Georgie Johnson is an emerging artist based in Wellington who has just had her first ‘official’ gallery show (as she called it) at Brunswick Street Gallery (BSG) in Melbourne Australia. The other first show-ers I have known have been with a local gallery where they have had the support of their friends and often family to help them navigate, or had at least met the gallery staff before opening day. I caught up with Georgie about the experience of having her first show offshore and her thoughts about how she will move forward with her practise.
Meredith Leigh Crowe: Was this your first time visiting Melbourne?
Georgie Johnson: Yeah, I have been to Australia before, but never Melbourne, so it was a bit of an adventure.
M: How did you come to show with BSG?
G: I’ve shown before but it was in more causal locations and set ups. This is my first official gig with a gallery which was a pretty cool thing! I’ve been doing a few commissioned pieces recently and selling to people overseas, and one of them was a guy in Melbourne who happened to know BSG because he buys work from them occasionally and he actually put me in touch with them.
M: How early did you need to come over?
G: Well, I probably should have come over earlier, but because of the distance I actually only arrived on opening day, just a few hours before. There was a little bit of stress getting everything up and ready before opening. I think also it was the new experience of hanging in a place that is more professional, there were a few nerves!
M: Did you know any of the other artists you were showing with or their work?
G: No, everyone there was new to me except Miriam, the gallery director, who I have been digitally talking to during the lead up. That was quite a new thing for me too: not knowing the other artists I was showing with, I just met them that day.
M: Did you get the impression that they were a similar experience level, or did you think they might have had a few shows before?
G: I think that a lot of the others were more established within the gallery scene, I definitely think I was more of a newbie, the whole thing didn’t seem as foreign to them.
M: It was quite a big show in the end!
G: Yeah the gallery is two levels and there are about 10 spaces, with each artist having their own.
M: How do you think the gallery went about putting the whole thing together? There were definitely a lot of different mediums of work, but were there conceptual themes running throughout?
G: I’m not entirely sure to be honest, I think that there was lot of variety in the work that was showing. I was, I think, the only paper based artist; there was a lot of photography, painted works on canvas, and some sculpture. I’m not sure how they gallery works through that kind of thing. I don’t know if everyone would have approached them with a portfolio as I did, or maybe some were approached by the gallery instead.
M: Do you think that the combinations worked? Opening night was certainly packed which was great! Do you think that having the variety of work was advantageous in terms of attracting a lot of people, and was that a good move by the gallery or would you prefer to show in a more regimented group?
G: I think that it was great. It was really cool to see such a variety of ages of people at the opening. Some had obviously come to support someone they knew, but checked out all the work. I think because there was such diversity in the art and artists you could see the diversity in the crowd, there were students, and professionals; one of my sales on opening night was from someone who had never heard of me. That was really interesting, being able to talk to him about my work in a gallery setting when I think it was really unexpected for him. He said that he hadn’t intended on buying anything that night.
M: You did make a couple of sales on opening night, what was that like?
G: Yeah, a good feeling! I think for any artist there is that greediness, but also self consciousness, so when you do get that recognition where someone says ‘hey I really like your work’ and they engage with it, you really do hold on to that feeling.
M: Is there a difference for you between someone saying ‘I really like this’ and then someone saying ‘I like this so much that I’m going to hang it in my house’?
G: I think my style is quite edgy and unexpected, so really I understand that for a lot of people it’s not their cup of tea, especially to have in their home. Though I have been approached by people who have seen my work online and have bought pieces for their home, or more commissioned pieces really. But that’s something I am trying to stay away from as well, and that’s why I think this exhibition was really a step in the right direction for me. I was able to just say ‘this is what I’m producing’. There’s no discussion about what the pieces are going to be, and people can appreciate the work if they want to.
M: So when someone has commissioned a piece from you what kind of direction will they give; conceptual, or is it more about sizing or finishing?
G: This is something I’ve been really aware of because I don’t really want to be strictly directed by someone else, so a lot of the time it has been that people will come across the work through Instagram and they’ll say ‘hey I really like this series, do you have any more of them, or can you do more of them?’ And sometimes they may ask for certain content, but I always find myself resisting it. The way that I work is really spontaneous and unmediated, and I find it puts a huge creative limit on me if I’m trying to work for a specific brief.
M: Did you make work specifically for this show?
G: I’m working all the time; basically whenever I have the chance to and last year I put together a group of works that I was really grooving with, and three of those kind of sparked a new series based on some ideas that had been floating around in my head, so I have created this set from being encouraged from the connections between those.
M: What was the highlight for you?
G: I think the best feeling was after they were hung; of just having them in the space. I think because I work in quite a confined environment, seeing them all in a gallery space was an amazing feeling. And then on the night seeing people moving around and actually engaging with them and talking about them is something I think that makes any artist stoked.
Photography by Eliza Bell