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Johanna Bath: The inner voice that says “I need to paint that”

I got a chance to talk to artist Johanna Bath from the German city of Hamm who shared some valuable lessons for aspiring artists! If you are one – this is the interview for you! What is “good art”, how does one find a signature style and the strength to keep going when people bring you down? Johanna also shared memorable moments from her art career, insights about her art style and techniques as well as some goals for the future. Enjoy!

Johanna, can you tell us about how you found your way into art?

I studied design and planned on becoming an illustrator. I loved every bit of art school (HAW University of Applied Science in Hamburg, Germany) because it offered a lot of freedom and room for exploration. I fell in love with painting, especially with figurative painting while studying and I was able to sell a couple of pieces along the way. After getting my diploma I was too scared to work freelance as an illustrator as I didn’t have a clue about the business side of it and I had very few contacts, so I worked as a gallery assistant and then in a publishing company for comics to get to know the other side of the creative industry. It was very soon that I realized that I missed creating and working with my hands covered in paint so much that I took the leap.


When other people view your work, what are their reactions and thoughts?

Most say that they feel transferred to a different reality which is the biggest compliment. Some also say that my paintings have some kind of vintage vibe, that the figures are from another era – which is really interesting to me as I don’t actively try to promote that. 

Is there something in particular that you wish to convey to the viewer through your work?

I would like to create pieces that slow you down while looking at them. I am trying to do artwork that gives you a feeling of time and its passing, of transience and the beauty that comes with realizing that you cannot replicate a moment and that every second of life is unique.

Can you tell us a bit more about your art style and preferences?

My practice depends heavily on my mood. Sometimes I am more drawn to doing large pieces where I start with an expressive layer of abstract painting underneath, where it is all about the movement and getting lost in gestures and paint. And other times I prefer a small canvas, where the space is limited and I focus more on the details and highlight a specific feature such as a face or a hand or a botanic detail. And most importantly I try not to set boundaries to myself and always go with the gut feeling. If I have a phase where I exclusively want to paint this or that, I will do that – even if that doesn’t match my “usual style”. I try to stay open as much as possible. 

What techniques do you use?

I mostly paint with acrylics (especially when doing large pieces and underpaintings) and oils. I also use spray paint for graphic details and I mix acrylic layers and oils, even when you are not supposed to. I like to experiment.

Has your style or technique changed over time?

I started with acrylic paint and used it exclusively at the beginning. It was only by accident that a fellow artist gifted me a huge box of oil paints he had no use for…so I started experimenting with oils and loved the texture and how much fun it is to manipulate the paint. 

Inspiration is important when creating, where do you find inspiration?

I can find inspiration anywhere. Nature, architecture, (fashion) design, a certain color combination, light… I am also a sucker for interior design. Whenever I feel uninspired and blank, I go through books and magazines for interior design. I guess the use of color and shapes triggers my painting mojo.

When starting on a new artwork, what goes through your head? How do you plan a painting?

Every painting is different but there is rarely any planning involved. I don’t do sketches and rather go by trial and error. With the small pieces it is usually a face or certain detail of a plant or the position of a hand that creates that inner voice that says “I need to paint that”. It’s like a deeply felt urge to recreate something on canvas. When working on a large canvas, I start with an abstract layer of underpaint and I react to what evolves on the canvas, to what the paint offers me and I get lost in the process. 

Can you share one of your most memorable moments in your art career?

There are a few: My first solo exhibition at the museum in the city I grew up in. When a collector bought several paintings without even questioning the price. The first painting I sold online and sent to a collector in the US. My invitation to TheOtherArtFair in Brooklyn, New York last year and showing my work amongst other painters I adore.

Is there any painting that you’ve created that is of special significance to you?

It is probably one of the blurred portraits which marks the beginning of my signature style. And also “Watching you watching me”. It is a rather large painting which I worked on for months. The work really felt like a battle and it changed so much over time. Funny enough, it’s heavier than most of the other paintings as there are so many layers on top of each other. It reminds me to push through the process and have trust in it. It felt like a great relief when it was finished and it is one of my favorites.

“Watching you watching me”

How would you define “good art”?

I believe good art should offer you a different perspective on the world and your perception. It should raise more questions than it is able to answer. But the definition of “good art” has many sides, art can be really good for a lot of reasons. Personally I distinguish two aspects of “good art”: the type of art that I enjoy in public collections such as museums or exhibitions. In this context good art can also be disturbing or uncomfortable. And the type of art I wish to look at every day and have in my house – to comfort me, to challenge me but in a calming, positive way. In the end, art should raise emotion, in one way or another.

If you could go back to the beginning of your art career, what advise would you give yourself?

Do you. Give yourself time to evolve and develop your style – it won’t happen over night and it needs patience and work, work, work. Collect massively what inspires you and don’t be shy to copy. I feel like every personal style is a mixture of so many influences meshed together. Don’t be scared to do very personal work, open up, get vulnerable – being authentic is key and if you are able to offer that quality in your work, it connects your vision to the viewer. Focus on your own path and trust your journey. Don’t let rejection put you off. I applied for so many grants, scholarships and awards but didn’t get in. I heard many people say they don’t like my work and I remember vividly that a woman once told my mum, that if I hadn’t “made it” in the art world before 30, I wouldn’t make it at all. Screw that advice 😉 There are so many different ways to have a career doing art, find yours. Also: Only take advice from people you admire und who’s opinion you trust. There are always people around who feel compelled to give you “good advice” which in reality is just criticism that’s meant to bring you down. 

What are your goals for the future?

I would love to have a solo exhibition somewhere in Europe. And also be more involved in group shows. When attending TheOtherArtFair in New York, it was so much fun connecting with other artists and seeing my work amongst other artistic styles. And I would love to go back to teaching art at some point, preferably students at art school. I feel like my own path has a lot to do with great teachers and their guidance. I have taught art classes for a long time, mostly kids but also adults every once in a while and I really enjoyed it.

Thank you so much Johanna for sharing your story with Architerior’s readers!

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