A New Zealander who has been based in Melbourne since 2002, Jess Johnson is known for her drawing and installation practice that is inspired by the speculative themes of science fiction, cosmology and comic books. Her installation environments depict parallel worlds of visionary geometric encryption and her richly layered drawings convey amplified psychological states. Jess spoke to us recently about the drawing installation she is developing for Melbourne Now.
Your drawings present extraordinary imaginary worlds. Can you tell us about the impetus behind creating these alternative realities?
I think it comes down to when I first formulated my interests in other worlds. I was always drawn to super imaginary fictions, books and movies depicting fantastical, epic worlds. I think it was simple escapism from the reality of growing up in a small, grey New Zealand town.
When you’re young, your mind is wide open. You’re discovering things for the first time and really open to ideas and possibilities. There’s this feeling that you’re peeling back the secrets of the universe. I was completely absorbed in the imaginary; future worlds, parallel worlds, astral travel, overlord aliens observing the earth. All those notions are a lot closer to the surface when you’re a kid… as real as anything else that is presented to you as real. Around this time, I also had these reality morphing experiences that I couldn’t explain. You’re supposed to dismiss them or forget about them when you grow up. But these seminal interests, experiences and feelings that I had when I was young, they’ve continued to stay fresh for me and feed my artwork today.
You create specific environments for the presentation of your drawings – can you tell us a little about that?
The ability to ‘manifest your own reality’ is extremely appealing to me. The installation environments I create for the drawings provide a kind of orbit for them to exist within. I think of the drawings I am currently working on as embryonic. They’re not yet fully formed or inhabiting a solid reality. Eventually though, as I build upon and refine their world they will become ‘heavier’. By rendering them with enough detail and internal logic which feeds backs on itself, I’ll be able to create a reality loop that will enable them to exist within their own universe. Extending the patterning and symbology of the drawings out into the 3D world adds to the gravitational pull of their fiction.
And what you are planning for Melbourne Now?
I’ll be creating a large-scale environment for ten new drawings depicting the formation of a future civilization. I often draw gateways and podiums and steps. I want to pull out some of these architectural features that repeat in my drawings and build them into the installation. I hope the density of pattern and physicality of the environment will induce the same kind of feeling I get when I’m immersed in a drawing. Maybe it’ll just make people seasick.
Images: Courtesy of Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney and Utopian Slumps, Melbourne
Jess Johnson’s commission is supported by The John McCaughey Memorial Prize Trust.