Lost In Pursuit
An interview with Miles Johnston
May 25, 2021
Have you always aspired to create art, or did you discover your calling later in life?
I’ve always enjoyed drawing and painting since I was young. My mum likes to paint and she would often sit with me and my brother introducing us to new mediums and ways to explore making pictures. I started to take my practice seriously when I stumbled upon art forums around the age of 13. It was then that I had the exciting realization that through intentional practice I could improve my skills and make art my living. The call to adventure of dedicating myself to art really addressed some need inside of me to try and transcend the creeping sense of existential dread I have always been prone to. Really getting lost in the pursuit of something felt like it helped me through the weird teenage years of trying to figure out who you are going to be in the world.
Did you study art as a student or are you self-taught?
Maybe it sounds like a misleading answer, but I always like to say both. I really identified with the ‘self-taught’ label during my teenage years for the first five years of my artistic development. I scoured the internet in my free time, diving deep into forums and any online educational resources I could get my hands on, spending multiple hours daily practicing after school. I ran what was called a sketchbook thread on the (now dead) forum conceptart.org. I would compile all my sketches and attempts at drawing and other users would come in and offer critiques, advice and motivational wisdom. I look back on those days with extreme fondness and gratitude.
When I turned 18, I moved to Sweden to study at an atelier called SARA (Swedish Academy of Realist Art). I found out about the school through another user on a forum I posted on. Atelier schools still teach in the tried and tested methods of the realist tradition. Very little coursework or examinations and 99% of your time spent drawing directly from life. Life drawing is the heart of my practice. Direct observation of reality as it appears to me.
Tell us about your process. Do you begin with an image or a concept?
My process is largely based around very undirected intuitive sketching. I sit with some paper and just begin. I find that when I set out with a particular aim or thing that I want to express, the image suffers for it. I often feel that the linguistic, volitional aspect of my mind is the least interesting part. I am more interested in the moments when I stumble across a sketch that intuitively feels powerful and resonant, but I also stand in the same place as the audience, not entirely sure what it means. The human brain isn’t capable of producing something ‘randomly’, if a sketch has something that just feels right, that preference must reflect some kind of internal deeper structure or reason. I have a suspicion that the things we can’t explain draw on more powerful fundamental forces inside of us. A drawing can be like a piece of music, when you hear a beautiful passage of instrumental music, to ask what it means and expect a precise verbal statement that can fully answer that question is absurd. It might conjure images, moods, memories and feelings, but there is no correct canonical meaning. I think drawings are exactly the same and I’m always just feeling around in the dark for the next one.
The picture has to be interesting to me even in the very barren and poorly executed thumbnail stage, without all the flashy rendering and polish. Once I have a captivating motif, ideally one that I don’t fully understand, I begin the more formal process of trying to bring the image to life through the methods of my realist background. Some drawings and paintings almost feel like a devotional act, taking hundreds of hours to realize in their entirety. One of the great joys of making art is to shrink your world to this little square in front of you, really believing in the illusion you are crafting, feeling how light would fall through this imaginary space, polishing this little window into the imagination.
What informs your work? As a visual artist, are you inspired by music, film, science, literature or other art forms?
All of the above. Artwork can only be fingers pointing back at reality itself. I believe that on some level artists truly don’t ‘invent’ anything, it is all remixing and curation of pre-existing materials. I try to view all experiences as equally valid potential sources of inspiration. I try to feed my curiosity and stay learning.
I think I take most of my inspiration from music. I think musicians often display a kind of vulnerability and emotional directness that I aspire to in my own work. I don’t want to try and impress people by doing something clever. I’m interested in the artwork that speaks to you in the moments where you have nothing else left. Despite all our attempts to distract ourselves, we all have to face up to the heavy price tag of being alive. Music comforts me in moments where nothing else can reach me, a song can be so beautiful that on some level it reassures you that existence is a good thing. It is a lot to aim for, and I surely mostly miss, but that is what represents the goal for me.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
I get to live a strange life of relative autonomy. I feel I have space to contemplate, to be in the slow lane a little bit and take my time with drawings and paintings. There is a lot of boredom and difficulty in making art, but there are also sublime moments of peace and creative exhilaration.
Can you speak about a piece that you’ve created that you considered the most challenging or a piece that was the most exhilarating?
Hard to give a definitive answer, all of them test my patience and challenge me in one form or another, but one of the most challenging drawings I have completed recently was Collective Unconscious. I work on a fairly small scale with my pencils, approximately A5 so think half a standard sheet of printer paper size. This drawing features a portrait of a woman lying in a vast endless chamber of small heads, lit as if through the crack in a vault door being pried open into this space. Each head is individually unique and due to the scale of the drawing you could fit around five on your thumbnail. It was a lot of fun to sneak various inspirational figures and people in my life into the picture. There were family members, musicians, scientists, actors and authors. I’ll leave it up to you to take a look and see who you might find.
What made you choose to drop with LGND?
Like every artist or IP creator, my attention has been captured by the spectacle of NFT’s exploding into the public conversation over the last few months. I made the decision to wait to jump in until there was a platform that addressed a few concerns I had about the emerging space, and for me LGND fulfilled those criteria.
I found the information I read about Delegated Proof of Stake, in terms of energy usage and the lack of fees was very exciting. I have a much more technically literate friend, totally independent from LGND who makes serious lifestyle commitments to try and live in a sustainable manner. From their diet to flying to even quitting a six-figure job due to their employer accepting money from the fossil fuel industry. My worry was that my lack of technical literacy with how blockchains really work, combined with the strong incentives for me to want to believe that DPoS was better would make it hard for me to make an unbiased clear decision. When they told me that they were interested in proof of stake based NFT’s I felt like this was a friend that had no reason to lie to me and with a much better understanding of the technical landscape than myself.
I also really appreciated that LGND will be curated. I feel like the wild-west type landscape of some NFT platforms has led to some very unfortunate examples of art theft that have created a distrust amongst a lot of my community. I think either curated or identity verified platforms are a necessary step in the right direction, though I feel it must be pointed out that this kind of IP theft is nothing new or exclusive to the world of crypto art.
Above anything I love that LGND has artists as part of their high-level management, and I really get the sense that they are interested in creating a platform to help empower their artists and foster a relationship more like a high-end gallery. I feel they are thinking about the long term aims of this space, providing a better experience for artists and for collectors.
How do you think NFTs will change the future for artists?
One hundred percent honesty, I have no idea. I think features like the ability for artists to capture some slice of their secondary market are extremely positive and would represent an ability to build that sense of long-term security with some passive income. I’m not here as a true believer or a sceptic, I’ve always been interested in using technology to explore ways to make a living as an artist and I’m here to learn and take part!