Johanna Stickland paints and photographs soft, delicate images of women. Whether in peach and red tones of paint, or in intimate film photographs, her artworks seem gentle, but are also a mystery. Gallery Girl spoke with Stickland about the feminine figure, her inspirations, and living and working in Portugal.
Before embarking on a career as an artist, Canadian-born Stickland was a child model, travelling the world to be photographed for the likes of Dior and Givenchy. It is probably because of this experience that the viewer gets the sense that Stickland has ensured to build up a real relationship with the women she depicts. ‘I try to be sensitive to the subjects I am portraying because I have experience being the subject myself’, she explains, ‘While I’m still figuring it all out, I hope that the perspective I have comes across as a real admiration for women.’ This admiration certainly shines through, particularly when Stickland photographs the nude figure; the resulting images are subtle, despite their intimacy, suggesting a real process of care when constructing the final painting or photograph.
Often captured in an intimate setting, Stickland’s subjects are mostly nude. Across many of her photographs, the woman in the photograph is Stickland herself, where she captures herself in black and white and colour film. She appears both vulnerable in her nudity, but strong and assure in the way she has positioned her body. ‘Using my body in self-portraiture was a way of reclaiming my body and sexuality for sure’, explains Stickland, ‘I definitely appreciate the feminine figure and think bodies are beautiful.’ Some of her self-portraits were shown earlier this year with Huxley-Parlour at Photo London, in a group exhibition called The Female Lens: Nine Contemporary Female Photographers, alongside the work of Amanda Charchian and Jocelyn Lee. Stickland’s contribution included close crops of the nude figure. Sometimes the body is captured under neon blue (Bath in Blue, 2017) or red light (Shadow, 2013 and Red, 2017), with the subject often clutching at parts of her limbs (Flesh, 2017), or focusing in on other body parts through the reflection of a mirror (Mirror, 2014).
Where Stickland’s photographs capture the beauty of the female body, it is in her paintings where she allows her women’s figures to completely beguile and transfix their viewer. Many of the paintings are covered in deep red, with the paint allowed to drip down the canvas. Her characters, who are sometimes cloaked in floral crowns and represented as ghostly white bodies against blood-red backgrounds, convey an intense amount of emotion and mystery. Who are they? What is there story? They may be described as ghosts, yet Stickland explains: ‘It’s more of a vision or memory of something that I like the idea of capturing. A piece of memory or dream.’ This painting style was replicated in her illustrations for Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio Winter collections in Milan for the Autumn/Winter season 2017, where the models faces are expressive and their clothing appearing magical and ethereal.
Interestingly, Stickland likens photography to memory too: ‘There’s still that magical element of getting film back and seeing a moment from life frozen in time’, she explains, ‘They are both [painting and photography] different ways of remembering.’ So, Stickland’s paintings are memories of dreams realised in paint, and her photographs are her recollections of her own body, captured on film.
Amongst her inspirations, Stickland cites Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin, Edvard Munch, Egon Schiele, Vincent van Gogh and Nobuyoshi Araki. Traces of all of these artists can be made out across her work; reflected in the colour palette of her paintings (Bourgeois) and the contorted poses of her figures (Munch, Schiele and Araki).
While one might expect a young emerging artist to be based in a bustling city like New York or London, Stickland lives in a small village outside Lisbon in Portugal. ‘Honestly, I’m a bit of an outsider’, she explains, ‘And I kind of like it that way.’ She connects with people from over the world through Instagram and the Internet. ‘I prefer not really knowing what the reception is to my work’, she adds, ‘I kind of live in my bubble and make things and then put them into the world and engage in that way.’
In the immediate future Stickland has a show opening in Lisbon, which will be the first time showing her work in Portugal. Besides that? ‘My immediate plan is to paint as much as possible and continue taking photos and developing film.’ Johanna Stickland’s almost-modesty about her work adds to just how endearing it is, Gallery Girl can’t wait to see what her future holds.