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Meet Johnnie Chatman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Johnnie Chatman.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
Raised in the tree-lined suburbs of Claremont, CA I was first introduced to art through the classes of a local abstract painter and eventual mentor, Elizabeth Preston. Over the following years as I proceeded through adolescent education I dabbled in everything from ceramics to graphic design and filmmaking as I maneuvered to find my place in the art world.

However, it wasn’t until I was attending a local junior college at the urging of a family friend that I enrolled in my first photography course, which changed my path forever. It was at that moment that I began to explore the potentiality of photography not only as a medium but also as an area of study and career path. Photography became to be more than a passing hobby.

I had always taken photographs. From the time I was 14 and on, I never really went anywhere without a camera in my pocket documenting everything from social gatherings, concerts, events, friends bands, you name it, but I never thought of myself as a photographer and even less as an artist. With a crash course in photography under the meticulous but nurturing eye of my professor, I crafted a portfolio, which I used to transfer into a 4-year Bachelors of Fine Art in Photography program.

After much debate, many conversations and stressful nights I decided to go to school in San Francisco. 5 years of intensive coursework pushed me further than I had ever dreamt. With each passing day, my 10,000 hours (thanks, Malcolm Gladwell for popularizing that notion) towards mastering my craft began to dwindle. Which leads us today where I am well into my thesis year of my master’s program with my educational studies approaching an end. Since those early days, I’ve worked as a fine artist, professional retoucher, fashion photographer, filmmaker, etc.

Currently, my eyes are on an upcoming charity art print/ book sale taking place in early November in New York I’m hosting and helping to orchestrate where all proceeds will go towards Puerto Rico relief efforts. Next spring will arise the 2nd iteration of the In Time Film Festival, an event I founded and curate, a showcase of Avante Garde and experimental video artwork.

Please tell us about your art.
I’m a fine artist with an emphasis in photography, experimental filmmaking and collage work. With my art practice, I often explore the dyad of human growth and the exploitation/ alteration of the natural environment by examining areas of equilibrium and offset through constructs of identity, historical implications of the West and cultural capital. Dealing with notions of place, time and a negotiation of public space through.

Recent projects have ranged from an existential study into the relationship between the realms of human experience, social media and the landscape. Where translated through the American archetype of the western family vacation, I mined over 13,420 images mined from Instagram to create a disarray of imagery subjected to multiple interventions, degradation, fusions and realignments. The Project, How Grand, comes to life as an experiential art object exploring the boundaries of still and moving image.

For more personal and grounded studies in the likes of the series Between the Sea and the City. A photographic series exploring my own relationship with the United States military in juxtaposition to the space it occupies in the San Francisco Bay Area as both a place of history and entertainment. My photographs of these forgotten facilities reveal a side of the Bay Area on the fringe of our day-to-day lives. Military installations built, stationed and manned 70 years ago reveal a history that will soon cease in living memory to become something we learn about only in history books and deep Internet dives. In these locations, nature and structure compete for the light.

Currently, my efforts have brought me back to the West for my in-progress body of work and thesis, I Forgot Where We Were, a project aiming to create a discussion around the negotiation of identity, cultural capital and master narratives in the public sphere. Using constructs and idioms of the west and western landscape photography as allegorical elements to conduct an interrogation of black American identity as it reconfigures itself against media, historical, and transglobal narratives.

We often hear from artists that being an artist can be lonely. Any advice for those looking to connect with other artists?
The best advice I could give to other artists would be to recognize that you are apart of a community and with that in a relationship that requires nurturing and communication from both parties. Many artists strive after a fantasy that they will be picked out from the crowd by an important curator or collector and with that single action all the doors will open for them. Unfortunately, that fantasy happens for very, very few and the reality is that the ones we see blossom, seemingly out of nowhere, put in a lot of work behind closed doors that you are only just seeing the fruit of that labor.

As artists, we often segregate ourselves from the rest of the world. Hiding away and perfecting our craft but the truth is that the best artists understand that they do not exist nor create in a vacuum. Throughout history, the movements that have changed art and created ripples that affect the way we think and relate to our medium comes from artists who realize art is a conversation. Not a single-sided lecture or narration but a symbiotic relationship and passing of information not just from other artists of your kin, but intellectuals, creatives outside of your medium, writers, philosophers, architects, mathematicians, scientists, etc.

I often see other young creatives coming up who admire and idolize artists who themselves lived in communities and participated in collectives where sharing was a given but fail to understand how this relationship helped those artists grow and become the individuals we study and marvel over today. So I urge other artists to get out of their bubble and give back, talk to other artists, support other artists, go to other artists gallery openings, participate in artist residencies, be models for other artists, go to that independent art performance in the desert that seems weird but oddly interesting, start a magazine, be a grip for someone, go to art festivals, do studio visits, let someone practice their gallery spiel on you, be a sounding board, etc.

Don’t just go to the handful of key events but go to the small shows. Be an active participant in your community, not just a passive observer waiting for an opportunity to seize the light. Being an artist is only as lonely as you allow it to be.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
At the moment, the best place to see my work is through my website and social media channels. While I’ve participated in exhibitions around California and across the country at this time I’m taking a slight pause from that world as I work on my finishing my Masters in Fine Art (MFA) in Photography, Video and Related Media.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Ariella Greenfield

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