Kristina Johnson opens up her studio to the audience
Kristina Johnson opens up her studio to the audience

Get a behind-the-scenes look at a painting studio with junior MCAD student Kristina Johnson.

How would you explain your studio?

A giant mess. I try to leave as much room for new things and to always be working. I don’t like having my walls covered too much. Right now it’s nice because I just started working on a couple of different projects. I’ve been in the process of putting new work up, so that work is now in my studio. I try to keep it really minimal, so I can be messy when I paint and not have to worry about other things.

I work pretty big so a lot of my work is in a cubby. I keep a lot of mementos in my studio. I work a lot from family so I have a lot of family pictures that inspire me.

What type of art do you make?

I paint, I do sculpture, I do photography—tons of it.

I came to MCAD thinking I was gonna do photography and then I got a little ahead of myself and was like, "I already know everything about photography, I don’t need to study it anymore. I’m going to do painting." And that’s when I decided to switch my major to fine arts studio with an emphasis in painting. That’s all I focus my time on now.

What was the process of getting to that point?

A lot of stress. A lot of experience in the photography world. I was hired as a wedding photographer and that night was probably the night I decided I didn’t want to go into photography. Just on the sole reason you have to do what people are expecting of you. I have an entirely different aesthetic for what I consider to be a good photograph and it might be different for someone else; that's what photographers do and I knew that wasn’t right for me.

I switched when I came back from spring break of my freshman year. So it felt really good in the way that a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Now I could really take any class that I wanted to; as long as I figured out a way to apply it to painting or incorporate it somehow into the broader concept that I’m working on, with family and identity.

What are you currently working on?

I just started this piece for my human nonhuman project and body eclectic. I’m trying to find ways to expose what's under the skin. I’m using very strange medical models made from wax that I’m taking inspiration from. They are like these beautiful women in these gorgeous poses but then they just have chunks of their bodies missing so you can see what’s happening under the skin. So I’m trying to just develop expression making and show process.

What would you say your style is?

I don’t even know if I have a style yet. I'm still trying to experience all of it. I’m still trying to gauge what is too much and what is not enough. It may be a little heavy handed at first, but I also think that I can do very delicate work. Very emotional, very reflective on situations.

What piece are you most proud of?

A six-foot painting of my mom.

How long did it take to make?

Over 100 hours, and I still know I can work on it more. I started it last semester for a figure drawing final. We had five weeks to work on it and I would say at least a couple hours a night I would be in there trying to figure out what to do. It helped me see what I already can do in a painting and how to change from that. How to find out what I did and didn’t like, how people respond to it. And that’s probably the biggest thing with my work. Figuring out how people respond to it. That’s ultimately what’s going to show what I can do or what I should be doing.

Why does so much of your work revolve around your mom?

My mom has MS (a disease of the nervous system). I’m the caretaker for her now and that was a huge reason why I came back to Minnesota. My dad started traveling around the country and she needed someone to help her every day. She’s gone from supermom to bound-by-a-wheelchair mom which is pretty hard and I can only imagine how hard it is for her. But she's always happy, always has something positive to say. She’s just a huge inspiration in that regard. I think I had to mature really early as a kid because I had to take care of someone that need a lot of help with things.

I think in order to make art that is true to yourself you have to be in a position where you feel okay and you're whole inside.

Kristina Johnson, Her Right Hand Is Her Steady Hand, 2016, plaster and leather; Kristina and her mom worked together to make these fragile plaster models.


"Understanding control and loss of control and finding ways to be empathetic and finding a way to resonate with people just through imagery."

Growing up I was very rebellious and I had all this creative energy that was kinda tearing my family apart because I was getting into trouble a lot; I didn’t know what to do. I saw how it affected everyone in my family and once I found art, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Everyone rejoiced and was thankful that I found this pathway after such a difficult time. I felt like art was the way for me to communicate to them about how I felt and how I feel and have control over something in my life that I really enjoy.