These mixed media works on Venetian plaster are a hybrid of the old world and the new. I seek out botanical subjects in my garden and in the parking strips and abandoned orchards of the city, capture them with my camera, and then transform them into old world specimens from another time. Through a delicate image transfer process I embed them into Venetian plaster which I paint and stain with inks and mica. The panels range in size from 4 to 12 inches square, and are priced from $135 – $700. I sell them through galleries or directly through my studio, but they are not currently listed on my shop.
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Early spring has brought torrents of rain, warm Chinook winds and precipitous bloomings to the garden. Tulips, plums blossoms, the wild yellow flame of the forsythia, a riot of colors and scents that inspire bursts of energy and shifting moods.
I have two very different shows coming up this spring with radically different themes. There is a method to the madness, as I go back and forth between the grime and grit of urban construction sites, the urban streets, and the refuge of nature. Both series are about the interplay of structure and surface, and the narrative of impermanence. With both subjects I use my camera to capture moments on the edges of transition.
My mixed media techniques are evolving and gradually scaling up. New refinements to the plaster techniques have required new tests, and I have been doing dozens of small experimental pieces, which invite me to take risks. I think I should have a whole new category of work titled “Failures and Redemptions.” Many of the best pieces are the disasters I revisit with nothing left to lose. Thinking like a printmaker requires precision and strategy, but part of the strategy is knowing when to let go.
Here are some of the stages of creating surface, otherwise known as the highly paid occupation of “watching paint dry.”
Look for details on upcoming shows soon. Meanwhile, my motto for spring is walk, inhale, sneeze. If you see a girl walking down the street with bunch of plum branches, a Kleenex box and a Sony NEX6, that’s me.
All artwork © Iskra Johnson 2016 and may not be reproduced without permission.
If you have ever attended a soiree at The Ruins, Seattle’s most exclusive and mysterious supper club, you may have looked up for a moment across the gilt rim of your absinthe and locked eyes with The Cougar. As your gaze moved from the patterning of leaves to the shy otter and then to the majestic drape of the big cat’s paws you may have found yourself wondering about the artist, and the style, which is an uncanny blend of ornament and botanical exactitude. The Cougar is but one panel in an epic mural that goes from ceiling to floor, creating an atmosphere of timeless excess and contemplation. Hearing the artist’s name was “Carrasco,” you might have assumed the work was done by some Italian guy imported from The Old Country to put a polish on the Northwest.
You would be right that the artist was imported, but he is a she, and she comes from the Inland Empire town of Pomeroy, next door to the Palouse. Jennifer Carrasco got her start in the dry scree and lazy rivers of the American west. There she fell in love with landscape and learned the stillness that comes of wandering quiet empty places. The oldest of four daughters, she was raised going to mass every Sunday and singing Gregorian chants. A close-knit town with deep roots, Pomeroy embodies the best of family, connection and continuity, but it’s also the kind of place an imaginative person might yearn to leave, just to see what’s beyond the hills. After getting her BA degree in art and education at WSU Jennifer took off for the big world.
She has led many lives, far beyond her small-town roots, as part of the Peace Corps in the Phillipines, as a mother, a poet, and as a painter and teacher in Japan, Alaska, and the deep South. By the time she landed back on the West Coast she had a wealth of artistic influences to draw from. Her assignment for the Ruins was to create a style of “Northwest Rococo,” and every detail of fauna and flora is researched and authentic, drawing on a year of research into painting styles, ornament, and museum artifacts and diaries from the early days of the Northwest Territories. [Read more…]
A R T I S T
My art practice is rooted in the traditions of contemplative art, influenced greatly by my years as a student of Asian calligraphy and my ongoing design career as a calligrapher and letterform artist. I use many different media, but in all of them I attend closely to the language of mark-making and the delicate interactions of surface with intention and its opposites.
As principal of Iskra Design I have been working with the alphabet for many years, providing custom letterform solutions for book covers, logotypes, and package branding. In the first decade of my career I immersed myself in Asian calligraphy, haiga, T’ai Chi and sumie painting, studying with Lucy Liu, John Leong and Sensei Ishii among other teachers. After this period of Eastern influence I went to the University of Washington, completing a degree in painting with a secondary focus on printmaking (BFA). I draw inspiration from the interplay between the contemplative practices of Asian art and a perhaps more Western need for invention and uncharted chaos.
Although my first love is printmaking, due to early exposure to solvents I have been unable to work in a traditional printmaking studio or with traditional oil-based inks, and this has pushed me to devise my own methods to create the look and process of printmaking without a press. In much of my work I approach my surface as though it is a stone or metal plate, but the “plate” becomes the final piece of art, reflecting the same characteristics of mark-making found in etching and lithography. I love surfaces that are bitten and etched, indirect and calligraphic mark making, and experimental processes of monoprint which embed an element of surprise. I also adore flat screaming color and the graphic qualities of serigraph and stencils. I move between visual languages, always looking for an ambiguity of pictorial space and unexpected juxtapositions.
For the past five years I have focused primarily on how the atmosphere of emotion intersects with architectural structure. In my series about construction sites and the street I use contemporary digital photography, imaging software and found and made surface to explore nostalgia, loss, place and displacement in the rapidly changing urban environment. For me Photoshop is like playing jazz: it is the ultimate tool for improvisation. It allows me to deconstruct images into layers of light and color, line and shape, and reassemble them into imaginary worlds. The way the layers interact with each other opens up a new kind of pictorial composition unavailable in any other medium.
The physical form of my digitally composed work may be archival pigment print, transfer print, or mixed media. In digitally printed work my goal is to produce a work on paper, an artifact incorporating all the finesse and obsession with surface of traditional printmaking. The resulting images have a mysterious hybrid quality that is often taken for silkscreen or lithography.
Recently I have begun a shift away from printmaking towards more direct processes, using mixed media on Venetian plaster and pure painting. In going back to what are in some ways traditional image media I am still very interested in what I think of as “photographicness.” This is a relatively modern phenomena, in which photography, which originally set out to imitate life and “painting from life,” has now become our visual reference point as a global culture. How does a way of seeing that is mediated by incredibly complex technology enter into our psychology as a collective/yet personal emotional filter? How does it influence our sense of what is “real,” “personal” or “authentic?” How do the qualities of surface in the daily interface of screens, phones, camera and facsimile begin to define what is beauty in other media?
If you are interested in a studio visit or in purchasing work you may write to me through the contact form in the navigation bar or email me at iskra (at) iskrafineart.com. My work may also be seen and purchased through SAM Gallery.
S E L E C T E D E X H I B I T I O N S
- 2016 Galvanize, “Tech and the Democratization of Art,” (Group/ Invitational)
- 2016 Seattle Art Museum Gallery, “Prints Today,” Invitational
- 2016 Columbia City Gallery, “Confluence: The Duwamish River Project” (Group/Invitational)
- 2016 Museo Gallery, “The Garden Show,” (Group/Invitational), Langley, Washington
- 2015 Linda Hodges Gallery, “Seattle Seen,”(Group/Invitational), Seattle, Washington
- 2015 Arts at the Port, “Zeitgeist,” (Juried), Anacortes, Washington
- 2015 Alexis Hotel, Invitational, “Waterways”, Three-person, Seattle, Washington
- 2014 Seattle Art Museum Gallery, new architectural work for May exhibition
- 2014 Linda Hodges Gallery, “Making & Breaking,” (Group/Invitational), Seattle, Washington
- 2014 Zeitgeist, “Excavations: The Big Dig & Other Stories,” (Solo), Seattle, Washington
- 2013 Seattle Architecture Foundation, “World/City: Exploring the Architecture of Global Relationships,”(Group), Seattle, Washington
- 2013 Phinney Gallery, “Painters Under Pressure: A Decade of Discussion”, (Group), Seattle, Washington
- 2013 Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, “New Media: Digital Art”, (Group), Bainbridge Island, Washington
- 2013 Prographica Fine Works on Paper, “The Bleak View,” (Group), Seattle, Washington
- 2013 Steele Gallery, Gage Academy, Watercolor with Tom Hoffmann (Group)
- 2012 SAM Gallery at the Seattle Art Museum, “Contemplations of Nature,” (Group), Seattle, Washington
- 2012 Fraker/Scott, “Black and White,” (Two-person), Seattle, Washington
- 2011 Fraker/Scott “Icons,” (Juried Group) Seattle, Washington
- 2011 University House Wallingford “Circles” (Invitational) Seattle, Washington
- 2010 Port Angeles Fine Arts Center “Safe Harbor” (Juried Group) Port Angeles, Washington
- 2010 ArtSpace Printmaking and Photography Exhibition (Juried Group) Richmond, Virginia
- 2010 Seattle Print Arts at Patricia Cameron Gallery, (Invitational) Seattle, Washington
- 2009 Printmaking Exhibition, (Invitational) Wuhan Art Museum, Wuhan, China
- 2008 Two Wall Gallery (Juried) Art of Democracy
- 2008 ArtXchange, “What Does Compassion Look Like?” in honor of the visit of the Dalai Lama (Juried) Seattle, Washington
- 2008 Collective Visions Gallery Washington State Juried Competition, Bremerton, Washington
- 2007 Shakti Vinyasa (Solo Show) Seattle, Washington
- 2006 Seattle Print Arts at COCA, Seattle, Washington
- 2005 Painters Under Pressure, John Page Gallery, (Group) Seattle, Washington
Inspired by my life as a gardener and a walker in the landscape, these images are composed of digitally layered pastel, watercolor, Venetian plaster and photography. Some are editioned as transfer prints and some are printed directly through an Epson 3880 or other archival printer. Some prints are available in my shop: look for the “available for purchase” link. Others can be purchase directly from me or through SAM Gallery.