Interview with artist David Johnson

David Johnson makes installations, usually using existing objects with projections or light. His work is concerned with the basic nature of reality: mind and world, spirit and matter, being and nothingness: a sort of concrete metaphysics. It is both matter and metaphor. David’s philosophical stance is quite idealist, so he is often concerned with the invisible. He doesn’t believe there is anything beyond this world but wants some sort of spirituality – an art which is contemplative and has the density of poetry.

A: What do you draw your inspiration from in your artwork?

DJ: Reality seems transparent but becomes mysterious as soon as you think about it. We cannot know the world in itself: we can only experience experiences – mental events. Similarly St Augustine said that he knew exactly what time was till he tried to think about it. The ambiguous nature of reality is the basic inspiration of philosophy and also of my work.

Modern thought has turned everything into surfaces – I wanted to find a valid basis for depth in art without returning to the past. Conceptual art gave me the starting point and I have tried to make it into something richer while making formally simple works.

A: Your work is composed of 2 components – one man made and one natural. Is the portrayal and investigation into opposites something you are drawn to covey in your work?

DJ: Yes, but they are a means to deal with other things. To deal with reality – mind and matter – I need material and immaterial, also being and non-being (which is time and death). Metaphorically I also use light and dark, above and below, and especially inside and outside – all very old metaphors (just think of the window – especially in Magritte). Working with the characteristics of 2 components, “man made” and “natural” also get drawn in.

What is it about the relationship between the 2 components that enables you to express your artistic vision? .

DJ: Using 2 very divergent components allows me to make complex works which are formally very simple. The point is not what the components have in common but how they combine to make a whole.

A: You focus largely on light, can you expand on this further? What it is about light that you are drawn to?

DJ: Light is perhaps our oldest metaphor: consciousness, the spirit, enlightenment. Like those things it is immaterial yet it allows the material world to be apprehended. Projection can also be a metaphor. It is as though we project the content of our consciousness out onto the “something” out there.

The work can seem theatrical but that is an accidental by-product. Similarly illusions are a metaphorical means. I am not interested in illusion for itself.

A: What is the starting point for one of your works, how do you find ideas for the pieces?

DJ: First (and this happens only occasionally) I must find a fruitful structural metaphor which can potentially bear my concerns, such as the internalisation of the exterior or making existing shadows invisible, or an idea such as making something which cannot be seen the centre of a work. These generally come out of the blue because I have the concerns circulating in my general consciousness, rather than through an effort of will. Most actual works begin as a new idea of how to embody these few basic ideas. The idea is then thought about until I decide if it does something interesting or is too thin (in which case it might still, occasionally be combined with another idea at a later date).

A: What do you have planned for the future?

DJ: I have to finish “The invention of nothingness No2” and have another version planned. I also hope to realise an ambitious idea to negate the real shadow of the viewer on a wall using live video camera and projector and a computer. I am not sure if it will work but it just about works with a still object and projection. I have not applied to galleries for a long time so I must put some effort into that. I have always been bad at selling myself and networking and don’t have a gallery at present.

See David’s artwork in the current issue of Aesthetica out now

Images courtesy David Johnson