Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
This week’s Artist, Christi Johnson, is the personification of where the beauty of life’s chaos and structure meet. She has a tamed wildness (more like a knight’s horse or uncut gem, than say, a child on a leash) to her that she channels into her art and designs. In it’s simplest explanation, her artwork is aesthetic mathematics — sacred geometry. Along with a metaphysical message, the basic shapes, materials, vintage color palettes and rawness to her designs are just really hip looking. Read my interview with one of my favorite L.A. Designers.
SHANON WELTMAN: What would you call yourself? You’re doing so much right now.
CHRISTI JOHNSON: I would call myself a Textile Artist and Jewelry Designer, a “Creator of Adornments” [laughs].
SW: What is your best seller?
CJ: My best sellers are actually my brass rings, which I thought about not making them a couple times and then I get such a demand I always end up getting back into it. It’s something that I kind of slowed down doing in the summer because it’s physically exhausting and I don’t have AC. [Laughs] So it’s like, sawing brass pieces out can be really painful, you sweat a lot when you do it.
SW: Do you work in your backyard or do you have a studio?
CJ: I just work in my living room. I have a big table and my living room is pretty much half studio, half living room and then I have a saw in the backyard, a table saw that I work on the wood pieces with. My kitchen table has recently been turned into part of my studio, it’s kind of been infecting [laughs].
SW: It happens… you know.
CJ: Yeah! [Laughs]
SW: What type of design is your favorite to create?
CJ: I would say 3-Dimensional. Doing sculpture is my favorite because having so much experience in drawing and also having experience with fashion, as far a making clothes goes. Going from 2D to 3D, I realized comes pretty naturally for me. More so than I thought, so there’s an ease in sculpture and surprise, a kind of mystery to it. I shock myself when I do it and that’s always fun, it’s so much more of a presence. You’re actually creating something, almost like you’re creating another being or something. There’s something really special about that.
SW: What would your next favorite be?
CJ: After that, I’d say jewelry. Just because I think, the scale has to remain somewhat small just because it has to be worn. Although, I like to play with that sometimes and do pieces that are non-functional. Most of the time jewelry has to be contained to a certain size, it has these parameters and limitations that I think are kind of fun to work within and push the limits of.
SW: What are your absolute favorite materials and tools to work with?
CJ: Definitely yarn. Fibers, yarn, leather is one of my favorites, it manipulates really easily. Then wood is also good. Fiber, wood and metal I would say are my favorite materials. I think that as far as tools go, my favorite tool is my drill press. Because I’m able to use it on so many different types of materials. I can use it to drill metal, I can put another attachment on it and use it to file the metal, and then I can use it on pieces of wood and create embroideries with it. So I feel like my drill press is definitely my most multipurpose tool.
SW: Do you keep that on your table?
CJ: Yeah it’s pretty small. It’s a miniature drill press, it’s made for jewelry making. Doing little tiny holes so you can do internal cuts. It’s made for a smaller studio. I use it for bigger pieces of wood.
SW: So that’s how you’re churning all those out!
CJ: The problem is is the size, I can only do up to 6, then the rest of it I have to switch to the hand drill. So sometimes I’ll come up with this great idea and then realize I can only do so much of it on the drill press, but because I already started I have to finish it. It makes it so much easier to do each hole one after the other after the other.
SW: Oh okay, I was like… ‘Oh my god, she’s a machine.’ I had no clue what was going on.
CJ: [Laughs] Yeah I tried to doing it with a regular drill and it is painful to me. It turns into a meditation because it’s like, ‘I have to get this done. Or else.’ So… [laughs]
SW: Who and what are your biggest inspirations? Life in general and then your art.
CJ: Life in general… that’s a good question. I feel like people of indigenous cultures are inspiring to me because there’s a certain amount of making do with what you have, and being able to create art. Not out of a necessity, not because you’re bored or anything, it’s just because that’s what you feel the need to do. You just feel compelled to make these things. It is, usually, to show some kind of status or something, but it comes from a different place. It’s not about how much money it costs to make, it’s more about the amount of time and effort that people put in to it. I also think the large wedding quilts from Uzbekistan, those are all hand embroidered, the amount of time that goes into those…. and also headdresses and ceremonial adornments from people. Native American people, South American, Central American… also, jewelry. African jewelry, the way that tribal African people make their metal work, they use a lot of lost wax kind of metal casting, which is a really old technique that people don’t use as much. It’s just really interesting to see the amount that people are able to do with such a minimal amount of tools and such a minimal amount of money to invest in it. It kind of makes it impossible for you to say, ‘I can’t do that because I don’t have this.’ If people in Africa can figure out how to melt brass down and cast these amazing, elaborate pieces of jewelry with all these beads on it and meanwhile they also have to figure out where their food is going to come from, figure out how they’re going to live their life essentially… why shouldn’t we able to figure out how to do that too?
SW: That’s really interesting!
CJ: Yeah! I guess that’s kind of art, as well as life in general. Obviously my parents too, just coming from a point of view of not really doing what society expected of them. My mother became an engineer, there are photos of my mom with all these men in all of her classes. All of the jobs she’s ever had, all men. People never expected a woman to be able to do these jobs and early in the ‘70s, she got a little bit of push back from it. She just didn’t make it a part of her. People had a problem with it and she didn’t care. She was like, ‘Okay you have a problem with it and I don’t, so that’s fine’. I think that understanding of your own capabilities and understanding that what society thinks you’re supposed to be doing doesn’t necessarily apply to everybody. You can always push back against that. My dad became a lawyer at a time when black people were not supposed to be going to school. I think that doing things in the face of adversity, not because you’re trying to make a point, but because that’s what you’re driven to do, that’s what needs to happen. Despite what anybody else thinks.
SW: I like that answer a lot! A lot of people list artists, which is cool too. That was different though, I like that.
SW: So when did you start making work about sacred geometry?
CJ: I think when I started doing yoga. I would take meditation and I would see lots of different colors and shapes, y’know. You have your eyes closed and you’re holding some strange position, not to discredit the actual practice, and your mind just kind of goes somewhere else. The places my mind would go were so far away from my studio, so far away from the work that I was doing and yet I still saw such a strong connection between it. I think that’s why I started researching more about sacred geometry and seeing that there are consistencies between whatever I saw and whatever ancient greeks saw or modern scientist see in the molecules and cells of things. I think that the fact that all those things are so much the same and also that if you look at how each planet and each star kind of relates to other ones, they also create these geometric shapes. Then there’s this whole way the orbits work and everything… just the consistency throughout every area of life is really interesting.
SW: Well, that makes a lot of sense.
SW: So wait, when was that? When that happened in your life, what year was that?
CJ: That was maybe… 1 1/2 – 2 years ago.
SW: If you had to choose, would you leave a legacy like Betsey Johnson or Andy Goldsworthy? So, would you like to be known as more of a Designer or an Artist? If you had to choose one.
CJ:: I would say like Andy Goldsworthy. It might not be a name that is as well known world-wide, but I think that there’s a more of an immediate draw to that sort of thing. I mean, I love Betsey Johnson, I still do, she was one of my favorite designers growing up, but I think that mostly because I’m not as good at commercializing myself. I think it’s because I’m an Aquarius? So I’m just like ‘No! Things have to be this way!’, I demand things to be kind of irrationally done and ‘I don’t care if it doesn’t make any money!’ [Laughs]
CJ: So, I would definitely say Andy Goldsworthy, just because of the Aquarian in me.
SW: Do you feel like L.A. is perfect for you or do you want to be somewhere else? Is there somewhere else calling you?
CJ: Yeah there is, I love L.A. I do think it’s really ideal, but just by its nature of being, so spread out. You have a lot of space, there’s a lot of little natural areas. I live next door to a park, that’s great. I love nature and it’s so amazing, but I think there’s also an element of ease that can be good and can be bad. For me personally as an artist, I would like to be pushed a little bit more. I strive for the hustle and I feel like a lot of people [in L.A.] don’t understand when I’m like, ‘Oh no I can’t go out tonight, I’m going to stay home and make stuff’, it’s kind of like, ‘Well, why don’t you just have fun? Why’re you spending all of your time just working?’ For me it’s not just work, it’s trying to get to a point and to express something that I never feel is quite there. That’s what I feel is a big part of being an artist, never quite feeling like you’re there yet. Once you feel like you’re there, you’ve kind of just lost it. [Laughs] So, I do look at larger cities like NY… or San Francisco, though that still has that California kind of ease mentality. I definitely look at NY and consider, it just seems like there’s a lot more of an energy there. And I don’t mean to discredit L.A., but people work a lot harder there. And it’s okay for you to be working hard, that’s an okay thing to do. I think that the severity of the weather as well, there’s this kind of… unrest I really enjoy.
SW: Last question. If you could be any other sign other than Aquarius, what would it be and why?
CJ: I would probably be a Libra, because A)… I love Libras. I’m always drawn to Librans for some reason. I also think that there’s a detachment that Libra’s have, where they’re able to look at things in a way that’s not emotionally or physically attached very easily. And if they are, they’re able to separate their mind from their emotions and kind of step back and look at things. I kind of envy that, I think that’s why I admire Libras so much, because they are able to look at things from a different standpoint.