Mariah Anne Johnson

Washington, D.C. | by July 20, 2012

I took the red­line all the way to the Sil­ver Spring station—the first time I have ever made my way up that far on pub­lic trans­port. Mariah’s stu­dio was in the art build­ing at Mont­gomery Col­lege, where she was the Spring 2012 artist-​​in-​​residence. As I walked through the build­ing, the exhi­bi­tion of cur­rent student’s work caught my eye.

I finally made my way into Mariah’s stu­dio and was imme­di­ately impressed by the amount of nat­ural light and paint­ings cov­er­ing the walls. Mariah is known pri­mar­ily for her fab­ric instal­la­tions and is actively show­ing in the area and has also shown in Los Ange­les, San Fran­cisco and Chicago — to name just a few. Because of this, I wasn’t expect­ing to see so many paint­ings, so I was very excited.

Mariah invited me in, offered me some water, and began to walk me through her stu­dio and her prac­tice. She is from Arkansas and speaks with a hint of a South­ern accent. She not only is funny, but is full of insight­ful com­ments about her own prac­tice and thoughts on the DC art world, and art mak­ing in gen­eral. We began to dis­cuss the paint­ings that cover her walls. She is inter­ested in mem­ory and space. Her rela­tion­ship to color can’t be missed and her com­po­si­tional lay­outs sit­u­ate them­selves some­where in between ges­tural and abstrac­tion. She keeps the view­ers inter­est by depict­ing a dis­con­ti­nu­ity yet famil­iar visual space that we can men­tally enter.

The longer I spent in her stu­dio the more curi­ous I became about Mariah’s source mate­r­ial and con­tin­ual nar­ra­tive. It is obvi­ous that the paint­ings are linked to her attrac­tion to the fab­ric instal­la­tions, through color, design and tex­ture. But it became clearer to me there is an appar­ent con­cep­tual over­lap in content.

The fab­rics she uses in the instal­la­tions are pre­vi­ously used (she col­lects pri­mar­ily from Good­will and other sec­ond hand stores) com­ing to her with a known yet bro­ken nar­ra­tive. The sheets have obvi­ously been slept on, but she does not know whom the pre­vi­ous owner was. The cur­tains have hung a spe­cific space, but she again does not know what or where. Sim­i­larly, the source mate­r­ial for her paint­ing is bro­ken in the sense that she is paint­ing space only from mem­ory. In one piece we dis­cussed at length, she is depict­ing a room in a house that she no longer has access to. She does not have a pic­ture of the space and the only image she can access is the image in her mind. Because of that, the per­spec­tive is skewed, pat­terns over­lap and there is a seem­ing hazy fil­ter to the image. The nar­ra­tive is known but the pieces do not fit together per­fectly. It is an inter­est­ing play.

The visit con­tin­ues for a cou­ple of hours. Mariah and I talk about the state of the DC art world, address­ing the need for col­lab­o­ra­tive work between artists. She talked about Porch Projects and her inter­est in pro­vid­ing space for artists to exhibit. My main take away from the visit was not only the hope of future col­lab­o­ra­tions, but the idea Mariah kept com­ing back to, which dri­ves her stu­dio prac­tice.  That is, artists just need to make things. Do not get caught up in the details or why or what, but just keep mak­ing. At the end of the day if you want to paint, then paint. If you want to build, then build. Find a way to main­tain a stu­dio prac­tice no mat­ter what, and the rest will sort itself out. All in all, Mariah John­son is down to earth and inspir­ing to talk with—she def­i­nitely imbues a charm of south­ern hospitality.

Visit her web­site for more infor­ma­tion: and

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  • Judith Pratt says:

    I first heard Mariah speak thought­fully about art in gen­eral at the Artists Coun­cil meet­ing at WPA back in Feb­ru­ary. It is equally com­pelling to read Victoria’s com­ments and to hear Mariah com­ment first­hand about her work and prac­tice here in The Stu­dio Visit.

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  • Bobby Ramsey says:

    Mariah seems not to have aged a day since the 1990’s. Good voice too. Earthy –Bobby

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