Artist of the Week: Johanna Cragg

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This week Brighton Journal spoke to Brighton-based contemporary artist, Johanna Cragg. Johanna’s expressive portraiture experiments with colour, pose and symbolism in her intent to capture feeling on canvas. She believes that painting is an emotive form of communication, and paints instinctively by collecting thoughts, happenings and memories.

What are you doing today?

Today I’ve been working at a pet shop, then at midday I go to my studio in Brighton. I usually pop by a few galleries or pick up a nice coffee before I enter the ‘creative zone’. Art is always on my mind so I’m usually straight into painting when I get there and before I know it, it’s time to go home to my flat in Fiveways.

Describe where you do most of your creative work.

I do most of my creative work in my studio, Mews Art Studio, Brighton. However I’m always thinking of my paintings and what I can do next, so the thought process happens everywhere.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on?

My most recent project was an exhibition in Coachwerks, which was a great event. My most unusual project was creating an art film for a themed event at Volks nightclub.

What made you decide to become an artist?

I was brought up in a creative household and my dad was an artist so I’ve always been drawing and painting. It just became another way of expressing myself and I always knew I wanted to pursue a creative career. When I left university the recession hit which meant I had to become creatively self-reliant, something I now take as positive. I paint to have my place in the world, a mission and place of being. It’s very important to my self care to have that outlet.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a series of paintings ready for an exhibition next year at the Fishing Quarter Gallery. I try to reflect current thinking which allows me a lot of freedom.

What are the key themes in your work?

I practise a free-painting technique where I don’t think of a theme but one gets generated from the conscious. I start painting and carry on until it resembles something true to me… this can mean layers and layers of paint. Often current events, thinking, reading and experiences make their way into the painting. I hope to emit a certain feeling in my paintings, but I enjoy when viewers make their own meanings. I’m not important to my art once it’s done, I want it to stand on it’s own.

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What would you like people to notice about your work?

I want people to look at my paintings and get a sense of ‘other’, perhaps escapism. I love how art is transcendence. Even though I don’t shy away from the grittiness of life I usually paint ‘Strength’ so I hope my work is optimistic. It makes me feel strong and I hope the viewer feels that as well. My art is my rebellion and in that is a sense of vitality.

What attracts you to the medium you work in?

Painting has always been my first love, even though I have made films and performance art. Oil paint has an amazing quality, I love the sheen and depth, it’s longevity is also appealing that it may carry on even when I’m gone and exist somewhere. Sometimes it is just nice to look at something still in the modern world.

What equipment could you not do without?

I don’t have equipment I could not do without because I’ve always had fluctuating finances. I believe art is a living thing so there are lots of ways to be creative without equipment.

Who or what inspires you?

I just love that creativity is a form of play and a way of interacting with the world. I find it inspiring watching people and challenging myself to new experiences.

How is your work affected by living in this area?

I moved to Brighton seven years ago precisely because of the creative hub. I love being involved in the beating heart of Brighton, I find community important. The more you learn about the art, artists and inclusivity Brighton represents – it’s a big playground.

What’s your favourite thing to do locally?

I enjoy walking around, you never know what you will see! Visiting Gallery 40, Phoenix gallery and seafront happenings.

What’s your favourite gallery (or place to see/experience art)?

I really love the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, I’m originally from The Midlands and we would get one trip a year to London and our visit there would always be my highlight. To see the hall change so much with the guest artist’s vision has always been exciting.

If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be and why?

Tricky, but I believe this would be Grayson Perry, Ive always admired the way he creates and interprets the world. It’s wonderful to see someone from a working class background and he always has amazing things to say.

What’s your favourite colour?

Red always, it makes all the difference.


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