I always knew I wanted to be an artist. However, finding my own style? Well, that took a little while longer. If one is to be considered a “professional” artist, most gallery owners and customers like to see a cohesive vision, a unifying note that ties all the work together. I have never felt the need to choose just one medium, and often switch between watercolors and acrylics. I like to think about the piece I plan to create, and what media and style I think will best help me express the message I hope to send out into the world. Others say that the unifying note in my work is my individual voice. That’s the best compliment I think I’ve ever received.
Click on images to enlarge their view.
When one of my paintings shows texture, whether actual or implied, I feel it pulls the audience into the piece. Ten years ago, when I first started my business, Super Keen Creations, one of my first customers asked for an abstract painting. She was a horror fiction author, and desired to walk into her office and feel inspired to write about death, suspense, and darkness. I had never done an abstract before, but I felt for the first time the NEED to bring a tactile element to a piece. I headed to my locally owned art supply store, Artmart, and asked them to show me some possible ways to bring texture to a painting. It was a whole new world for me!
At first, it started as just opening a jar of modeling paste and using a baker’s spatula to smear it about the canvas. I tried out almost all the texture media that Liquitex and Golden paints had to offer. I learned that adding either pure pigment or paint to the texture media would act as a tint, making it easier for me to paint upon once all the layers had cured. Once upon a time, in college, I was a cake decorator. I realized that many of these texture media are not too dissimilar from working with frosting. I started using a piping bag to create branches, or fine detail work. Recently, I used a piping bag to create the golden filigree details on the face of a grandfather clock.
Perhaps my favorite textured piece I’ve ever created was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It was more of an actual wall sculpture. I started by painting one side of a canvas to look like wood flooring. I then took a second piece of canvas and stapled it to the frame of the first canvas, creating a double layered effect once I cut through the floorboards. Using modeling paste, matte heavy gel, sand, aquarium rocks, paper clay (for chunks of wood) and paint, I created the look of mud under the floorboards. Then using heavy gloss gel, which has a high sheen like plastic, I tried to create what looked like a bloody (anatomically correct) heart lying in the dirt. I used the piping bag once again to create the fine lines of the veins running across the surface of the heart. It was quite an unusual process, but one with which I was very pleased.
It’s been a while now that I’ve been using texture media with acrylics. The thought occurred to me; “Could I make a textured watercolor painting?” I always enjoy a new challenge. Once again, I went to the fine people of Artmart, and I said, “How can we DO this?!” One of my favorite texture products is ceramic stucco. It looks and feels like concrete, but with a sponge-like bounce. I used it years ago to make a painting of Lucky Charms cereal. Once it’s cured you can take a knife to it, or use a file to shave it down more. It also doesn’t lose its volume the way some other textures do as they cure. Once the ceramic stucco was completely cured, I used a product by Qor Watercolors that is essentially ground watercolor paper in a jar. It comes in either cold or hot pressed, and works basically like a watercolor gesso on which one can apply to wood panel or canvas. I applied this to the ceramic stucco, creating the texture of a rusted chain on a weathered fence post. Then I painted it with watercolors and inks. After it was dry, I used a knife to scratch the watercolor paper product, cutting down into the wood panel itself, creating even more texture in the grain of the wood. I’m still very proud of the results.
It’s not that I prefer working with texture, it’s that sometimes a certain piece just NEEDS it. There’s also something so gratifying about that first glop of a yogurt-like substance onto the canvas. I have to admit on more than one occasion, I’ve actually forgotten it’s not chocolate pudding on the spatula…
We’re not SUPPOSED to touch paintings, and I think that’s what makes doing it so fantastic. When one of my textured pieces is hanging on the wall of a gallery, I enjoy going up to the person staring at my work, keeping their distance. With a huge smile on my face I swoop in and say, “Do you wanna touch it?” They pause hesitantly, “Are you sure? Is it okay?” So I rub my hand all over the painting, and say, “See? YES! TOUCH IT!” And so they do, and they always smile.
Currently, I’m working on a series of paintings based upon my own photography. The scenes and still lifes I capture are either naturally occurring or created in my studio. I then meticulously recreate the photographs in either acrylic or watercolors and ink, sometimes employing my texture techniques. Each of the resulting works is rich in its own story and emotional symbolism, inspired by color theory and societal iconography.
I feel the paintings I create are a vibrant translation of my world, an opportunity to capture a moment in time and share it with others. I am presently exploring the ideas of community diversity, childhood nostalgia, and finding beauty in the broken. I hope to express personal stories of love, joy, and loss: the struggles and celebrations of life that most everyone can understand.
Philly Alex Johnmeyer is a contemporary artist based in St Louis, Missouri. In 2008, Alex made the decision to start their company, Super Keen Creations, selling commissioned paintings to personal art collectors and businesses. Now the last five years, Alex has been showing their paintings in gallery exhibitions, and has their first solo show coming in August 2017 at Third Degree Glass Factory.
Alex also enjoys volunteering with multiple organizations. Alex is co-director of The Blooming Artists Project (a mentorship program which pairs students with professional artists, culminating in a gallery exhibition. Alex is also a co-founder and volunteer with the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, and acts as curator for the annual LGBTQ art exhibition, which is the group’s largest fundraiser of the year.