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Artist Profile: Marta Johansen


Artist Profile: Marta Johansen

The architect turned artist, Marta Johansen, creates stunning ethereal line drawings full of movement and precision. We spoke with her in her Sausalito studio about growing up in a creative home, her artistic process, and what inspires her work. 

WW: Can you share more about your upbringing and what contributed to making you the woman you are today?

MJ: My mother, who was an American textile designer and consultant for the United Nations met my father, a Norwegian engineer that designed railway systems in Asia,  while working in Pakistan. They lived there, where I was born and raised, until they moved, permanently, to the northeast of the United States to be closer to my mother's parents when I was about five. I grew up in an old farmhouse in Vermont that was frequently visited by my parent's friends from all over the world. My mother was part of the Black Mountain College scene, a Martha Graham trained dancer and artist that was closely connected to artists, poets and thinkers from the American Crafts Movement, folks like M.C.Richards, Paulus Berensohn, amongst others.

I grew up in a very balanced environment, where everyone was treated the same, we all worked and created and contributed. I have my strength from that. My friends, and colleagues continue this tradition -- a multicultural myriad of makers, designers and thinkers that work hard to create.

WW: How does your architecture background contribute to or influence your art?

MJ: My architectural background taught me the rigor and skill of my craft, and also how to express myself visually through drawing lines.

WW: Can you walk us through your process from conception to completion?

MJ: I conceive of a concept, think about titles through music, poetry or books I listen to, or read, and then sketch the formal arrangement of my series.  After this I draw. One pen at a time, one drawing at a time, a meditation until complete. I only draw during the day, by natural light.

WW: Your artwork is very meditative - Do you get lost in the process or do you listen to something?

MJ: Both, I listen to a lot of books and music while I am drawing that sets me in a trance. I am very sensitive to noise and interruption while I draw, so I draw alone in a quiet studio with abundant natural light looking over the bay in Sausalito.

WW: Do you have a certain way you want people to feel when they look at your art?

MJ: No, what I often find is that people see and feel a myriad of things when they view my drawings, and what I like best, is to hear what those things are. It completes my process.

WW: What have been some recent sources of inspiration?

MJ: I find endless inspiration in nature. Also, I just saw the Vija Celmins show at SFMOMA, and boy, those drawings and paintings blow my socks off.  The tedious, meticulous craft she has, is just incredible.

WW: What is an object in your home that has particular meaning to you and why?

MJ: I have a dolphin skull, my oldest friend, Tristan, found for me while he was surfing in Baja 10 years ago.  A natural gift found far away. Most girls like shiny new things. I find, when I look around, my house is filled with little and big objects people find in nature, out in the world or make. Not shiny and usually not new, but each with a hearty little soul I hold onto and treasure.


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