• Alicja McCarthy

In Conversation with Martine Johanna


Martine Johanna is a Dutch artist who depicts modern females in vivid, illustrious and colourful brush strokes. Her paintings are often large scale exceeding two meters square on linen and wood. Her subjects are often vacant and appear lost in their thoughts yet they are obsessively illuminating. The psychology of colour and gesture come into play where emotive greens and blue tones are stimulated by fluorescent pinks highlighting the mood on the canvas. Complex and often biographical, Johanna mirrors personal dreams, hyper-realities and her own thoughts and feelings on female mental and physical development, psychology and sociology.

We caught up with Johanna amid a studio move from Amsterdam into the Dutch countryside to really delve into the psyche of her work.

CZ: Tell us about where you grew up and what your early influences were.

MJ: Growing up in a small village I loved close family life; that’s where my colour spectrum comes from. However, village life was sometimes judgmental, fanatically religious and paternally smothering so I escaped through my 'art'. My influences are anything I have experienced visually and mentally. I still fall in love with impossible, unrealistic story lines and alternate realities. I'm fascinated by the complex nature of the psyche that is restricted by the grit of social and political structure.

CZ: Talk us through your artistic process.

MJ: I start with developing certain fascinations of topics that interest me; these subjects turn into short lived intense obsessions and from there a concept unfolds. I think, I dream, I photograph friends, models, watch films, documentaries, explore colour, atmospheres and textures. I re-arrange and collage my own photos into shapes, composition and rhythms making sure I get light and anatomy right. My process can take up to six months and I work in batches of six to eight paintings at a time. Each time I paint I make myself more aware of the technical use of the materials and make sure that my work has a literal long lifespan and colour intensity.

CZ: Tell us about the importance of colour and light?

MJ: My greatest memories are filled with colour like flashbacks into a perfect world. Opposing colour effects obsess me; cold colours bring distance and warm colors closeness. It also affects intuitive associations from our collective memory and instincts. With colour, you affect moods and strengthen what you are trying to convey.

CZ: Do you ever work on commercial projects or is your work predominantly found in a gallery environment?

MJ: My paintings are only available through gallery spaces, it is important that people view art in reality to experience the concept, material and dimensions to have a physical effect. Sometimes my drawings are used in a commercial setting when I have the time and I like the assignment.

CZ: You’ve been exhibiting your work since 2008, your first solo show (Dancer) in the US in 2016 and second (Something’s Wrong) in 2017, how have you found the art world?

MJ: The art world found me! I think that is one of the upsides of working in the Internet era. When people notice you online and are sincerely attracted to your work conceptually and visually and want to experience it in reality, they will follow up on that. Exhibiting work is great and a complete honor, what is most scary is my own criticism.

CZ: So what’s next?

MJ: The rest of this year is all about the big move into the countryside. We, Louis Reith and I, are moving and since we live in the Netherlands everything is close by - Amsterdam, Antwerp, Arnhem, Utrecht, Berlin and Paris! The studio is in a big Mid-Century style house with a gallery space with floor to ceiling windows leading to the center garden. We were very lucky to find this place! It’s an artist’s dream come true.

I’m also preparing for a busy 2018. I will have a couple of shows in the US, South Africa and Amsterdam. I will also draw a book in ink and some other illustrative projects.

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