Johanna Bear

In Conversation with Johanna Bear.

We sat down with artist Johanna Bear to discuss her love of collage and what inspires her creative practice.

A multitalented lady, with a background studying law, art history and international relations, as well as experience working as a model, we aren’t surprised that Johanna also works with Sydney’s leading interdisciplinary space, Artspace.

With a contemporary approach, Johanna blends her interests in portraiture, fashion and landscape in a new body of work made especially for auór.

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Where were you born and where do you live now? 

I was born in Brisbane and moved to Auckland, Aotearoa in New Zealand for a few years when I was 19.

About five years ago I moved to Sydney, where I now live.

How do you best describe yourself?

Motivated, inquisitive and I always follow my intuition. 

Who is in your world right now?
My partner Oliver Rose. He is a filmmaker with a background in photography and fine art.

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How do you like to spend your time? 

Each week I like to go to as many art openings and exhibitions as I can. There are some wonderful smaller galleries that I like to support, including great spaces out in Western Sydney. 

When I’m not working, I always keep myself busy with various personal projects. As much as I thrive off a packed schedule, I sometimes need to remind myself to relax. When I do, I love going to a yoga class or lighting a candle and reading a book. This summer I also really enjoyed driving out of Sydney to national parks or secluded beaches with good snorkelling spots.

auór V , 2019, paper collage, 21 x 29.7 cm

auór V, 2019, paper collage, 21 x 29.7 cm

Have you always been creative? 

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved art, both experiencing it and creating it. My sister and I would incessantly paint and draw as children, to the point where my parents recently cleared out their house and came across huge collections of works and objects we had made. 

What got you interested in Collage? 

After my first few years of university, I started to travel a lot and found it difficult to continue painting and drawing in the style I wanted to. I can’t recall what gave me the idea, but I decided to start cutting up old magazines and playing around with the compositions. It was when I was living above a photo studio in Auckland with Oliver and a dear friend who is a photographer that I started creating the works I’m making today. Living in this environment of constant creativity definitely encouraged me to explore collage and gave me more confidence to share what I was working on.

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What do you most enjoy about the medium? 

I really enjoy the freedom and eclecticism associated with collage. It presents endless opportunities to incorporate various materials and forms. 

How do you go about sourcing the imagery for your work? 

For some projects I have worked with creatives to develop photographs for collages but for my personal work, I enjoy scouring second hand bookstores and finding old magazines and books to use in my works. My collages for auór actually use photographs I shot myself on a film camera. This is the first time I’ve photographed (as well as collaged) the images I’ve worked with and I really enjoyed this process.

Can you tell about the work you have created for auór? 

Many of my collage works have a kind of surrealist sensuality in their play upon form, abstraction and the human body. For these works I wanted to amplify the colour of the sunglasses by incorporating textures and tones found at Australian beaches. Compositionally, they also have a sense of movement and dynamism that mimics the ebb and flow of waves.  

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If you had to pick three artists who have influenced you who would they be and why?

Louise Bourgeois is one of my all-time favourite artists. She was an incredible female force in contemporary art and her works have such power in their exploration of emotion, psychoanalysis, sexuality and desire. 

Olafur Eliasson is known for creating spectacularly experiential and immersive installations that employ elemental materials such as light and water. It is his more recent focus on environmental conservation and social issues that I find particularly compelling. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a special contribution by Olafur in a recent UN Human Development report, where he outlined the powerful role art can play in inciting an emotional response to contemporary global issues and ultimately inspire social change.

Zhang Huan’s works have a confrontational yet spiritual beauty in their exploration of spirituality and the limits of the human body that continues to blow me away. When I first encountered his practice I was particularly enthralled by his 1994 work 12 Square Meters, during which he sat nude in a public toilet covered in honey and fish oil to draw attention to the squalid living conditions in Dashancun, China.

This is such a tricky question as there are many artists who I could name here – Amrita Hepi, John Stezaker, Marguerite Humeau, Lisa Reihana and Anish Kapoor are a few others – but these artists have been especially influential at different points in my life. 

auór IV , 2019, paper collage, 21 x 29.7 cm

auór IV, 2019, paper collage, 21 x 29.7 cm

Where do you do for creative inspiration?

Experiencing contemporary art is always a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration, as are travelling and conversing with friends about their creative work. I also get ideas when I least expect it, like watching a documentary, listening to music or reading a book that is not directly related to art. 

What's next in the creative world of Johanna? 

I work full-time job at Artspace so upcoming projects with work will keep me busy and creatively stimulated. At present I am also working on collage project for a home wares store called Fourth St, based in Auckland. Over the coming months I also plan to work on some independent writing and curatorial projects. So there is plenty to look forward to!

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Photography | Johanna Bear & Oliver Rose

Artwork | @johannabearcollage