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.