Grace Johnson is a New York-based figurative painter whose practice explores humorous tropes of “clean” living, foods, pseudo-religious health fads and the constant battle for validation in self-reflection.
My work is really inspired by the idea of “clean” foods, soul cycle, and lifestyle gurus as sort of a pseudo-religion. It’s a very serious or classical presentation of these items, as though they’re almost holy objects, and the titles make it clear that it’s all pretty tongue-in-cheek.
That said, I always say that if you’re looking for a religion, you could do a lot worse, and maybe not much better. Eating well and working out really does improve most people’s confidence, and though I’ve seen semi-serious arguments over the merits of soul cycle vs. flywheel, no blood has ever been spilled. If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford the ludicrous prices of cold-pressed juice and fitness classes, it’s a decent way to go.
To be honest, my body probably pops up in my art because it takes up a lot of space in my head. Like many women, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time angsting over cellulite or worrying over a two pound weight gain. When you think about anything that much, it tends to spill into your art.
The hashtag definitely brings instagram into it, for me. Much has been written about the effect of social media on girls’ self-esteem. Suffice to say, the age of selfies and bikini shots hasn’t been great for young women on the whole.
A couple of years ago I was very interested in working from sketches. Since I was coming to the canvas with limited information, it was my way of filling in the blanks. The painting became about the capabilities of oil paint and building abstraction around a figure.
With the more recent still lifes, I’m pretty much staring at a row of bottles for days or weeks on end and can get as fussy as I want to with every last shadow. I tend to keep the backgrounds very simple to keep the focus on the objects.
Absolutely. I probably wouldn’t have painted a butt in Calvin Klein’s if I didn’t think I could paint the logo… it becomes as much about the brand as it does the body. People have very strong associations with Juice Press, SoulCycle, etc.
For a couple of years before I started painting or drinking Matcha, everyone seemed to be proselytizing about it. “It reduces stress! Increases your metabolism! Detoxifies the body! Strengthens your immune system!” That alone was sort of interesting to me. Can it also ward off evil spirits? Prevent clumsiness? Make me appreciate jazz?
I started taking pictures of all of my food last fall, thinking I might use them for a project. The matcha photos always stood out to me—I fell in love with the bubbles and the color. In extreme close-ups, they felt a little magical.
I’m wild about sumi ink. It builds beautifully, in a way that feels related to oil paint.