Neoteric Art: You graduated and worked in Civil Engineering in the construction industry for 4 years before pursuing your career in the visual arts. Why the change?
Pamela Michelle Johnson: Art is something that I have always loved and wanted to do. Growing up, I was raised to believe that art was not a real career option, so as a result I got a degree in engineering. Even though there are aspects of engineering that I enjoyed, through out college and while working I definitely felt that it was not really what I wanted to be doing with my life. I was painting and drawing on my own through out my engineering career. Trying to balance a demanding career with painting was frustrating. I did not have the time to really focus and develop myself as an artist. I felt that art was really what I wanted to be doing with my life and needed to at least try and make a go of it. So about four years ago, I left my job and moved to Chicago and now I focus my time and energy on painting.
NA: Describe your current series of paintings: “American Still Life”.
PMJ: The concept for the “American Still Life” series came from the idea that food has always been portrayed in painting, whether it is the bowl of fruit or the perfectly composed table scene. I still see work like this being made and shown. Although many of these paintings are very beautiful, I was not feeling that they really depicted American culture in the true sense. So I started thinking about American culture and, like it or not, our culture is one of fast, mass produced, junk food. Because the intent was to depict American culture, not only do these paintings need to be of junk food, but they need to be piles of food and huge in scale. As a result most of the paintings are five to six feet tall.
There is definitely an advertising quality to the work and I think that is also a very American concept and works well with the ideas behind the work. So much of our culture is defined by the things that are advertised to us and as a result the things that we come to think that we want and need. Although the foods that I am paintings are junk food, they are the foods that have been advertised and sold to us since childhood and therefore are seen in our culture as being enticing.
As far as my process goes, I start by taking photographs of the items that I want to paint. Many of the piles of food are pretty precarious and are literally falling over as I am taking the photos, so trying to paint from life would be virtually impossible. Once I have a good picture, I do a pretty tight drawing on the canvas. Then it is just the long process of slowly painting.
NA: Your drawings focus primarily on the human figure. How does this relate to or help your painting?
PMJ: Many of my drawings were done in an effort to improve my skills as an artist. The figure is one of the hardest things to capture. Not only is there portraying the realistic aspect of the person, but there is the emotional aspect of a pose to capture. So it is the ultimate challenge in drawing. Strong drawing skills are essential to painting well.
NA: Do you feel the need to go back to school for further art study or will you be learning “on the streets”?
PMJ: At this point I have no plans or desire to go back to school to study art. I am pretty good about trying new things and learning on my own how to best capture what ever I am trying to create. I make a point of learning from all of my paintings. I spend a lot of time figuring out what worked in each painting and what I could have done differently or better. On a technical level, I feel like my work has grow significantly on my own and continues to grow. For an artist, I feel that it is very important to develop conceptually, but I feel that is something that a person needs to find in themselves. Although it is important to get feed back on my work, ultimately the ideas need to originate from me.
NA: How long do you intend to work on your “American Still Life” series?
PMJ: The American Still Life series is a very new series of work for me, so I feel like there are tons of things within the junk food category that I would still like to paint. Even though they are all of food, the paintings are still very different and I still feel like I am still being challenged in one way or another. Whether it is figuring out how to depict a new texture or figuring out an effective and interesting composition for each particular food.
That being said there are always new ideas floating around in my head. Some of which I will pursue at some point. Until I have actually finished a painting or two for a new series, I cannot really tell if it is an idea that is worth continuing with. So we will have to wait and see what I come up with next.