Chris Johanson just opened a new show at Altman Siegel in San Francisco, "Equations," which made us want to revisit an excerpt from our 2014 feature with this prolific and highly influential artist.

What do you think about the Mission School label?                                                                                                                                                                                                       Glen Helfand came up with that for the SF Guardian article he wrote. I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a cool guy, very dedicated to the art scene in San Francisco. I don’t mind the idea of the Mission School, it’s just that the people who get mentioned as being a part of it—I feel pretty strongly that they feel the same way—we don’t really identify with it being a painting thing. For me, it was just a neighborhood thing that involved visual artists, photographers and filmmakers, writers, reporters, activists, performance artists, musicians, and incredible galleries. This is pre-interest, there’s no money going on; it was a beautiful situation, and it all connected, like a thousand people. That’s what it was and is about. There’s a continuum. At this point, it could only really be defined as a really large grouping of storytelling.

What are the good and bad parts about being involved in the art market?

We’re in a capitalist society, and to me, that’s a strange thing. It has pitfalls, for sure. The professional art life is an interesting world—the commercial art world and going to fairs—there’s no rhyme or reason to it. I would like to say that if you worked hard, it would just happen, but that’s not necessarily the case at all. It’s a pretty random situation, what becomes valuable and not valuable. The reality of it doesn’t bother me at all, now that I’ve been involved with it for so long. I see it for what it is, just chance. There’s a very strange who-knows-ness about it.


However, I believe working hard pays off. If I’m a gentleman and I keep at my creative thing, I think there’s a way to survive in this world where money is unfortunately a real factor to surviving. I think people can do it. It’s a hard road, but life’s hard, so that shouldn’t be mysterious to anybody. To be a professional artist, you have to have a really thick skin and be prepared for disappointment, but also be available to make good things happen for yourself.


Why do you think being nice important?

I would say—to young people and old people, people who don’t know what age they are, and middle-aged people, or anybody who wants to be involved in art—remember to be nice because then you get to do art with other people. If you’re a selfish jerk, people will just end up hating you. Some people hate you anyway, but more people will hate you if you’re not a nice person. The collective vibration will be a lot more fun. Have shows in garages and galleries; have parties and share your creativity. It’s a good space to be in. I bet anyone that’s been involved in the history of art making and sharing will say the same thing.


How do you infuse your energy into your art?

When I’m making physical artwork, it’s very meditative and helps create my homeostasis, my better mental headspace. It’s completely a therapeutic type of thing, and that whole thing is the artwork. I think life is the artwork, so a physical thing documents that.

Images: Chris Johanson, from his exhibition, Equations, 2015 at Altman Siegel, San Francisco. Courtesy of the artist and Altman Siegel.