Now Featuring Kiki Johnson

Painter and performer Kiki Johnson reaches into the past for her source material, finding talismans and rituals in the objects in historical museums and libraries.  By linking the idea of magic to items that were also everyday tools and humble foods, Johnson points to the way the past informs who we are today, they way selection and collection drives historical narrative, and the possibility for the imagination to rewrite stories of who we were and who we are now.

To view the collection of prints on LPP: Kiki Johnson

LPP Exclusive Print #1

LPP Exclusive Print #2

LPP Exclusive Print #3

LPP Exclusive Print #4

LPP Exclusive Print #5

LPP Exclusive Print #6

MH: How do you collect the images you paint?  Do you work from pictures or the actual object?  I’m curious because there’s something about the way you often isolate an item on a white, shadowed field that suggests a lot of interaction, and maybe even a talesmanic relationship with each thing you paint.

KJ: The images that I chose to paint are culled from thousands of photographs from my growing archive. This archive is created from museums, both conventional and open air, presidential libraries, and small town historical societies from my trips around the country.  I used to be picky with objects that I photographed because I thought of them as sketches for ideas for future projects. But once I realized that my collection of images has turned in to an archive I started to take photos of anything I found interesting.

MH: What’s your relationship with Americana and magic? Falling In Love Spell seemed to mash all those things together, soul music, molasses and a magic trick, but there are notes of those themes throughout your work.

KJ: I just recently started trying to combine my interests in Americana and magic together, they have always been two different threads of my work. But I’m finding when I attempt to combine them in my work I wind up with more unexpected and complicated pieces.

MH: Can you tell me about your Ouija table sculpture?  In your video documentation I imagined the sounds were the rappings and murmurs of ghosts.

KJ: The piece Spirit Board — the table came from the kitchen of my childhood home and has traveled through time with me — displays the marks of history. The wood is worn from a family’s daily use and scarred by the names of those close to me. Read like cryptic signs, the table becomes an Ouija board in which to communicate with the past. An audio recording of an earlier performance plays in the gallery, sounding séance-like with murmuring voices, rustling chairs and mysterious scratches and thuds. I wanted the view to feel as if the table, and the jar on top of the table was moving, as if the spirits were still trying to communicate.

MH: How did you become interested in history, especially history as a place to be accessed via objects, reenactments and rituals? And what is your current research process like?

KJ: I became interested in history when I took my first cross-country trip from New York to Los Angeles, I was twenty, and it was just a friend and I.  It was the first time I felt connected to history.  I felt that I was linked to all the other people who crossed the country. Manifest Destiny! Encountering the past is to suddenly feel something you can’t explain. It’s a space or an object where both present and absent can exist.  It’s a place where something has happened but nothing is there now; the feeling of history still remains. That feeling is like no other feeling, and it’s addictive. So I’m just trying to access that feeling threw objects, reenactments and rituals.

For my research process, I just visit as many museums and historical sites as I can. I also spend a good amount of time in libraries looking through books.

MH: Can you talk about your interest in molasses, and performing with it? It’s such an evocative substance, sickly sweet, a waste product of refining sugar, a bit of an anachronism in today’s kitchen, and also dark and shiny like petroleum.  I also think of the Boston Molasses Disaster… something that’s both ridiculous and tragic.

KJ: I learned about the Boston Molasses Disaster about seven years ago, and after that I have always thought that molasses was an interesting substance. I did a few pieces where I would bake with it. I just started performing with it this year. I was taking a performance class with Clifford Owens, the Molasses Ritual was my first performance in the class. I just think molasses is a strange and magical material that still holds its historical aura.

MH: Did where and how you grew up put you on the path your on?  How? Your work makes me feel close to my New England roots, for example. And how did you start to paint?

KJ: I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, so you are spot on with the New England feeling. Even though my work has a feeling of New England, I’m more inspired by the prairie, and the Wild West.

I just started painting this year, before this year I thought of painting being just being an illusion, but I realized that was what made it special. I realized that painting is a type of magic; it is a way to conjure. So when I’m painting I think of it as a way to conjure these objects I have collected in photographs.

MH: What projects are you working on now?  What are some projects you’re just beginning to dream of working on?

KJ: I’m have been thinking about making a new body of work based on predicting and altering the weather. I started researching the folklore of weather forecasting. I don’t know what form this work will be, but I’m excited to start a new body of work.

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