Sketchbooks are intrinsic to Christopher Johns’ practice. Frequently handmade by Christopher, each book is an artwork in itself. These are obsessively filled with images that record specific moments in time and place. Whether precisely measuring and reproducing objects or quickly sketching things of interest, this compulsive need to document life is a meditative process that does not often result in a final piece but creates an archive of memories.
Christopher Johns talks a little about The Living Room before the first exhibition in the series took place:
Q. Why do you want to be part of these exhibitions?
A. Since October 2010, living in Penryn and working to the confines of my small home studio has helped me realise the difficulties, yet in contrast the freedoms of working independently without commitment or contract to deadlines and rule of an institution or set project. During this time, the work I have made has been without consideration of purpose or outcome; other than for my own personal being. What I have produced has been without a raison d’être. This freedom, although on one hand has been welcomed with relief, after a while has become somewhat counter productive. I have felt an urge for my work to exist for a specific target or conclusion. I feel like the ‘Living Room’ series is going to be exactly what my work needs to progress. Since agreeing to be part of this series of exhibitions, I have discovered a new focus in my studio time, and more confidence in the direction of my work. The deadlines I was recently so happy to be rid of, somehow seem strangely inviting.
Q. What is it about the Living room series that appeals?
A. The idea of self portraiture is a concept that has always loitered beneath the surface of my work. I see definite connections between my work and the theories and concepts of the series. I am also attracted by the unconventional ideas for the display of the work in the exhibition. To imagine an exhibition without a white wall in sight makes me very happy. The idea of displaying my work in the setting of a living room is something incredibly appealing and I think it naturally makes things less impersonal, a feeling I sometimes get in the white cube of a contemporary gallery. I am excited also when I think of my sketchbook work being very much a part of the show, especially when I think of people digging through the pages, handling them and feeling their aesthetic qualities. Process is something I believe to be crucial and this sketchbook element of my practice is just as important to me as my other work.
Q. Do you think this will be beneficial to your practice?
A. Getting a second opinion on something you have made is forever going to be a vital part of progression. Being present as the audience are sifting through my work will definitely be of benefit. Putting myself outside my practice and observing others explore and react to what they are looking at will help me see my work from a fresh angle. Showing and talking about your work has equal value to the practical side of making it. Without exhibiting your work, even if it is just whipping your sketchbook out over dinner with friends, there is a danger of the work and its execution becoming stale or lost in constant production without review. You have to be aware of what the work means or how the work appears to the outsider. The series provides a great opportunity for me to reflect which in turn will inevitably benefit my practice.
Q. How do you visualise the space looking?
A. Like a living room. I see a selection of my miss-matched furniture littered with sketchbooks and studio things. The walls will be covered in charity shop frames showing my drawings, like the kind of walls you might find in antiques shops. No formal order for the hang, just work scattered everywhere in any available slot. I see a space free from professionalism, a much more personal environment, not one blank faced, cold and white.
Q. Do you think a series is a good idea?
A. An excellent idea. It gives a project more meat, makes it heavier. In my practice I hardly ever make work without thinking of it as part of a series or body of work. You will seldom find me making one off individual pieces. I believe the idea of a series will compliment my work and highlight the ideas of process and development over time.
Q. How would you define your practice?
A. I see myself as visual artist as appose to anything specific like ‘ a painter’. I believe everything I do, painting, drawing, making books, eating, running, walking and recording all of this to be my work. Being an artist is a way of life, its not a job. As far as this defines my practice, I would say that I am interested in the process of documenting space, place, time and atmosphere. Drawing, painting, writing and book binding are fundamental to this process. I see these methods as my tools for recording my explorations and encounters with our world.