This is the first in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists will be announced in mid-April, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selcected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA  July 17 to August 3, 2014.

Name: Elena Johnston
Age: 29
Current Location: Baltimore, MD.
Hometown: Havertown, PA.
School: MICA BFA in Illustration, Towson BA in Art Education.


Current favorite artists or artwork: Joan Miro, Esther Malaghu and Ndebele art, Alexander Calder, The Maeght Foundation, John Cocteau, Erik Satie, Brian Eno, Sonic Youth, Jordan Bernier, John Bohl, Molly O’Connell, Russell Hite, Beth Hoeckel, Demetrius Rice, Future Islands, Beach House, Floristree, Odwalla 88, Noel Friebert, Miyazaki, Fauvists, Color Field Painters, Baltimore.

What is your day job? How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life? My focus at the moment is my studio practice as well as pursuing a degree in Art Education. I am student teaching at the moment and my work is mutually as inspired by teaching as teaching is by my practice.


How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? How do you challenge yourself in your work? My process right now is trying to combine unlikely combinations of media and try to play as much as possibly with different media, design, sound, and other elements. I have always been inspired by and focused on the idea of play as an approach to creating or curating, and this can take many forms. It is challenging sometimes to remain so open to the element of chance, but is also a driving force in my creative process. Surprises happen if you let them. It is important to change up your approach every so often so as to not get too comfortable with any one way of doing something. I can write a song and then get really excited by a painting. When I make something, the process happens really quickly. I am challenging myself to see what happens if I spend more time on things and push them really far.

What part of artmaking to you like or enjoy the most? The least? I enjoy making art from the initial thought or inspiration, to the actual process and exploration of materials and ideas, to the post-production work such as uploading a photo to my website, designing, printing, documenting, framing, and exhibiting. It is all fun, exciting, and productive for me. The art process is both very intimate and private to wildly public. This push and pull is exciting.

What research do you do for your art practice? I am consistently inspired by the work of my peers and the past. I enjoy working solo and collaborating with my contemporaries. I try to see as much art being made now as possible, by going to art openings in Baltimore and museums, elsewhere, etc. I look at some art blogs or go to the library to look at art books old and new. I am mostly inspired by music, as most of my work comes from a thought or idea or feeling from hearing a song or melody.

I read this quote recently and really loved it: “I have come to the conclusion that, thanks to geometry, the simplest shapes- the square, the triangle, and the circle- I’ve been able to construct a world of my own.” – Juan Stoppani


What books have you read lately you would recommend? Movies? Television? Music? Right now I love Apartamento magazine and Haruki Murakami.

Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them? If I ever feel like I am uninspired, I take a break to get perspective, which is necessary for all artists. There is time to play and time to think about ideas and both are equally as important. I find that if I exhaust one medium for myself at any given moment, I try to approach an idea from another direction such as making a song, animation, or having a conversation. Having conversations with other artists is important. Sometimes the work itself is a conversation as well.

What is your dream project? I want to make a music album, I want to continue to curate shows and make more paintings. My dream right now is to collaborate more, make books of my own work and others. To be able to dedicate more time to my art process is a dream.

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