Nelson artist Ian Johnston always seems to be travelling to show his work in galleries in other parts of Canada or in the US. Currently he has shows in Florida and Georgia and he’s got one coming up in Prince George.
In that sense he is already a cultural ambassador for Nelson. But now it’s official. On Monday night at city hall’s annual reception, he was named the city’s official cultural ambassador for 2016.
“I’m very flattered,” he told the Star following the announcement. “I’m honoured and happy to do it.”
BELOW: Ian Johnston’s installation Fish Tales, which involves shopping carts and a huge nylon bag suspended from a ceiling, is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Fla. Photos byThomas Hager/MOCA Jacksonville
An architect by training, Johnston worked in East Germany in the early 1990s, teaching an interdisciplinary program in urban renewal. There he met his partner Stephanie Fischer, and they moved to Vancouver where Johnston set up a studio, making furniture from reclaimed construction materials.
In 1995, a restaurateur in Nelson invited Johnston here to design and build a sushi bar (the Rice Bowl). While here, the Kootenay School of the Arts offered him a job teaching design.
So the couple moved to Nelson and set up Johnston Fischer Studio in Nelson, where they made ceramic vases for ten years, before again changing course.
“I let go of functional ceramics and moved into sculpture,” Johnston says. “I make installations, ceramic sculpture, mixed media, multi media.”
It didn’t take him long to get residencies and exhibitions in far-flung places.
“I have been very fortunate because I did not have a visual art education so decided to pursue residencies, which are great places to learn and network. If you want to be taken seriously in the art world you can’t do it from a little mountain town. You have to get out into the world.”
The theme of all of his work since has been consumer consumption and waste.
“It is kind of an obsession. Every time I try to get away from it, I always end up back in the subject of consumption and material culture,” he says.
A couple of his recent pieces have been room-sized and inflatable: they inflate and deflate repeatedly, slowly, before our eyes. He says this breathing in and breathing out is about our response to environmental issues, and especially waste.
“It is a model of a coping mechanism, the way we bring it into focus and then push it away to cope with it — there is this constant breathing in and breathing out: breathing into focus and then out into avoidance.”
Nelson city council began naming cultural ambassadors in 2009, each year focusing on a different art form.