Out of the Box With Heath Johnston

Heath Johnston is a visual artist who doesn’t put himself in a box. The Fort Collins, Colorado-based artist says it’s important not to get stuck creating in one specific style. With that being said, Johnston also hopes to work in the publishing field one day, and brings up the importance of famous artists’ lesser-known work. We talked to Johnston about his paintings, his other artistic aspirations, and more. Read our full interview below.

Would you be able to describe your style? Is there a piece you’ve made that you think best represents you as an artist?

My style takes a lot of twists and turns which I’ve been told time after time is not how you want to make art. I can’t help but roll my eyes at people who advocate for boundaries in something as broad as painting. I like heavy color saturation. Most of the subjects [of my paintings] are from photos of the town I live in, or the internet, but i also love plain-air painting as well. Sometimes I’ll put in little moments of abstraction, but human forms and spaces are definitely the dominant subject throughout my work. I like experimenting with color and trying to keep colors from getting too muted. For instance, at the moment I prefer to create my own blacks, greys, and browns so I can have full control of how warm/cool they are. I’m actually at a very fun point in painting and I’m more entertained at the idea of continuing to create a body of work that represents me rather than one piece. The paintings that I work the hardest on are often times my least favorite paintings. If I were to feel like a painting represented me, I’d probably be less motivated to paint. It’s all about the simple act of painting in my case. It’s both a therapy and a discipline.

I like that you don’t put yourself in a box – I think that’s important as an artist. I know you touched on this a little, but could you further explain who/what act as your artistic inspirations?

After learning about other well-known artists, I noticed similarities in how they worked through their careers. None of them were strictly painters, illustrators, musicians – they played around with many other mediums. Miles Davis is a brilliant jazz musician, but his paintings and drawings are also very next-level. His canvases come across as high art to me. Picasso made ceramics to accommodate those who couldn’t afford his paintings and his ceramic work has so much life and functionality and spirit. My favorite artists are those who enjoy thought and work out compositions that go beyond their popular styles and mediums.

How long have you been making art on a serious level? Are you actively pursuing an art career that sustains you?
I go through phases. I have moments where I paint seriously and moments where I just want to paint for the sake of painting. Most would say “oh you should just stick to this style or that,” but I have zero discipline in that regard and very little patience for anyone with their nose up about how art should and should not be made. Processes can be tough to communicate and conceive, though, so I get it. The dream is to have a sustainable career and a studio again. I really miss having enough room to paint big pictures.
The first painting of yours that I saw was “The Suspect” – a piece showing a bunch of cop cars pursuing a large version of the yellow moon-with-face emoji. What was the idea behind that and did the response surprise you? If I remember correctly I think it got a lot of attention on Twitter.
Yeah, so that painting was based off of another tweet [laughs]. This girl had tweeted how her weed dealer got upset at her after she sent him that emoji, saying it looked too suspicious. I just went with it and I fell in love with the process of painting the suspiciousness of that emoji. Ii used the OJ Simpson bronco chase as a reference for the cop cars and Twitter loved it. Twitter always comes through with the support of artists’ platforms and I love Twitter for that, whereas Facebook and Instagram…. i should stop. I just watched The Social Dilemma, so I’m on some shit and somewhat against social media right now, but Twitter remains undefeated in so many ways.
You earlier mentioned your appreciation for artists who work outside of their popular mediums – have you been working in any new mediums / have plans to?
Yes, i’ve been writing everyday for a couple of years now. Not sure if I’m on a path to getting anything published, but the exercise is always stimulating.
Lastly, whats a major goal that you want to accomplish as an artist?
I really want to publish a lot of stuff, whether it be works or writings or both. Even the idea of being in operation with a publishing house sounds rad. I’ve always loved layouts in magazines. I find myself picking up random magazines and just admiring the layouts and grids, looking at the leading and identifying typefaces. Realistically, I’m sure the world of publishing is constant problem-solving, but it’s fun to think about at a distance for now.


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