Sculpted: Histories Revealed (2014 Exhibition)About the Artist: Mariah Anne Johnson is a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, where she spent her childhood attending art classes at the Arkansas Arts Center. She went on to study art at Rice University and earned her MFA from the University of Illinois in 2006. Mariah's paintings and installations have been exhibited in solo and group shows around the country, from Los Angeles and San Francisco to New York, Houston, Chicago, and Washington, DC. During spring 2012, she was the Artist in Residence at the Cafritz Foundation Center for the Arts at Montgomery College. Since 2011 she has served as a professorial lecturer in painting and drawing at The George Washington University. Her projects include: In the Pines, a solo exhibition at Flashpoint Gallery in 2012; installations in group exhibitions such as Unfettered (Delicious Spectacle, 2013) and Space is the Place (Carroll Square Gallery, 2012); and a two-person exhibition with Mei Mei Chang at Montgomery College.
My work with bed sheets grew out of my thinking about my mother’s effort to maintain aesthetic order in her home. She wants her linen closet to be beautifully organized, even if the rest of the house is in chaos. With my mother’s habits in mind, I construct installations from sheets and pillowcases that I purchase from second-hand stores. I fold and pile these sheets on simple shelves or chairs, as well as on and around the significant or quirky architectural features of an exhibition space: stacking them on windowsills, swaddling them around columns, and draping them from the rafters and across the floor. Because I have removed the sheets from their domestic context, my installations are formal and material investigations that can engage a viewer’s senses of sight and touch. The interactions among color combinations, printed patterns, and folding systems are akin to a painting made in space; the evidence of my hand in creased, rolled, and knotted forms invites the viewer to look closely and become involved in teasing out the steps of my creation process. This embedded process narrative ties my work to Abstract Expressionist or Minimalist art. However, my constructions differ from these because they are not stable or fixed like a canvas on the wall or metal plates on the floor. With one wave of a hand or kick of a foot, a work of mine returns to being just another pile of laundry. I entice my viewer to look closely at color and pattern, inviting touch through my use of familiar, soft materials but refuse this physical engagement because of the mutability of my work. I also hope to engage my viewers’ storytelling capacity, so that my installations can be a stimulus for their human impulse to create stories from small scraps of information. Because my raw materials have been used by other people, they carry with them a history of the bodies and habits of their previous owners. In this way, the sheets function much like the scraps in a patchwork quilt. But since the previous owners are strangers, there is no great-aunt or grandmother to tell us the story associated with the scrap. We have to decide for ourselves what kind of person slept every night in a jungle bedroom with lion faces and zebra herds; who purchased the slinky nylon satin and what they expected from it; who chose flowers; who chose stripes. We can re-imagine and piece together all these lost narratives into our own satisfying version of fact or fiction. The physical nature of my materials, combined with their connection to the domestic realm, allows me to address many different topics at once. In my work, I can talk about painting and storytelling, reality and reverie, color and memory, all at the same time. Whether piled in the awkward corners of a room or layered on a shelf, the sheets are reminders of a variety of human activities: sleeping, dreaming, housekeeping, lovemaking, birthing, dying, etc. They offer us a glimpse into the linen closets of other people and other times, and perhaps allow us to recall our own past experiences in the comforting confines of bed. - Mariah Anne Johnson