First, can you introduce yourself? What first interested you in making art?
My name is Katie Rose Johnston and I am currently in my final year, studying sculpture at The Glasgow School of Art.
It was a very organic process. My interest in making came at a very young age through play and experimentation; where I would spend hours by myself constructing all these intricate models of houses and toys out of cardboard and coloured paper. My earliest memory is making a tiny house out of a matchbox which had all these moving parts, for example a miniature basketball going into a hoop and housed a family of paper cats the size of a fingernail. What fascinated me was the ability to create all these diverse and detailed worlds through play – which is still how I work with installation art in the studio today.
You work across a variety of media, but consider ceramics to be a central medium. Can you elaborate a bit on this?
Currently, I create environments that reference living spaces, so the materials I use, which are predominantly associated with craft – ceramics, carpet canvas, fabric, knitting – are all connected through the home. In particular, ceramics has a very strong historical connection with human kind and the home – we have used clay to make domestic objects for thousands of years; it’s an exciting thought that you are working with a very old material in a new form.
It is also a versatile medium that allows me to work very intuitively. The sculptures I make have a very playful aesthetic – which suits the softness and malleability of clay perfectly. It’s a complex process too, so I am always challenged when I create a new sculpture, which is very rewarding as an artist. You have to work sensitively with the material so it doesn’t break, but you also have to work quickly so it doesn’t dry out. When glazing, the medium is very unpredictable – you never have total control over the final result, which is why it is so stimulating to work with sculpturally.
The contrast of using these materials in the place of traditional sculptural processes – whilst displaying them in a very particular context, the gallery – is fascinating to me. There’s all these different histories imbued within the materials and the space playing against each other, creating a new narrative.
What is the thing that intrigues you or challenges you the most about the media you work in, or the ideas related to it?
Among other ideas, I’m fascinated in experimenting with the scale and display of my installations, with which you can alter how an audience interacts and relates to the artwork. This year, I purposefully looked at alternative methods of display which were visually and conceptually integrated with my sculptural works, highlighting the context of the innocuous, domestic materials I work with.
If you could describe your work in three words, what would they be?
Colourful, biomorphic, playful
You’re graduating from Glasgow School of Art this June; what has been the most memorable or influential thing (or a couple!) about your four years there?
Whilst studying at GSA we’ve been taught by all these amazing artists: Lauren Gault, Anthony Schrag, Shauna McMullan and Sue Brind to mention a few, which has been a really formative part of the course.
Another influential part of GSA has been the peer group. We all work very hard so the studio has this amazing energy within it, there’s a constant production of work happening – and we all help each other, discuss our work, bounce ideas off each other. Coming into the studio is like being at home, where everyone is part of the family – it’s a really supportive and exhilarating environment to study in.
What is your studio like currently?
It’s a very active space just now, I’ve been in the studio seven days a week since December – so there’s a lot happening. We are very lucky at GSA with our studio spaces, as they are very light and quiet, it’s a great space to work. I love coming in at the weekends when it is very quiet and I often listen to the radio whilst making.
What comes to mind when you think about “life after art school” — do you have concerns? What happens next?
I’m really excited about life after art school as there’s a lot of opportunities out there for graduates, all over the world. First and foremost, I’ll get a studio space and keep making – that’s the most important thing to me, that’s what drives me. The creative process doesn’t end with a degree – it keeps growing and exploring.
What do you think is, or will be, the most challenging part of pursuing an artistic practice, whether creatively or professionally?
Establishing yourself as an artist – it will be hard work, but that’s also part of the fun. Coming out of art school is a time when you can really experiment with what you make – there is nothing holding you down and no time constraints on your work. Establishing yourself as an artist pushes you to be continually creative and innovative – it will be a very exciting time.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice that someone has given you, who/which has changed the way you approach your work?
William Nelson – a former tutor of mine – told us to embrace accidents and mistakes – they can be the most interesting parts of your practice. He suggested to hide them for a few days or weeks, then look at them and guaranteed there would be something within them that’s useable. And he’s right. I’ve not thrown anything out since – they get reworked into something new.
What do you need most, or value most, as an artist?
I have a large assortment of little bits and bobs that I have collected over the years. Art materials, unusual toys, fabric, craft materials, papers, architectural model supplies… Playing around with these materials and objects often inspire new sculptures from their textures, colours and shapes.
What does “success” mean to you?
For me, I think that success means that you are happy as a creative, that you have drive and passion to keep creating, exploring and experimenting; bringing your ideas forward to an audience.
What are you working on right now?
I’m having a lot of fun just now, working on my installation which will be exhibited at our degree show. The last few days I’ve been running back and forth between the kiln room and the studio with big boxes of bubble-wrapped ceramics – I’ve made my largest collection so far, it’s a very exciting time! They’ve just gone in the kiln for their final glaze fire so I cannot wait to see how they turn out.
Anything else you would like to add?
Yes, we have a studio Instagram page where we post up everyone’s work as we get ready for degree show, it’s a great place to see all our work! Instagram: @sea_gsa!
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