Amelia Johannsen makes art that harmonizes raw textures, natural shapes, and the hues of coastal landscapes. Today, she has developed a diverse repertoire encompassing ceramic sculptures, trencadis mosaics and abstract paintings. Amelia’s art beckons observers to an immersive realm where the serenity of water melds with the ruggedness of the natural world.
In this interview, we delve into the heart of Amelia’s artistic process and the profound experiences that have shaped her work. With her first solo exhibition, “Room to Breathe,” on the horizon, she invites us to explore a space where art and nature intertwine, offering solace and renewal amidst life’s storms. Join us as we uncover the inspiration behind her eclectic art, the feminist themes that guide her creative journey, and the transformative power of art in the face of loss.
The theme of water is a significant source of inspiration for you. How do you translate the beauty and tranquility of water into your art?
I feel most at peace in the presence of water; be it the rhythmic flow of a river, the crashing of ocean waves, or the serene stillness of a quiet lake. There’s something incredibly soothing about natural bodies of water that feels like coming home.
I perceive an interconnectedness as water cycles through rivers, oceans, humans, and animals, binding us all together. It’s a continuous recycling process. For instance, my mother’s ashes, once carried by a river in Oregon, are now mingled with the Mediterranean beside me. The snow I joyfully played in as a child still trickles through streams today, destined to accompany my daughter long after I’m gone.
These moments of connection are integral to my personal experience, and I want to share them with the world. In my art, I strive to convey this beauty by incorporating blue-green hues and employing surfaces and forms that evoke a sense of motion.
Your art spans various mediums, including ceramics, paintings, and mixed media works. What draws you to these different forms of artistic expression?
I discovered my passion for pottery as a child, and working with clay has always felt like a natural fit for me. It’s challenging to articulate the sensation, but it’s as if clay and I were destined to collaborate. Recently, I’ve felt a desire to broaden my creative scope, so I’m experimenting with other materials to craft mosaic murals and mixed-media sculptures.
I’ve recently started painting in preparation for my solo show. I want to adorn the walls with artwork that complements my ceramic sculptures. I must say, I’m thoroughly enjoying this newfound exploration and I’m realizing that perhaps I need to incorporate even more diversity in my artistic pursuits.
You mentioned that your artistic process is guided by intuition and a desire to play and explore. Could you elaborate on how this spontaneity impacts your creations?
Certainly. I approach my craft with the commitment of a professional, dedicating long days to my art. However, within my workday, I try to maintain a playful mindset. My artistic process is driven by intuition, seldom involving sketches or tests. I create based on feelings or experiments, and if a piece succeeds, that’s fantastic! If not, I accept it and set it aside, continuing to explore and create.
How has your connection with nature and clay evolved since you first discovered your passion for them at a young age?
Not much has changed. Today, just like when I was a child and teenager, I find solace in nature and clay for the same reasons—to play, maintain my sanity, process my fears, pain, and grief, meditate, and feel connected to something beyond myself. It’s a means to let my mind wander into unexplored territories.
Can you tell us more about the feminist themes you explore in your art and how they are reflected in your work?
Sure. Earlier this year, I delved into this reflection in a piece titled “A Woman’s Creative Force.” In it, I elaborate on how my artistic endeavors center on two main themes: nature and women. While the influence of nature is apparent, the reasoning behind my emphasis on women was previously unclear to me. Upon reflection, I now recognize the impact of women’s challenges—especially my mother’s professional challenges—on both myself and my art. This realization has fueled my desire to convey a message about women’s strength and our shared struggles.
Your art serves as a lifeline in times of loss and grief. How do you find solace and renewal in your creative process?
My artwork has become a vessel for the emotions within me — my frustrations, anger, resentment, grief, and sorrow. These sentiments flow from my subconscious, finding expression through my hands into the clay. My work is a reflection of whatever is happening in my life at the moment.
“Room to Breathe” is your first solo exhibition. What motivated you to take this step, and what can visitors expect to see in the exhibition?
While I value creating functional pottery for sale, I’ve long felt the need for more artistic freedom and space to let my creativity run wild. Despite my efforts over the years to carve out time in my workday for play and exploration, the demands of incoming orders consistently push back these more eccentric pursuits.
So, when I received an invitation to produce a solo show for a small gallery in Barcelona, I seized the opportunity. I set aside 2.5 months to just experiment and play in my studio. This show is literally giving me the creative room to breathe.
You can expect large format pottery and sculpture, and, for the first time, my venture into acrylic and mixed media paintings. The themes remain the same; nature and women, but the styles and formats will undoubtedly surprise you.
The exhibition is described as an exploration of transformation and the sanctuary of nature and creativity. How did this theme come about, and how does it resonate with your own experiences?
The theme of my work is rooted in my personal narrative. As a child, I found emotional solace and connection in nature and clay. The woods surrounding my home in Portland, OR, offered me comfort and a feeling of liberation, while the local community clay studio became a sanctuary for creative expression. Despite venturing into more conventional career paths, my passion for art and nature persisted, leading me to unravel the significance and meaning within my life experiences. Today, facing new challenges in a different environment, art and nature remain my steadfast companions, offering the much-needed breathing room when life demands it.
What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of preparing for your first solo show?
The main challenge was finding the time. For months, I said I would start integrating additional creative projects alongside my routine pottery production. That didn’t happen. There was never enough time or energy to make more when my “normal job” was done. At the end of the summer I found myself a few months away from the show and I had nothing to share. So I put a hold on everything but my solo show.
Surprisingly, what initially presented itself as a challenge transformed into my most significant reward. The dedicated time to create whatever I desire, crafting pieces based on my daily whims, has become a precious gift I give to myself. (Special thanks to David at Flash Gallery BCN for making this possible.)
Can you share a specific moment or experience during your artistic journey that has had a profound impact on your work?
Discovering my love for creating waves. Ever since my first wave sculpture (which exploded in the kiln), I haven’t wanted to stop making them. Their evolution fascinates me, and I hope to make many more. I’m very excited to share brand new waves with you in the exhibition.
As a multidisciplinary artist, what challenges and advantages do you find in working with different mediums and styles?
One clear advantage is that I don’t run into creative blocks.When faced with uncertainty in a painting, I simply set it aside and focus on sculpting for the day. This flexibility allows me to switch between projects, offering my mind the necessary distance from a specific piece instead of fixating on it.
However, my primary challenges revolve around the mess and limited space. I really need a larger studio with dedicated areas for various projects. I waste a lot of my time with setting up and cleaning between projects.
What do you hope visitors will take away from “Room to Breathe,” and what emotions or messages do you aim to convey through your art?
I hope to convey a sense of calm and curiosity. I want the sensations from nature, graceful contours, and emotions translated into art to come together to offer space for contemplation and a departure from the ordinary.