Artist Interviews 2022
By Johnny Otto
All Photos Credits: Robert Swanson
Before we get into your art, I’d love to know more about your visits to Yugoslavia and how that affected
Such a great question! First, growing up in Southern California, I realized I was from another “planet.” The culture in our house was
so full of passionate, physically expressive motion and behavior – that I looked really quite alien and strange
among all of my much more reserved classmates. I felt feral/wild compared to them and learned early on
that I had to become very small in the US in order to not be shunned.
BUT, the first time visiting my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents in former Yugoslavia felt like ….
coming home. The rhythm of the culture, of the people, of the physical interactions felt familiar, felt right, and
I was allowed to take up space. Taking up space with emotionality seems to be a core underpinning of my
Second, when I was there as a tween in the summers – we actually were quite feral. We would leave the
house in the morning and not make it back until midnight. We would go to cafes, outdoor rock festivals, duck
into ice cream shops at dusk so you wouldn’t get sprayed by mosquito poison, you name it. We were given
total, complete, and unapologetic freedom to roam the city streets at a very young age – and we developed
a fundamental lack of fear because of it. I try to tap into that same lack of fear and adventure when creating
the work. My references to brutalist architecture also stem from these early adventures among brutalist
Finally, my grandparents in the former Yugoslavia were badasses. They were partisan revolutionaries that
fought in WWII and had definite opinions about ownership of task and effort. They would often tell stories of
horrific pain, and brushing it off without complaint. Unstoppable, unflappable, and without hesitation. I try to
keep to that philosophy.
When I first saw your work I was reminded of my childhood and building things with building blocks and
legos. I wouldn’t say your work is monolithic, but it is reminiscent of buildings, cities, structures that have
been left behind after civilization has vanished. Is that accurate? Are you heavily influenced by architecture
Yes, I would say that’s pretty accurate. I am interested in architecture / cities / buildings / ideas / structures /
concepts – in the sense that they are human constructs, and as human’s we as a species seem to have the
need to construct our environments in order to makes sense of the world around us. It seems we all have a
need to do it and it’s all something we just made up. I’m nodding to these constructs and ideas as fallable,
that they are inherently weak and dying.
Can you tell us about the materials and processes that you use and how you came to discover some of
I was working in ceramics doing similar interlocking forms and finishes but on a much smaller scale. I had
heard about a 2 day pop-up show that Max Presneill, Director of the Torrance Art Museum, was going to be
doing inside a massive empty office building. There was no way I could put a small ceramic sculpture inside
of that massive space – it would have gotten swallowed up. So I tried to think of a way to scale up what I
was doing in ceramics – but in a material that would be lightweight enough for me to construct and transport
for a 2 day pop-up – but still have the essence of my small ceramic pieces.. That’s how I landed on
polystyrene and lime plaster. Polystyrene gives me a stiff, but lightweight structure that is easily carvable
and constructable – albeit it does have it’s challenges. The lime plaster finish gives me my “clay/mud” fix.
Once I scaled up. It was easy to keep going and I haven’t looked back. All the materials I use (with the
exception of the hot knife for cutting the polystyrene) – i purchase from Home Depot as a way to give a nod
to my working class background. I grew up in the aisles of our local Home Depot fiddling through the
hardware drawers. Feels right to source my materials from there.
Brutalism is often called crude or purposefully menacing, but I find it can also look futuristic... Like a future
that was expected but didn’t happen. What attracts you to Brutalism in art?
I think both of those things – there is a quality in brutalism that can seem oppressing and stark but also
hopeful. I find the combination of those two things – really strange and intriguing. In the parts of former
Yugoslavia where I spent the most time, most of the people lived in giant brutalist style apartment blocks.
The buildings would be pretty dilapidated on the outside, but once invited inside, each apartment was full of
warmth, laughter, and cherished objects. There was beauty on the inside of those building if you were
invited in but I remember as a child, they looked quite scary from the outside. Brutalism as an aesthetic finds
its way into the the sculptures as I play with the ideas of false first impressions/perceptions, false facades,
and constructed systems that are now dilapidated and dying.
Do you do more than sculpture? Paint? Conceptual art?
I’ve done paintings (both oil and acrylic), collage, drawings, artsy short films, written books – but none of
those forms really engaged me the way sculpture does. For me currently, I’m realizing that the process of
making sculptures or forms gives me the physicality I need plus some breathing room to take up space and
flesh out ideas that are insisting on making their way out;
What other passions do you have outside of the art world, if there is time for such things?
Right now I’ve got my head down making work. I’m making work in a fervor and I’m a bit possessed at the
moment. But, if I had to pick a passion – I would say sleep. God, I love sleep, and I miss it so much. Really.
Any shows planned or coming up?
Yes? Maybe? The last year has been spent making ginormous sculptures and installations so I haven’t had
any time to think about much else. I have a break at the moment, so I’m going quite mad trying to figure out
what to do with myself. I have some ideas for pieces and some collaborations in the works – and if I can’t
find a space for them – I’ll make one and maybe throw them up guerilla style.
Music. Music. Music. Who do you listen to and who inspires you to create?
When I’m creating the pieces (versus installing them) I’m creating in a frenzy, usually under a deadline, and
without an assistant. I tend to move my body quickly as I work to keep things loose, so I throw on music with
an up rhythm similar to the one my body is moving in. Some things I throw on regularly in the studio include:
Crash, by the Primitives. I legit have it on a loop. Other’s that I have on a loop include: 99 luftbaloons, by
Nena and Mr. Blue Sky (Pamplemoose version). Other bands that I mix in include The Strokes, White
Stripes, Green Day is always fun, and of course songs by Bajaga i Instructori and Bijelo Dugme (especially
the song Djurdjevdan, so good).