Everything about Traci Johnson’s work is unforgettable, bold, and welcoming. 

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the artist specializing in textile design, installation, and sculpture, is driven by creating a healing place that escapes judgment. Johnson designs a reality that imagines a world without worry and trauma from race, class, social, and status. As Johnson explores these concepts, they work towards personal and shared resolutions. 

Traci Johnson’s work is part of the group show “Depth Perception,” curated by Morgan Everhart and Mel Reese. The show also features works by Andrew Keiper, Andrea Caldarese, Rachael Wren, and the curators Everhart and Reese. The exhibition is on view at The Yard City Hall Park in New York City through February 10, 2022.

We spoke with Johnson about materiality, the role the artist’s family plays in the creation process, and inspiring landscapes from Upstate New York. 

Traci Johnson's art studio
Photo courtesy of Traci Johnson.

What characteristics of landscapes do you incorporate into your artwork? 

I incorporate mountains, hills, bodies of water, and so on into my work by converting their characteristics into simple shapes. This in return reveals so much about the revolving relationships these shapes have elementally. 

The color of my artwork borrows from the energy I feel from these particular elements. 

My artwork exposes the comfort, euphoria, and easy laughter we once had as children. I hope audiences are soothed and thankful, even if just for a moment.

Are there specific mountains, hills, or bodies of water that inspire you? Being from New York City, does the city’s landscape influence your work as well?

Whenever I go upstate New York to visit my partner’s family there are the most beautiful mountains and rocky hills. It’s the serenity of an untouched landscape that I appreciate, how organic and strong these landscapes appear. Upstate is so quiet, with more space and cleaner air. Being able to see the stars there allows my body and mind to take up as much space as I want. 

Being from New York City does influence my work. While creating paintings or rugs, the frantic business from the city finds a way itself into my work. I think the overlapping and proximity of the shapes I create often represent how overcrowded I may feel in my city. Although people come here to live large, it’s often easy to live small. 

Love Yard by Traci Johnson
Traci Johnson, ”Love Yard”, Rubber Pad, 2021, 24 × 7 inches. Photo courtesy of Traci Johnson.
Evil Eye by Traci Johnson
Traci Johnson, “Evil Eye”, Yarn, Rubber Pad, 2020, 5 inches. Right: Detail. Photo courtesy of Traci Johnson.
Mystery Machine by Traci Johnson
Traci Johnson, “Mystery Machine” Yarn, Mirror, Rubber Pad, 2021, 26 × 17 inches. Right: Detail. Photo courtesy of Traci Johnson.

Who do you make your art for and why?

I make my art for myself and my audience, my community. I create art based on healing from trauma and what actions, materials, and colors can soothe that. 

I have noticed that people feel exceptionally open to sharing their feelings or associations with your work. Could you share an interaction that has been really beautiful with your work and one of your viewers?

When I had my “Safe Space Exhibit,” many of its visitors immediately shared with me how safe and calm they felt there. They felt and returned the positive energy that surrounded the object. Many adults shared nostalgic feelings of security when they entered the space. 

When I create my pieces, embedding love into them is a priority and it brings wonderful growth into my life and others.

Many of these pieces may appear strong but they have to be treated delicately. They are extensions of myself to be handled with care. 

Is there something your artwork is recontextualizing or possibly exposing? 

My artwork exposes the comfort, euphoria, and easy laughter we once had as children. I hope audiences are soothed and thankful, even if just for a moment, for the world they were reminded of and for the new one forged.

How might tactility come into play with your work and your intentions? Do you feel this quality of your work helps communicate this form of comfort and euphoria you mentioned? 

I always envisioned my audience being able to interact with the environment I create. There’s a certain level of trust that I must have with my pieces before I’m able to do that. Many of these pieces may appear strong but they have to be treated delicately. They are extensions of myself to be handled with care. 

I started using softer materials during the pandemic while searching for solace. Whether or not you’re physically touching something that looks soft, people are innately more comfortable and elated by the sensation. 

Are viewers encouraged to touch your work? Why or why not?

Viewers aren’t encouraged as of yet to touch my work. I was raised in an art environment where you must only look, not touch. Although I am ready to take my installations to the next level, the materials need to be able to withstand the constant touch when the audience is able to interact with my work.  

Times Out by artist Traci Johnson
Traci Johnson, “Times Out”, Yarn, Rubber Pad, 2021, 48 × 48 inches. Images courtesy of Morgan Everhart.

Could you share the process and intentions of creating one of your artworks in the show?

As I was creating “Times Out” I was actually inspired by places where I’ve been on vacation with my family. And for each rug, I choose colors from the energy and auroras that radiated off of one of my family members. 

The rug is a piece inspired by the houses of Bermuda. The bright colored pastel … and my mother loves the color blue which was intentionally put into the piece. My mother is rough around the edges but gives more than she has to which represents all of the continuous linear lines. She is always running around and she is giving back so as I was creating, the act of repetition came to me making all of the various lines go in different directions and representing every path to someone she helps. 

What is some advice, feedback, or reflections that you would like to share with other artists? 

Create what you believe in. Make something significant for your life or others. We are all here for a short time. Be the difference in the world that you seek!

Do you have any exhibitions scheduled in 2022?

Yes, the “Art Around the Corner” Exhibition on 227 W 27th Street in New York just closed today. “Peel Off the Surface” at the Triangle Loft in New York from February 22–March 15, and “CounterPointe” at The Mark O’Donnell Theater at the Actors Fund Arts Center in Brooklyn from March 11–13.

Find more information on the exhibition on Everhart’s website.