The picture above is a detail from a platter-painting I did for myself entitled “Self-Portrait With Pasha”; ∆6 Stoneware with bas relief figures, underglaze slips and glazes rubbed, sponged and brushed. Pasha is my beloved soul-mate cat, now around 16 years old and much wiser than me.

The following is an interview conducted by Nehalem’s Rainbow Lotus Center on the occasion of my having a small show there in August 2011. I appreciated the quality of the questions so here is an updated and proofed version. Thanks to Michael and Sedona for the opportunity to put my chops out there in such a way.

Rainbow LotusWhat were your first passions in art?

B.J. I don’t know about “passions” at first but I have had my own visual language since I was a kid in Scotland and just drew-drew-drew naturally -everything from what I saw to what I thought. It all sprung from that, I think. My passion grew as my creative eyes opened. I’m grateful to my family for encouraging this (but not being pushy in one direction or t’other) and for giving me a pretty happy and quite varied early life.

RLIn your bio, you speak about blurring the line between painting, sculpture, ceramics, and eventually architecture. Can you tell us more about this holistic artistic vision?

B.J. Well, you might as well add music, writing, cooking- even my brief forays into the theater: it’s all part of the creative process. Obsessions (there’s that word again) which need to come out in some way. As I made a living in Architectural Design and Construction Management in Scotland and around the world, I channeled some of the earnings back into other creative fields, I found it to be the same process of exploring and unfolding. I’d like to design a building from the engineered elements, cladding, interior, furniture, integrated decorative elements, especially the kitchen for a serious chef/cook/recycle freak like me, recycling everything, furniture, exterior-into-interior, sounds, rhythms of space and even inferred sounds –but still leave an element of natural intrusion (Integration of nature is perhaps a better term, or total harmony).

RLCan you share with us some pivotal moments in your personal artistic evolution?

B.J. Oh Gawd –got a couple of days? Deciding to quit Architecture (I thought for ever at one point) and go to Art College. Probably inspired by living in Spain and seeing the tremendous creative work past and present in all spheres, even under Franco. Working-associating-collaborating- jamming with some of the giants in their chosen fields (see below).

RL:  What artist or person influenced the development of your creativity the most?

B.J. This is another potentially lengthy one! OK, to be brief, my Aunt Margot brought me up in opera and classical music, which put me with other creative types. Also knew Adam Robson as a child –great Scottish international rugby player and quite well know artist in his home turf, who kind of mentored me in a friendly way (in both). Living in Spain just down the street from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, and the Antonio Gaudi buildings around the city. Association with Ricardo Bofil, seeing Picasso’s teacher and father’s work in Malaga. Living, fighting and playing with the Flamencos of Andalucia, especially Melchor de Marchena, Antonio Mairena and later Paco Peña. The mighty Sabicas was my main Flamenco inspiration although I never met him. Also New Orleans Jazz, playing with some of the great British Trad bands, (and sitting in with Dee-dee Pierce’s Preservation Hall Band in 1972). Kate Horseman, Head of Ceramics at Edinburgh College of Art, who got many of the early modern American potters like Paul Soldner started, Don Reitz and his student Ian Nelson (also a teacher at ECA). Shoji Hamada (who’s workshop and lecture on his visit to Edinburgh I was privileged to participate in), David Hockney in painting, too many authors (Burns, Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, Omar Khayam)  to count but most recently John Mortimer and Ian Rankin. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Ghery, Indonesian Architecture. In cooking, my mother, several French and Spanish chefs I’ve worked under for basic methods and techniques including sauces, soups and pastry, Mrs Ramala Saxena, Dharamit Singh and many others in Indian Food –oh, Hell, I can go on (And that was “brief”). I’m also and always have been awake to influences in everyday life and happenstance.

Brian Johnstone in his Nehalem Clayworks studio on Nehalem's North Fork Road. (Photo by Kate Johnstone)

RL:  In addition to being a master potter, you are a musician, cook and building designer.  Can you tell us more about these aspects of your artistic life?

B.J. They are inseparable and connected, like my painting, cooking, writing AND traveling the world with agrowing sense of wonder, which if I lose, I may as well croak!

RL:  In what way has art changed your life?

B.J. Well lookin’ back, I guess it has BEEN my life, whether I knew it or not.

RLWhat inspires you to create?

B.J. Every waking minute on this crazy, beautiful planet –and listening, observing and learning from others I respect. I tend to “need” a specific design task to really kick off the process. If I could get a constant flow of personal projects conceived to spiritually or otherwise enrich the lives and/or memories of any client, I’d never go near another gallery and in fact tend to be a bit jaded with that particular path or scene, with it’s pre-supposed precepts’ “juried” and therefore capricious exhibits and huge (± 50%) cuts’ of one’s work. This diminishes much of the true personal value of a piece and the thought of something deeply personal to me residing in some rich person’s* vault never being shared is as repugnant to me as good food ending up in a dump or transfer station! 

*Not much chance of that: I don’t get the wealthy types comin’ my way anyhoo.

RLYour work often draws on spiritual elements, can you tell us about your spiritual journey and how it relates to your artistic expression?

B.J. Harmony and interconnectedness of all things. (MetakuyeOyasin; Lakota) –“All my relations”. Connections with indigenous, planet and spirit based peoples of the world –especially the North, South and Central American Indian peoples and some ancient Celtic, Nordic and Asian mores.

RL:  What is most challenging for you about working with clay?

B.J. Trying to get some kind of bloody living out of it, without reverting to becoming commercial, trendy or precious –and keeping my sense o’ humor and perspective about it all.

RL:  Currently, do you have a personal favorite of your many creations?

B.J. Again, tough one but there is one painting I did of a Scottish village in reds which I’ll never better (“Red Ashkirk”) and a couple of salt-glazed, wood-fired clay pieces I couldn’t part with. I just did a project imbued and inculcated with human ashes (of which more later but it’s not just an urn) for a client which I’m pretty proud of in terms of how it was conceived, refined presented and carried to it’s conclusion.

RL:  What other life dreams do you have that you would like to explore?

B. J. Could use another couple of life-spans for that one- but to just become better at what I do already by my own evolution. Would like to play my Northumbrian Smallpipes well someday soon. Also -well, I’d better quit here before I waltz off into speculation over which I’ve no control. I do want to go back and live in Europe where I really belong and visit a couple more countries I’ve never been to yet; New Zealand and Argentina. Also return to India in my maturity to breathe as much of it in as I can.

RLDescribe yourself in 5 words.

B.J. Amiable Eccentric, Fart on Skillet. * **

*You might want to check with Kate on this one; Heh-heh!

**My daughter Daun describes me as a “Sensitive ruffian” –I can dig that as I’ve tended to be a bit on the combative side.

RL:  What words of wisdom would you give to aspiring artists?

B.J. Don’t do it primarily for the money and be prepared to handle criticism, some of it useful, much of it idiotic (grow y’r carapace early and hard!), learn from it and ignore “scenes”. “To thine own self be true” comes to mind –and don’t get an inflated opinion of yourself or become an “Art groupie”, don’t settle for mediocrity and have a sense of humor about it all, life and yourself. Oh aye –and be suspicious of anything you see on commercial television or hear on commercial radio; I mean think of who can afford to sponsor that crap and their ultimate motives.

Travel and experience life at the grassroots level out of y’r own region and country if you can possibly afford it and even if you can’t (especially directed at the U.S.A. -I’m constantly appalled at the wanton ignorance of the average North American from the “Fragmented States” as I now call it, as regards the rest of the world and it’s nation’s dynamics, particularly in the stark light of the fact that it’s military is many times larger than the REST OF THE WORLD’S combined -to what end??? Power over other nations and their resources??!! Better quit on that one but more on my blog in good time and context.). You’ll learn more than any school or course can teach you if you keep an open mind. I’m not putting down education here -much the opposite- just proposing adjuncts and supplementary experience of the world for personal cultural and often spiritual enrichment.

Don’t hide from, nor seem to be above politics and everyday life –it affects you deeply whether you like it or not, especially as a taxpayer (Do you really approve of financing that bloated military I just described, or huge prison complexes -it goes on!). To me, part of a creative person’s contribution and perceptive ability is to see beyond the everyday saturation of commercially motivated media-hype and to expose it for it’s vacuousness in your own way!

Don’t be afraid to be controversial when you feel the need (but don’t contrive to be so either –it’ll show); this is part of y’r job.


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