Joan Agajanian Quinn 2000

Excerpted from The Joan Quinn Profiles, taped July 2000 at Time Warner Communications, Santa Monica CA

JOAN AGAJANIAN QUINN: Did you always want to be an artist?
STEPHEN ROBERT JOHNS: I did always want to be an artist. Probably from the early ages of childhood I was given crayons, a sketchbook and oil paints, which was rather unusual in comparison to the kids I grew up with...

JAQ: Why did you choose Chouinard Art Institute, when there were so many other art schools around?
SRJ: I chose Chouinard because of my grammar, junior, and high school teachers. All recommended Chouinard, so when it came time to graduate from high school and I was asked, "what do you want to do with your life? Do you want to go into the service? Do you want to enter college", I responded that I wanted to go to Chouinard, and study art. I had no idea what the school looked like or where it was located. I just knew that it was in Los Angeles and came highly recommended.

JAQ: That's how you decided?
SRJ: That's right. I was a young surfer, you know, growing up in the Pacific Palisades/Santa Monica area. I wasn't familiar with the Los Angeles area. And, of course, Chouinard was downtown, near Westlake Park. It was quite a culture change for me to see the inner city. I'd led a very sheltered life.

JAQ: Do you hang out with other artists? Is that an important part of your life?
SRJ: Oh, absolutely. If you can't interact with other artists, I think you're missing out on something important. I really didn't do much of that over the past (20) years. But recently I received two fellowships to travel to Costa Rica and paint at the Julia and David White Artists' Colony. There I met artists from the US as well as outside of the artists' colony, in San Jose galleries and museums, where I was introduced to Costa Rican artists.

JAQ: How long ago was that?
SRJ: Well, my first fellowship was in 1998, and my second fellowship was in 1999.

JAQ: When you're at the artists' colony, did you work with other artists from different countries, or just artists from Costa Rica?
SRJ: Artists come to the artists' colony from all over the world. I did learn a lot about the Costa Rican culture because I met artists down there who were Costa Rican. At the art colony I was mostly isolated, however, and the only other guests were artists in residency, such as in 1998- Patricia Tobacco Forrester from Washington, D.C., and Phil Higgs, a writer from New York. We would interact during lunches and dinners. The art colony is located in Ciudad Colon, a very small farming community, about (45) minutes from the capital, San Jose. The studio space and the spacious landscaped grounds are very good for committing yourself to your work, with few distractions.

JAQ: Then there are other types of artists who reside at the colony besides painters and visual artists?
SRJ: Yes. Composers, musicians and writers.

JAQ: What a great program!
SRJ: It really is. We could talk with each other every day, at lunch and dinner, and discuss the experiences we were having, while doing our art at the art colony, as well as interacting with the community outside of the art colony, whether in Ciudad Colon or in San Jose.

JAQ: It's like the American Acadmy in Rome where the have many different types of artists come to live and work together.
SRJ: Exactly. We shared meals, as well as problems and successes with our work and our life. I was introduced to galleries in Pavas and San Jose, where I met other artists. Some of these artists are quite prolific in Costa Rica as well as internationally. It really made me feel more complete as an artist and as a human being, making friends with these artists from Costa Rica, attempting to speak Spanish and them trying to speak English, forged in conversation by our love for art, almost like taking me back when I was in art school- a newness!

JAQ: In art school, did you have art idols, artists whose work you loved, who you thought about constantly?
SRJ: Oh, yeah. Michelangelo has always been just the most astounding artist in my eyes, and of course, Pablo Picasso. There is a great time difference between those two great artists. Yet, the way they were able to draw anatomy, a person or capture a human feeling within their compositions made them equally inspiring to me.

JAQ: Has working as a garden landscape designer influenced your painting, or has your painting influenced the landscape work?
SRJ: Both. They really do mesh and interact. And at night, I'll sometimes go to bed thinking about a stone wall that I'm building for a landscape project or possibly a specimen tree that I want to plant in a particular landscape composition. At the same time, in the studio, I have my painting series, which has been evolving over the years. It's a nice balance of creativity. They are both serious works in progress for me.

JAQ: So, does this painting Guatemala City, remind you of a landscape?
SRJ: Yes. This painting reminds me of a particular view I observed from the air, while coming into Guatemala City very early in the morning, just before dawn. It was still dark, but illumination was visible from lightening strikes on the ground, back lighting the trees below. It really is sort of a top-view painting, similar to a landscape rendering, looking down on a city surrounded by the jungle.

JAQ: You do see the trees, but they are abstracted.
SRJ: I think before my trips to Costa Rica, over the past few years, I didn't see trees, leaves or plants in my work. My compositions then were primarily pure geometry and color. There is now a new element influencing my art- nature.

JAQ: Those fellowships really did make a big difference in your vision, even though you were already working outside with nature.
SRJ: I was landscaping and I was painting. The landscaping and the painting were two distinct professions for me to be creative with, and in some ways inspired from. I may be working on both of them during the same day, week or month, but I really couldn't bring them together- in other words, paint the landscape I created. They were two separate entities. Now, after my stays in Costa Rica, it seems that I go to bed at night thinking about both. And, I have the art colony visits to thank. I became inspired to paint the landscapes on the ground and from the air!

Joan Agajanian Quinn, the former West Coast Editor of Interview magazine, spent nearly twenty years as a member of the California Arts Council. She currently serves on the California Film Commission and the Beverly Hills Architectural Commission. Joan Agajanian Quinn writes for Art Talk, Art Review, and Inside Events. Her cable television show The Joan Quinn Profiles, can be seen on a mini-syndicate across the United States.