Monthly Archives: May 2016

Whitney Johnson: Geometric Ratios


Whitney Johnson paints compelling geometric constructions with curious shapes, colors, and compositions. She is from Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from BYU with a BFA degree in Studio Arts: Painting and Drawing. She also studied oil painting in Florence, Italy at the Santa Reparata International School of Art.


Talk to us about the messages symbolism you portray with your art. The underlying themes and concepts in my artwork are deeply personal to me, and are usually inspired by a simple word or phrase that resonates within me—for one reason or another. I usually have a “plan” for what I want my painting to end up like, but of course it never turns out the way I expect it to and the whole process from start to finish is basically an epic string of failed experiments. Lots of trial and error and problem solving. Which can be terribly frustrating at times. I use symbolism as a way to explore the word or phrase that originally caught my attention—to go deeper into what it means to me and understand more fully why it sparked something within me in the first place. Symbolism also allows me to portray all the different layers of a single concept, which allows a kind of learning process to take place as I create.

Talk about juggling motherhood with your art career? Between living in small apartments with not a lot of space to set up a studio and becoming a mother (to a toddler and newborn twins!), I’ve definitely had to redefine what it means to make “art” in the traditional sense. I asked one of my professors in college one time if it was possible to be a mom and a part-time artist, and his response was something along the lines of there being no such thing as a “part-time artist”—you’re either an artist or you’re not. Truth be told, I haven’t been producing a whole lot of paintings in the recent years, but I’ve continued to develop my creative muscle and aesthetic style in different ways in my daily life, for which I am very grateful. I’ve allowed myself to not feel limited in my career as an artist just because I don’t have the time or space to paint, but to find beauty and purpose and meaning through photography, homemaking, and motherhood in general. With that being said, I have plans to make painting a part of my regular routine again, which I am really excited about. My three beautiful children inspire and teach me on a daily basis, and have only motivated me more in developing my creativity.

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Whitney Johnson


Tom Plummer: Strong Colors and Abstraction


Tom Plummer employed a circuitous route to his current station as a professional artist. Not many of the artists profiled on The Krakens boast a Harvard Ph.D. or published works with titles like German Realism of the Twenties or Film and Politics in the Weimar Republic. Plummer lives in Utah.

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Tell us about your evolution as an artist. My career as an artist began about four years ago. I had previously had a career in academia, obtaining a Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Harvard. From graduate school I took a faculty position in German at the University of Minnesota and was almost immediately drawn into early German cinema. When I saw the film, Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari, I was stunned. Nothing I had ever read or seen twisted my mind like that film, the story of a mad psychiatrist and his somnambulist patient. The painted sets of the film in black and white, with oblique angles, ill-fitting costumes, angled lighting, and stylized gestures just blew my mind. Both my teaching and research crisscrossed with expressionism a number of times. When I began painting after retirement, I returned to my roots in early 20th century German art, where I had first encountered the collages of Hannah Höch and John Heartfield and the colorful paintings of the Bridge and the Blue Rider. My paining style, consequently, inclines to strong colors and abstraction.

Describe your latest work. More recently I have tried to expand my painting style, taking German New Objectivity of the Weimar era as a model. While it is more realistic than German expressionism, it shares a passion for color and distortion. I have begun expanding my painting from watercolor into acrylics, which I like for the brilliant colors that are possible and experimented with applying paint to glassine and fabrics to change the quality of the paint itself.

You have written, “I have struggled to paint with emotion.” Explain. My entire training, from my earliest years, was toward academics in the sense of research and critical writing. I lived in a rational, logical world. Yes, I worked with German Expressionism and New Objectivity in my early career, but as an academic, not as an artist. My parents were educators, but creating art was not part of their world. I learned to appreciate art, but as an observer and as an academic, not as an artist. When I began painting I had breakthroughs into expressionist style right away, but I always tried to retreat to a coloring-book style. Approaching art in an irrational way frightened me. Readers who have spent their life as artists may not understand what I’m saying. Letting go of control, just sloshing paint onto a canvas or paper scared me. Marian Dunn, my teacher, recognized that I was struggling, and one night in class, as I was trying to paint “inside the lines,” she said, “That’s not what you do.” She snatched the brush from my hand, smooshed it into a gob of green paint, and sloshed a wide swath across my paper. “That’s what you do,” she said. My real breakthrough into the irrational side came when I was hypnotized in a comedy show in Las Vegas. I did not plan to be hypnotized, I just wanted to watch a crazy show with 2000 other people. Without disclosing details, that’s where I learned to trash boundaries, rules, inhibitions, and anxieties. I learned to take mental journeys to dead artists, to talk to them about my struggles, what to do when I was stuck. They always gave me hell and sent me back to my canvas with new ideas.

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Laura Gunn: Contrast and Harmony


Laura Gunn is an artist who paints, “a lot of flowers and other stuff, too”. Gunn also creates quilting weight cotton with her artwork that she licenses with and sells through Michael Miller Fabrics. Her work has been featured at West Elm, Design Sponge, and on Fox’s New Girl. She lives with her husband and three kids in the Washington, D.C. area.

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Tell us about your evolution as an artist. I’ve been painting and making things since I could hold a crayon. My mother is an artist, and our brightly colored walls were always covered with art. She was always very generous with her art supplies. As a child, I spent endless hours in her studio. I would paint or decoupage any blank surface I could find–a lampshade, a fireplace screen, whatever. Even then, it was all about color. I was fascinated by the power of color to transform a space. After leaving for college, I developed my skills through art classes, even as I worked toward my degree in sociocultural anthropology. Later, as a young, sleep-deprived mother, I would always carve away a section of my dining room for a studio. Art supplies were as much of a staple as groceries. Over the years my creative interest focused more and more on painting. I found that of all my creative pursuits, painting gave me the closest relationship with color. Now I am always contemplating my next painting, and when inspiration hits I have to go with it.

Talk about color. I’ve always been a bit obsessed with color. When I paint, I play with color. I create just the right amount of contrast and harmony. All it takes is a few strokes of the right color to change the mood of an entire piece. I love the spontaneity of the process. I love bringing colors together through layering. After developing a texture on the canvas, I layer color over color in ways that catch the eye. Before I even start on the main subject of the painting, I create a rich background that is full of little surprises. I then focus on the subject, which is usually something that offers a lot of flexibility, such as a flower or a skyscape. I change the shade, shape, and composition, as I feel moved.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Hayward, California, near San Francisco. I now live in the Washington D.C. area with my husband and three children. I try to bring a bit of warm, artistic California here to the Capitol Region. Although I miss California, I love our home here. And I find plenty of inspiration for my paintings in the natural beauty of this area.

How has the commercial side of your business developed? After initially experimenting with painting, I ended up with a few pieces that could get the attention of collectors. A friend of mine had a boutique and offered to show my art. It was a great opportunity. My artwork was well received, which inspired me to develop my business further. After starting out selling originals on Etsy and through word of mouth, I was approached by an fine art publisher. Since then, I have worked with New Era Portfolio, which sells limited edition prints of my work. Through them, I’ve seen my work featured in some interesting places, such as One Kings Lane and West Elm. I also license my artwork to Michael Miller Fabrics, which uses my paintings on quilting weight cotton. I became acquainted with them through my sister-in-law who is a fabric designer. When I approached them, they were very excited to print my floral paintings on fabric. Most quilting weight cotton is now designed digitally, so my hand-painted designs give my fabric a unique style. In addition to licensing my work, I sell originals and prints of my work on my website and locally. I continue to explore new avenues in my art and in my business. Both processes are demanding and exciting. However, what is most satisfying to me in all of this is to see how others love and appreciate how my creations add life and beauty to their spaces.


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