CSB/SJU art professor to serve residency in Big Apple

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May 17, 2018

Sam JohnsonSam Johnson is headed to the Big Apple.

Johnson, a professor of art at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, will be in residency as a Fellowship Artist from July 9 to Aug. 3 at New York City’s Greenwich House Pottery (GHP).

It’s a big gig for Johnson at New York City’s premier ceramic facility. Residencies at GHP “foster an artist’s development by providing time, space and material in the center of the art world,” according to a press release from GHP. Johnson will have access to a private studio space, free stocked clay and access to gas and electric firings.

Johnson is planning to use his residency at GHP to develop new forms in utilitarian ceramics. He is best known for his wood-fired utilitarian pottery.

“I’m looking forward to growing and developing during this residency,” Johnson said. “It’s rare for me to have the opportunity to have a concentrated time to work in the studio on new ideas and forms, but that’s exactly what this Fellowship will allow me to do.

“I plan to experiment and to develop new forms. I’ll probably fail a lot. But that’s OK. It will open doors and offer new directions that I might not have otherwise found if I were just to play it safe. Plus, I’ll have the opportunity to make these discoveries while engaging in one of the world’s great centers for art and creativity,” Johnson said.

Johnson is interested in “shadow,” or the concept that there is an aspect of our personalities that is hidden from our consciousness but affects us nonetheless. He connects this to humanity’s capacity for order and mathematical precision while simultaneously being half-wild and full of biological and spiritual mysteries.

For Johnson, the dark, varied surfaces that result from the wood-fire process reflect these ideas. He throws symmetrical forms and then beats and scrapes them into slight disorder before exposing them to the extreme heat of the kiln, which amplifies the stresses he puts on the original form and adds color and wood ash unpredictably to their surfaces.

The finished pottery resembles what it means to be human: mysterious and natural with the capacity for beauty, reason and imprecision.

Johnson studied painting and ceramics at the University of Minnesota-Morris, and then served a 3½-year internship under Richard Bresnahan, director and artist in residence at The Saint John’s Pottery. He also studied Scandinavian ceramic design in Copenhagen.

After working for a short period in New York, he traveled to Japan as a studio guest of Koie Ryoji. In 2005, Johnson earned graduate degrees in fine art from the University of Iowa, and joined the faculty at CSB and SJU that same year.

Originally founded in 1909 to teach immigrants a marketable skill, GHP is now an arts center for the local and international community that strives to support the history and future of the ceramic arts through its educational facilities, artist residency and gallery.