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Cathy Kate Johnson

Artist's Interview

How long have you been creating?
As long as I can remember and before, if my old baby books are any indication. There are drawings there that were done at age 2...so over half a century...
What is your medium of choice?
That's a hard question...I suppose I'd have to say whatever engages me at the time. What keeps me fresh, on my toes, challenged. Often, that's watercolor, because no matter how long you paint with it--in my case, over 30 years--it can still offer a surprise. But I enjoy acrylics (a challenge in and of themselves), collage/assemblage, pen and ink, sculpture.... I don't like to limit myself--define myself as an artist--by medium, but by what I do with them. Create. I'm not one of those who believes an artist has to "focus" on only one medium, style, genre, movement, but that we need to allow the fresh air of the creative to move through us freely. Or at least I do...
What are your motivations for creating?
I make art because I breathe. I have to. Even if it never sells, even if no one ever sees what I do, I have to--for me. That's why I've kept an artist's journal for 25 years--breathing. Art is also healing. It lets me move outside myself, beyond the day-to-day, beyond the frustrations or anxieties of our modern world and able to see and experience the beauty. It gives me a perspective I would not have otherwise. It puts me in touch with something Other...
What other artists and movements inform your work?
Almost too many artists to name...I love Vermeer's use of chiarascuro. Winslow Homer's watercolors are incredibly fresh, immediate and inspiring. Leonardo is...Leonardo. Fairfield Porter handled light like no one else. Rosa Bonheur painted vigorous works in the19th C. of decidedly UNfeminine subjects--her most famous is "The Horse Fair." I admire her chutzpah! Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres--what beauty of line and incredible subtlety. Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun's rich, masterful oils remind me of Vermeer, in another century. I love the texture and complexity of Alphonse Mucha's work. Thomas Aquinas Daly, 20th/21st Century watercolorist, delights me with his richly atmospheric, moody works, as Charles Reid does with his fresh, splashy ones--those two painters are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of technique or style, but I'd hate to have to choose which I love most. The 17th and early 18th century naturalist/artist Maria Sybilla Merian fills me with awe--she went off to the wilds of South America to paint insects and plants at a time when a woman simply didn't DO those things. And more than that, of course, her work is completely exquisite. I'm not much interested in movements, per se...in a way, they can be too limiting for my taste. Think of it, about how a movement gets started--someone does something fresh and innovative, following his or her own inner vision, then others are inspired to break out, too, and try something similar. Soon, as more join in, you have A Movement. It becomes set in stone, definable. People--critics--argue about whether or not this or that artist's work fits the genre... And more to the point, of course...I don't like labels. I don't feel comfortable categorizing something as ephemeral as art, as creativity. Don't want to put it in a box and get out the Scotch tape...
What do you find stimulating right now? How does this influence your creative process?
Right now? It's spring! Hard not to be stimulated by those soft, subtle colors and tender early light. I ache to have more time to paint! But then--in winter it's the subtlety of color and the pen-and-ink scrabbling of bare limbs against the sky. So I'd have to say color, texture, light, line... People, too...I've discovered in the last ten years how much I love painting people. Trying to capture that humanity, the aching, evocative beauty of patina, something of the soul that shines in their eyes...whether as a portrait or metaphor/symbol. Magic excites me; people sometimes personify that magic...
Read anything good lately?
I'm in "entertainment mode" at the moment, as a balance for stress! Re-reading Tony Hillerman's series of Navajo-inspired novels for relaxation in the evenings. I think the most recent I finished was The Fallen Man. His emphasis on beauty and harmony--the Navajo Way--really resonates with me. I'm also reading on arthritis (ouch), spirituality, meditation, Celtic myth...
Has your writing about art had an influence on what you create?
Hmmmm...I don't think so, not really. I prefer for the art to come first, to avoid the trap of merely doing an illustration, if we're talking about my own work (as opposed to an illustrating assignment, which I do on occasion). How I work with North Light Books and with The Artist's Magazine or Watercolor Magic and others is to come up with a concept or a proposal for something I've either already explored and am excited about or something I want and need to do. I expect my passion for it is part of what sells them on the idea... I need to create the art first, then write about it, if at all possible, in other words. Seems backwards, otherwise. With the natural history work, I've always spent a great deal of my time outdoors, wandering in the woods or prairies or by some body of water. I've noticed the small things since I was a very young child--I guess most of us did, looking for fairies under the violets. When I was a teenager I read some of my grandmother's books by Gene Stratton Porter, who was a naturalist and writer in the early 20th century...her work made a great impression on me, and I knew even then that this was how I wanted to spend much of my life. Some of her characters were artists, as well...Charles de Lint's fiction seems to me to be a natural outgrowth of that concept, with another layer added... I've been fortunate. I was staff naturalist for Country Living Magazine for 11 years, and have written two art books for Sierra Club in addition to a variety of other natural history books...so in part, making my living from doing what I love to do in that field as well. Be OUT there, noticing, questioning, learning, drawing, painting...
And how do you balance the art and the writing?
I seem to need to do both almost equally, and so they create an instinctive, natural balance. I've read almost obsessively since I was very young, too. I love words and their meanings, and how they go together. I love how they can teach us, but with beauty and elegance. I delight in the magic they invoke. Communication is very important to me, and writing as well as art is a way to do that. I can't imagine giving up either...
What would you like your fellow EBSQ artists and collectors to know about you and or your work?
A difficult question for a hermit, even one who values communication so highly! I'm really a fairly private person, and a bit shy--I think I like writing in part because it IS private, or done in private at any rate. It can be contemplative, as can art. I suppose what I would like them to know is that I believe that art is integral to our humanity...it informs and defines a great deal of our lives. I'm a small part of a long, long tradition that began, as far as we know, in the caves of Lascaux.

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