Art is inspired through many paths and for Winlaw artist Tanya Pixie Johnson, growing up in Cape Town, South Africa created a path that continues today.
“My growing up years and my university years were pre and during the revolution,” said Johnson. “That injects so much into the arts, because there is struggle. It’s the art of struggle. There is power in the art. Although I was young, the social and political milieu informed my psyche and subsequent making of art. It feels like it has informed my whole life.”
Johnson — who was recently the artist in residence at Oxygen Art Centre — is one of the artists involved in a current exhibit at Touchstones Nelson called Forest for the Tree.
The series entitled Riverspines, which is included in the exhibit ,was inspired by traveling the Slu7kin (Slocan) and Shiwnitqua (Columbia) rivers by canoe and examining their edges, the very meeting between the land and water.
“The process included playing with axis, making image that included its reflection and extrapolating body imagery from the forms and their reflections. The horizontal axis is made vertical and spinal forms can be read. The subsequent drawings are abstracted further from this; there is formal suggestion of bone and skeleton and to the idea of nerve or information highways. The cartographic idea of body-mapping and river-mapping was explored, the referencing of the human body in the land and water and its meeting and the alluding to the skin of the water.”
Through all of Johnson’s life and work — even as a child in South Africa — she has been attracted to indigenous ways and communities.
“Although I grew up in a segregated society, my tendency was to look toward the lives and ways of living of the indigenous people,” she said. “As soon as I could, I would be up in the hills. That is where I found resonance”
Living in the Slocan Valley, Johnson has made relations with certain Sinixt people.
She has been given the blessing to include certain cultural information, shared with her, in her art making.
“It is a tricky responsibility for an artist”, she said of this work. “One has to have so much awareness around appropriation. Much of what Ki-xu-xus-kit (Bob Campbell) shares with me is not directly obvious in my painting, often the references are subtle and symbolic. I have been working with the Sinixt text. I am inspired by how the language is in the land. It is clear that the threat to the land and water on this planet is the same as the threat to indigenous people and language.”
The work unpacked in her residency at Oxygen Art Centre, Johnson said, was influenced by her relationship with the Sinixt family living in the area and in particular, her relationship with Campbell.
“I am completely in support of Sinixt rights in this territory and am so grateful of his support of my work.”
A portion of Johnson’s “Riverspines” series are on display at Touchstones and will be going on tour with the next show scheduled for The Kootenay Gallery of Art in August.