You may have been fortunate to spot featuring in our South Yarra and Camberwell galleries one of the several pieces by portrait artist, Johanna Wilbraham. Her unique bleeding abstracted paint overlaid with a vulnerable female form – capturing your attention with her prominent gaze – puts Johanna’s work in a category of her own.
What also places Johanna close to the Tusk Gallery heart, is her beautiful and infectious personality which we all are lucky to experience each day as Johanna is also one of Tusk’s Art Consultants!
After relocating from England to Australia, each new series of work produced by Johanna highlights slight shifts and adjustments in her style. This is to me, a reflection of growth and development. But what always remains is her talent and ability to capture innocence and beauty within. From witnessing this artist broaden her ideas is proof of her continuous dedication to her practice and perhaps her unconscious way of nurturing the concrete foundation for a progressing career within the arts.
We are looking forward to having brand new work of Johanna’s arriving to the gallery very soon! But before we do, Johanna has taken time out of her duties here at Tusk and has answered a few questions for us all!
When did you first discover your creativity?
I was interested in art at a very young age, and was determined to be an artist throughout primary and secondary school. I spent all my spare time in the art room with friends – I would say it was just woven in to my being. This didn’t mean I was any good at it though, I’m convinced that at this point my determination was more important than my skill level. This naturally led to the study of art at Degree level.
How has living abroad impacted your work?
Living and working in India had a huge impact on my life, which could only inevitably influence my work. I was already interested in quiet and unseen moments of womanhood. Working large scale, magnifying these moments and demanding attention be paid to them. Spending time working with children in India inspired me to take their beauty large scale too- I love the idea of portraiture elevating and celebrating people, especially those outside the eyes of mainstream media.
Moving to Australia has also influenced my work in a more practical way. Establishing myself in a brand new market has challenged me to develop business skills in order to promote and market the work – a part that is very challenging for me.
How do you select your models?
My portraits of children, as mentioned, have often been children I have worked with. I work from a moment captured by photograph, these images are raw and not stylised.
For my portraits of women I often use friends or family as models. It is very important they feel comfortable with my approach and with the process of being vulnerable as photos are taken of them- it is an intimate moment I am searching to capture, so there needs to be a lot of trust between myself and my models. I often also explore self-portraiture as I find it fascinating- I feel like I never quite have a firm grasp on my own appearance, so a self-portrait is a vulnerable and interesting journey to go on.
Can you please explain your technique/process?
I use jugs and jars to pour the paint on to a flat canvas in very diluted layers. In this way the process is highly abstract, especially in the first few layers. There is an extent to which the paint will choose its own path on the canvas – I just try to control enough variables to form this into a portrait slowly. During the last few layers I use a pipette to drop on paint for finer details. It is an exciting an unpredictable process. Though I use oil paints, I use them as if they were inks or watercolours.
How did you discover your method?
At university I spent a lot of time painting traditionally with a brush and finding that the work I was producing was not innovative or new – I was painting in a style ‘expected’ for oil paints and I was getting frustrated with the results. One day in my third year I made a huge canvas and found some jars and turpentine. I literally threw the paint on the canvas, fairly aggressively- this is when the work started to become unique and exciting.
Why portraiture? What is your connection with this subject matter and where did this first surface for you as an artist?
When I was at college we had a project to explore self – portraiture. I had no interest in it until this point. I fixated on this project because my portraits were so terrible. I had no natural skill for them at all, and determined to succeed I kept pushing trough until I felt confident. This minor obsession caused me to fall in love with the portrait and I have not been motivated to paint a still life or a landscape ever since. The portrait gives me endless opportunities to explore the subjects I am interested in, fragility, imperfect beauty, vulnerability, and a critique of representations of women in mainstream media.
What/who are your main influences?
I have been very influenced by the artists Marlene Dumas and Peter Doig ever since visiting an exhibition at Saatchi London ‘The Triumph of Painting’. These artists inspired me to keep pushing the material in new directions and that process is just as important as subject, if not more. Recently British artists Claerwen James and Pippa Young have inspired me to be more playful with the clothing element of the portraits- leading me to experiments with hand painted flat pattern work. They also challenge me to consider my colour palette carefully and to contrast the uncontrolled and controlled well within the work.
How has your work developed in recent years? Are there certain elements such as colour that has shifted?
I think it is so important to keep developing as an artist. I have had periods of time where I use the same ‘strategy’ for each painting and it starts to work less well each time. It is a challenge to find new ways to keep falling in love with the process and maintain your childlike playfulness without fear of failure. Recently for me this has meant experimenting more with colour palettes, applied gold leaf work, and areas of detailed hand painted pattern work.
In your own option, what role does an artists play in society?
I believe an artist should inspire and communicate. I also think that art, like music, has an incredible power to evoke a transcendent experience, like visual poetry. I also think it is important to find a way to use this role to help others- however that may be. This is a something I am keen to explore this year within my own work.
What are the plans and goals for 2016? Any upcoming arts projects?
2016 started busy with an exhibition in Sydney. I am now building a new body of work to exhibit in Melbourne. This year I would like to push myself to produce as much work as possible and to maintain an experimental approach that keeps the work unique and exciting. I also really want to consider how I can use my work to benefit and help others in areas I am passionate about.