Grange Prize-winning visual artist Sarah Anne Johnson was in Banff recently to lead the thematic residency Another World in the Studio. She was also getting ready for a new photography exhibition, Wonderlust, at the Julie Saul Gallery in New York.
The residency was open to artists of all disciplines with a theme of focused time in the studio. “We make work, and then we talk about the work that we’ve made, instead of talking about someone else’s theories or ideas,” she explains. “Everyone seems to respect each other enough to give each other the truth.” The group critique sessions were Johnson’s favourite aspect of the residency. “People finish school and they feel like they have to solve all of their problems themselves, and it’s not easy, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of a group,” she says. In fact, the critique sessions helped the group bond. “At the end of the first week, the ‘I love you’s started to get thrown around. This has happened before when I’ve been here too, because I think a place like this brings out the best in people.”
The Winnipeg-based artist’s work has often combined photography with diorama, multimedia, painting, sculpture, and performance. Series including Tree Planting and Arctic Wonderland have led to her current work, Wonderlust, which explores sex and intimacy, burnished with scratching, gouging, and glitter to effect both beauty and intimacy.
Another World in the Studio marked Johnson’s fifth visit to The Banff Centre. She’s participated in three self-directed residencies and one thematic residency, and was at the Centre in 2012 to work with sculpture facilitator Sean Procyk. When I went into her studio, it was filled with work inspired by many different things. Some of the photographs on the walls were from Wonderlust, while others were from music festivals she’s been attending for years. “I’ve only begun to work on this so I’m not sure what direction it will take, but as in all my photographic work I am interested in temporary communities and how we experience the great outdoors,” Johnson says. “By painting, scratching or collaging over the image I’m trying to show what the experience feels like, not just what it looks like. I want to show psychology of the space.” She also said that she’s always nervous about showing new work—especially Wonderlust. “My last work was about the arctic—these cold, vast, looming landscapes—and this is people having sex. So it couldn’t be any more different.”