At Stripe MEN this Friday we will be featuring work by local artist Kyle Johnson of Juicebox, a surfboard and sign design company based here in Santa Cruz. We got in a few quick questions with the artist to better understand his process and inspiration.
What was the first piece of art you ever created?
It’s hard to pinpoint the first piece of art I made. Everybody makes preschool drawings that go up on the wall. And there were certainly sloughs of elementary school marker drawings of cars, tractors, fish and everything else that we had up in the house for awhile. Some are still up. I used to do fancy block letters of my and my friends’ names that wed put on our bedroom doors (elementary school). Those would be my first ‘commissioned’ pieces. I also did an illustration of my dad’s antique tractor that he restored for his museum display when I was 5 or 6. I don’t know when I made something that had some deeper meaning or significance other than trying to do a good illustration or if I’ve even gotten past that yet. There really is no beginning and no end. The end will be when everything has completely deteriorated and disappeared. It kind of fades in and fades back out.
How did your upbringing with artistic/artisan parents influence you to become an artist?
I was encouraged but not pushed to make things and draw. I didn’t quite realize it but I was immersed in my parents’ projects all the time. My mother was always working on plays both at the school she taught at and at the theatre company she was a part of. Directing, organizing music, acting. I can remember staying at our family’s cabin in the mountains and being mystified at her and my aunt’s abilities with watercolors. I’d attempt to copy the landscapes they were doing. My dad is a mechanic, woodworker, electrician, among other things. He restored a couple antique Farmall tractors when I was young. Watching him tear them down to piles of metal and bolts, picking through junkyards for replacement parts, learning how to paint and do perfect body work on those was hugely inspiring. Their creativity was part of my upbringing and I basically just soaked it up. They would show me how to do something like repair a surfboard and I would do it over and over until I realized that you could do a really spectacular job and make something that was broken new and beautiful again.
You work on a lot of surfboards and signs, what do you find most challenging about creating something that is going to be vigorously used and exposed to the elements?
I enjoy watching things weather and wear out. Some of the signs that inspire me most are the oldest, faded and cracked ones. That’s mostly because those signs were made by people and not vinyl plotters and so they reflect more character. They’re old but they’ve withstood many years of wear and tear. Somebody worked hard to master that craft and even if they didn’t spend a lot of time on that particular sign, they did a good job on it and it looked nice when they were done with it. Layers of paint may have worn off but the structure is still there and the inherent quality is still there. Surfboards weather much less gracefully but the principle is the same. I always look at boards with a critical eye and I assume others do the same to mine. You approach each project with discipline and work through it methodically relying on your training and practice. It doesn’t happen quickly. You have to work through lots of failed projects and learn from each one. You use good materials and take your job seriously and when you’re done you stand back and say “it looks nice." I like to watch what happens to things as they get old and keep a little file in my head about what I did on each particular one. There is a lot of responsibility when you do jobs for people that are counting on the reliability of your product.
Name a song that describes your life...
Little Room - The White Stripes
(I wouldn't say it describes my life but it is something I aspire to)
Opening Reception Friday June 5th at Stripe MEN from 5-9pm