Artist Interviews 2022

Twig Lips  
By Johnny Otto

Twig Lips, what does that name mean and why choose that as an alias?

When I first started painting in 2017, it was with watercolor in a small moleskin notebook. I was only painting lips and mouths at the time, specifically gap teeth like mine. I created a secret Instagram to upload the photos of the mini paintings I was doing but needed a name. Since I was working in music at the time, the idea of something like a band name but for art seemed fitting for me. I always thought the word Twig was cool, so I paired that with what I was drawing, lips, and called it a day. Eventually, my friends and family found out about the Instagram and started to follow it and it just stuck!

Tell us about your style of artwork and some of the materials you work with?

My style is a mix of abstract and figurative. I love to do figurative paintings in oil, while my abstract is more mixed media of oil stick, acrylic, charcoal, and sometimes Posca paint pens. A few of my pieces are custom framed in neon (not the LED kind) to add a special glow that fills up the room. In the Shadow Work Series I am working on, I am creating somewhat of a triptych using three different mediums and styles – an oil figurative hand, an abstract mixed media painting, and hopefully adding on a sculptural hand element that are all cohesive with one another.

Where are you from and how did your background influence your work?

I grew up in CT but have lived in both Los Angeles and New York City. I have an infatuation with big cities and consider New York City my true home, so I feel my influence is pulled from a combination of graffiti art, the neon signs in restaurants and bars, and the fine art museums the city has to offer. Outside of physical surroundings, I do love to learn about tarot and read my own cards, so there are definitely metaphysical undertones within my work. A lot of my work has repeating symbols and themes, most notable my abstract flowers.

Art can change the world. Is that a true statement? If so, why and how?

I feel like art can inspire, which can in turn change the world. Art shows the perspective of the artist, which sometimes speaks for themselves alone, or for a collective. Some art is even made with the intent to change the world! Whatever the message is, big or small, I think it’s a special attribute towards the collective of humans to digest and take from it what they feel connected to. I love how subjective art is – what is impactful to one may mean nothing to another. Art has the attention of a lot of powerful people, so I can see how it may influence certain things. I mean, it’s why art has been a target for protesting environmentalists!

Step out of the art world and what are you doing instead of being an artist?

I would be saving kittens! I already feel like I am a kitten magnet and I keep finding and rescuing them already. There was one living in the back of my studio and I was able to get it adopted by a tenant in the same building as me. She named him Twigs after me. It was the biggest honor!

How does music influence your work?

As I briefly mentioned above, I used to work in the music industry for about 10 years. When I first started painting, I felt the music would influence me the most of anything. I would listen to a particular album to adapt into a certain feel on the painting. As I continued to paint and evolve as an artist, I’ve come to know that my paintings are from an internal, intuitive influence rather than an outside source.

Are you currently showing and/or have anything up and coming?

I am not currently showing, but I hope to get my Shadow Work Series once it’s completed in an exhibition in several cities. I was recently involved in a TikTok campaign featured as “DIY Artist” which just went live, which is super exciting. Also, if you are in the Nashville area, stop by Elegy Coffee in Germantown! I did a full art installation there including 2 bathroom murals, 2 canvas paintings and a 10x7ft plaster painting. I love how it came out; I hope everyone takes selfies with the bathroom murals!

How important is it to have more women in the art world be recognized for their achievements? And which female artists do you admire the most?

Recognition of women in any industry is super important. Slowly the world is shifting where women’s voices are being amplified and I hope throughout every industry more women get the credit and recognition they deserve. Bringing back the idea of perspective, it’s important that viewers see the female form and perspective from a female identifying person. If you notice, all my portraits and hands are of females, even if it is representing a masculine figure. Using the female form and showing the duality of masculine and feminine within a woman has always been intriguing to me. I am in awe of a few female artists, including Therese Mulgrew, Sam Reuter, Sarah Slappey, and Avery Singer.

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