past the banal into something more precious as each object is framed within its lonesome. The paintings begin to transform as markers; stand ins for something we as the viewers are not privy. Her statement sheds light on what these works could and can represent which is rich in history; stories of the past within a context of history we all have learned and know. History has many cracks and various interpretations which I think Johnson’s work offers an interesting perspective.

History is a line, a method for sorting fact from fiction. My practice explores where that line blurs. I approach the assumed objectivity of history using my own subjectivity. Replacing the authoritative voice of history with my own voice brings cause to question the accuracy, authenticity, and truth of history as it is presented.

My main strategy is redrawing historical images. These are not duplications or copies, but reenactments of the images. My sources are not chosen based on the linear or temporal hierarchies that history as a discipline creates and sustains. Instead, my sources are filtered first through the instruments of history, such as museums and libraries. Subjects such as sailors and witches are placed side by side, revealing how these two apparently dissimilar subjects are in fact treated as equals within historical discourse. By collecting images from history books, rather than history itself, I create delicate and eerie images that collapse the languages of maritime history and superstition. My mysterious Americana imparts a dark vision where Moby Dick swims alongside witches, cartography differentiates good luck from bad luck, and upturned bread loaves portend death.

History and superstitions are both used to generate meaning, to make sense of the terrifying unpredictability of the unknown. Superstitions are rituals that have to be performed. As my drawings are more performative then representational, my work has expanded into performance. In one performance I baked a vinegar pie, based on a Great Depression era recipe that was popular when fruit was scarce. In another performance I burned my Christmas tree and fried pancakes over the open flame on Shrove Tuesday to ensure luck for the rest of the year. I do this partly as a performance, but I am also sincerely hoping for a lucky year.

Whether images or performances, my work confronts viewers with the results of history, stripped of their supporting context. The viewer must justify these images and actions as they exist now, and also question the meaning of the word “yesteryear.”

**All images and italicized text is from


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