Artist On Artist Interview: Claire Johnson & Otis Carey Chat Art, Mental Health + More
Exhibition this Thursday!
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When two of Australia’s most promising artists get together, what do they talk about? Claire Johnson and Otis Carey have a chat ahead of the ‘So Far So Good’ exhibition this Thursday.

In a couple of days Art Pharmacy will be hosting the ‘So Far So Good’ exhibition at Vandal Gallery in Redfern. The show, which is curated by Amy Roser, is bringing together a stylistically broad range of artists to share their art and stories, and stimulate dialogue on a range of mental health issues, as well as raise funds for mental health services.

Below we have a conversation between ceramic artist and painter Claire Johnson, who will be featured in the exhibition, and contemporary Indigenous painter Otis Carey – sadly Otis is unable to feature in the exhibition. Nonetheless their interview gives us some great insight into how they view themselves, their art and mental health.

Claire: Being a professional surfer originally how did that transition for you into the arts sphere?

Otis: I think for me the transition was more of a spiritual transition into opening up an avenue for me to express how I felt. Surfing for me is more of a release. Painting is my way of expressing myself through storytelling without having to talk about it and allowing how I feel to tell a story that I can share in a different light.

C: Is your practice a way for you to share your culture and heritage as a proud Gumbaynggirr/Bundjalung man and artist?

O: Painting is definitely my way of sharing my culture and my connection to country. It really fills me with joy and endless happiness to be able to share something that is who I am and where I’m from not only physically but spiritually on so many different levels.

C: Is it difficult balancing your life as a parent and as a painter? Or do you find a lot of motivation through that?

O: It’s actually really fun to paint when the kids are around. It gets them asking questions which then opens up the conversation of sharing culture. It’s definitely a big motivator to paint while the kids are around. But at times it’s also very therapeutic to paint of a night while everyone is asleep.

C: Obviously the exhibition we are both involved in, ‘So Far So Good’ has been created in order to encourage dialogue around mental health and mental illness. Is this a topic that resonates or is important to you?

O: I suffered severe depression for a long time, I was put on antidepressants as a last resort as I was really just not coping with anything at all. When we’re suffering mental health issues It’s something that we don’t speak openly about enough because we feel we’ll be a burden on the ones close to us and that fucking sucks, we need to break that barrier. I’ve also lost a very close friend to suicide so I hold this subject close to me as I understand both sides of the spectrum.

For me this show holds more importance than we all know, it could save someone’s life or save lives. Things like ‘so far so good’ let people know whore suffering that it’s ok to feel shit, it’s ok to feel helpless and it’s ok to put your hand up and need someone to talk to. I’m fucking pumped to be apart of this.

C: Do you think as artists we hold a certain responsibility to shine a light on issues such as mental illness? And in turn to use our passions to create dialogue surrounding them?

O: I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to shine a lift on mental illness. I feel like there’s this weird concept right now that it’s up to creatives or professional sports people to shine a light on mental health, why can’t we all shine a light on it regardless of who were and what we do? Why does it always have to come down to certain people having to do that? Fucking oath I have a responsibility, especially with the suicide rates in the Indigenous communities at the moment! An Indigenous person is 7 times more likely to commit suicide than a non indigenous person so being Indigenous I have a huge responsibility being in my position and I’ll do everything I can to open up any kind of dialogue I can.

C: What is your biggest drive when you are starting a new painting or body of work? Do you tend to plan or just let it happen organically?

O: For me painting is my way of sharing not only who I am as a person but sharing my peoples culture. That’s my biggest drive. I can see every piece of art I paint in my head before it’s on a canvas, everything I paint has a story, a meaning and a place.

Otis: Favourite colour?

Claire: Red, definitely

Favourite materials to create art with?

C: That’s a hard one because I jump between working with ceramics, ink and pastel…. But if I had to pick my ultimate it would be my true love, clay.

O: When is your ideal and most favourable time to create works?

C: I am a massive night owl so I always feel like I do my best work late at night, putting my insomnia to good use.

O: What inspires your senses?

C: I work out of my parents garage at the moment and my beautiful mum is an avid gardener. She’s always leaving me flower arrangements on my work bench which seems to do the trick. A tidy workspace helps too, I can’t work around clutter or chaos which is pretty difficult as a ceramicist but it’s important for me, I’m more productive then.

O: If you had 48 hours to do whatever you wanted with three artists dead or alive who would they be and what would you be doing?

C: Tracey Emin, John Waters and Ed Ruscha. 48 hours with these three would definitely include a boozy lunch, some reading with John Waters finished by a portrait taken by Ruscha. I’d probably just spend the whole time fan girling over Tracey Emin to be honest

O: What would be your dream collaboration job and why?

C: I would love one day to collaborate with various mental health units across Australia to make these environments more welcoming and inspiring for patients. I’ve been through the system as a patient myself and I always thought I would have found hospital a bit less depressing if the walls weren’t all different shades of pewter.

O: Who are your 5 favourite artists?

C: Jenny Holzer, Lawrence Weiner, Tracey Emin, Justin Williams and Rhys Lee

O: If you could only create one last piece of art what would you do?

C: Probably carbon freeze myself into a sculpture because I can’t imagine not ever being able to make art

O: Does eating food inspire your art senses?

C: Is wine a food?

Words by Harry Webber September 11, 2018
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