Interview with Ian Johnson





Ian Johnson was born in Syracuse, New York and lives and works in San Francisco. He is the Creative Director of Western Edition Skateboarding…

Ian Johnson’s style and visual language has an instantly recognizable character and unique voice.
His work draws its structures and graphic impact from his scope of influences that includes Jazz music, literature, and film.
Johnson adds elements of abstraction giving his compositions the expressive immediacy and elevated moods that are rooted in the culture and histories he references.
His paintings and drawings incorporate elegantly drafted elements of figurative line work and abstract patterns that combine with color building on his established and ongoing visual narrative.







Hi Ian, today you selected for MoW three of your artworks inspired by music. Can you tell MoW how music inspired them ? What was the music behind the artworks ? What inspired you to create them ?

Like most of my work, they are of musicians and the pieces are inspired by their music and their lives.

Why is music important to you and your art?

Music is just a big part of my life like most people.  I don't really know how to explain why, it just is.  "Music washes away the dust of every day life,"  as Art Blakey said I guess comes to mind.  As far as my work, it has primarily focused on jazz musicians from the 40's through 60's so it's obviously pretty critical.

If you had to choose between the artworks presented today, which of your artwork would be your favorite ? And why ?

Probably "Quintets."  It was a departure technically from what I had done in the past, creating individual squares of one head and colored patterns on paper, alternating inverted heads and regular heads, then collaging them on a larger piece of paper.  I liked how it all came together.

Can you tell MoW more about the techniques you used. How old is your technique? How did it start? How long does it take you to make an artwork?

I mostly do pen and ink on paper or acrylic painting on wood panel.  I have been drawing with pens since I was a small child and painting since high school I guess. To finish a piece, it can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months, just depends on how much there is to it and how fast I am working.

Do you have plans on creating new artworks inspired by music ?

That is pretty much the only plans I have at the moment.

Do you listen to music when you’re working ? If so, what kind of music ? 

Yes, I listen to music while working.  I try to listen the people I am painting, hopefully to imbue the work with more of the music of the subject.

What is the song you liked the most lately? The album? What was the last gig you went to?

Of newer music, which I don't listen to that much, I listened to "Stay Dope" by Prodigy & Alchemist a lot the last week.  I really like that beat quite a bit.

As far as a whole album I listen to "Grandaddy Sach" by Sachillpages quite a bit.

I don't go to live music very much but the last show I went to was King Krule.

Are you a musician yourself ? If so can you tell MoW more about your music projects ?

I'm not a serious musician.  I have a trumpet I play from time to time.  I play piano some times.  I rap and make beats occasionally.  I have made a few albums in the past with my friends Ray and Kea but nothing super serious.  We did have one album get put out in Japan in 2007 under the moniker Private School called Sea Saw but everything else was small runs of tapes or cds and one 7 inch.  It's all for the fun of producing music mostly.


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