HF Feature Interview with Colin Johnson

by Nathan SpoorPosted on

Colin Johnson is immersed in a loving obsession that he calls his “hyper-collage” works. Having an undaunted interest in his mercurial pursuits has lead him on many an intricate visual adventure, yet leaves him enough of a toehold in the physical world to relate some of his thoughts on art and life to us. From the cold tundra known as the Lands of Eternal Winter (well not really, but it’s more than cold) deep in the heart of Minnesota, one artist finds a way to spend the hours on a very creative and personal pursuit. Follow us in…

So tell us Colin, where are you from and where do you currently reside?

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, grew up in New York, went to college in Baltimore, Maryland, and now currently reside in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. Is that more than you wanted to know?

Do you find that your location affects your work or output, or that you find certain places more or less creatively stimulating?

Generally, it doesn’t matter to me where I live in relation to the work that I create. Although, I’ve never lived in a climate where it’s warm all year round. Maybe the warm climate would help me to be more productive. It is sometimes tough to live in an area of the country where it’s cold for about 7 months out of 12.

Defenders of Nature: Study Series #1, 2009, approx. 4″W x 6″H, Mixed Media on Wood.

When did you begin to develop this style or artistic pursuit of yours?

Well, if you mean just artwork in general I’ve drawn all my life. The current collage work which I’ve dubbed “hyper-collage” began in high school as a cartoonish drawing style. I carried that style over in my college years and eventually substituted collage for drawn elements. The work became progressively more complex over the years.

Defenders of Nature: Study Series #2, 2009, approx. 4″W x 6″H, Mixed Media on Wood.

Did you attend an art school or do you have any thoughts on the topic?

Yes, I attended The Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. I think a good education in art technique(s) and art history is a real necessity for becoming a complete artist but attending art school is not always necessary. It depends on the artist. Immersing yourself in the art world is the key. One way to do it is attending art school. But I’ve also seen just as many successful self-taught artists. So perhaps the key is simply hard work and dedication to your craft.

When you approach a new work, do you sketch out or brainstorm, or is it more immediate and in-the-moment?

I don’t do full blown drawings for my preliminary sketch work. However, I usually work out the key elements of my larger pieces on tracing paper prior to start. Then I usually paint the background. The next stage is that I simply transfer the tracing paper sketch over the background painting. Then I’m ready to begin the piece.

Due to the extremely intricate nature of your work, and that so much time goes into it, one must address the question of the personal nature to you as the artist. What is the key underlying theme or meaning to the works?

There are many elements such as letters, numbers, and symbols that I put into the collage work that have personal meaning to me. But I generally tend not to mention those meanings to others who are viewing the work. And I do so simply because I expect that others will relate to the elements in my collages in a completely different way than I do. That’s really what I’m going for in the work. A certain number, letter, or symbol may have a completely different meaning to me than it does to you. And in that way each individual brings their own sensibilities to the work when they view it. At least, I can only assume that such is the case.

In a metaphorical sense, the collage work represents everything “human-made” in terms of waste or refuse in contrast to the fully painted style of my work which represents everything “nature” related. I’ve been working hard on integrating these two worlds, the contrast that exists, and the damage being caused by the “human” refuse to the “natural” world.

The Pink Opaque, 2008, 11″W x 6″H, Mixed Media on Board.

Do you ever find yourself experimenting in other aspects of creativity, coming up with sculptures or figurative work, that sort of “typical” fare?

Well, I feel as though I have a figurative style of work in terms of the painting style that I mentioned previously. And I really appreciate and admire many forms of sculptural work. Currently, I especially enjoy a lot of the sculptural work being done to create many (if not all) of the cool vinyl kaiju toys coming out of Japan. But I’m not a sculptor and don’ actually enjoy creating 3-D sculpture or painting on 3-D objects.

In the past I have created my own forms of music just for the fun of it. I don’t actually read music, know how to play any instruments, and I’m not really musically inclined. However, I’ve found that if I approach this hobby in the same way that I create my collage work it starts to make some sense. I’m simply combining different forms of found sounds instead of found papers and other more traditional forms of collage elements. It’s aural collage.

Unnatural Snare, 2009, 8″W x 10″H, Mixed Media on Canvas.

I’ve noticed that you were pursuing a sort of figurative or organic creature life in previous work, but now concentrate on more text-oriented works. Is there a reason for the diversion, or is it more of a natural progression?

No diversion. Both styles still exist and I’m working hard to marry the two since both are important in regard to the man vs. nature duality that exists in my work.

Where do you see your work heading in the near future?

Hopefully towards a continued progression highlighting important environmental issues. Many artists seem to be addressing similar ideas with their works. I’m of the opinion that more artists should champion the various environmental issues that we face as a planet. If we continue to remain so greatly ignorant/indifferent and/or willfully destructive, the planet may no longer be habitable for future generations. So the time is now and we as artists have a unique voice in the community to spread that word.

Unnatural Snare (Detail shot)

Is there any project or scenario that you’ve always been interested in pursuing, or seeing come to fruition?

I feel as though I’m currently working on some of those types of projects. I’ve recently begun work on a collage piece which measures 40″ x 60″. It’s gonna take forever but should look amazing if it doesn’t kill me first!

Painting In The Living Room

What do you feel is the most rewarding aspect of creating your work?

I know that it might seem somewhat obvious but it’s often the final result that I enjoy the most. In all of my works there are often small sections or small moments where something comes together in a new or unpredictable way and manages to exceed my expectations and initial vision. That’s always rewarding and exciting.

I’ve seen some small run booklets of your work that turned out very nicely. Where can one find these or future releases, and do you have any interest in creating a full printed volume of work at some point?

Yeah, my good buddy Jason Limon just designed a little booklet for me. But I’m primarily sending those ones out for promotional purposes. However, we may have a future booklet idea in the works which will be offered for sale to the general public. No promises at the moment but keep an eye on my Flickr page from time to time over the course of 2009 for possible surprises… And yes, I’d love to do a full printed volume of my work. If anyone has any interest in making that happen drop me an e-mail!


Thanks for you time, Colin. But as we depart, do you have any parting words for the readers here at Hi Fructose?

Thanks, yes, always be careful when using an exacto-knife to cut out collage pieces! One day during my college years I was cutting out some stuff and I was using a ruler to cut everything straight. I ran the exacto-blade against the edge of the ruler but I must have had my finger too close to the edge of the ruler. When I looked down a part of the side of my finger was lying on the cutting mat. True story!

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