Mind map by Rowan Johnston

mind map by Rowan Johnston


This mind map is a tool for me to break down and better understand what influences my work, i have split it in to two main sections which are “hiding the truth” and “Alchemy”.

Each of these headers is a starting point for me to break down the different elements of what i look at and will hopefully be what inspires and influences my work.

while creating this mind map it is not a formal breakdown of aspects, it is a mixed bag of what i think may influence my work. Within this blog i hope to break each of these sub headings down to gain insight in to my own practice and my own methods for understanding the world around me.


In an earlier post (post 5) I briefly talked about wanting to create the feeling of awe that we feel when we look upon nature’s beauty. Personally for me the natural world blows me away, from caves and senotes to forests, animals, valleys and trees. The beauty we find in the natural world seems to fill us, or me with a sense of pure wonder and delight.

one of the things that inspires me is the scale at which nature works on, but also the detail.

Imagine you’re flying over a forest and as a whole, the expanse of green is overwhelming in its self. Then imagine continuously zooming in, at what point does nature let you down??. For me it never does, you get to trees which are habitats in their own right, then to the inhabitants, right down to the macro level and beyond. With the help of science we can now go even further and can now look on the atomic scale and even create giant hydrogen colliders to unpack and understand nature even further. Nature is so complex on all levels that I cannot help but feel a sense of awe, it is this feeling which i would like to emulate.

There are many ways of doing this and I am currently experimenting with what works and what doesn’t.

I am in the process of making stalagmites which will hopefully appear to be pushing out of the earth, one of the ways i want to make them feel elemental is by making them out of Crank which is a type of clay and then firing them using the process of Raku.

Raku is very basic but gives a great earthy and elemental feel.

(photos By Johnston.R 2016)

In the above pictures the Bin is the Raku kiln and the beads in the other picture display the amazing effects that can be achieved by using this type of glazing.

As displayed above Raku Glazing can give a very stoney and oily effect, almost like looking at oil in a puddle, different colours shine through as you look across the glaze.

Another way i want to try to achieve this effect is by using light, not a lot of light but i would like to have little tin pricks of lights shining out of some of the stalagmites, as if there is something deeper, something unknown hidden beneath the earth they are displayed on. To do this i have made some of the stalagmites hollow so that they can contain LED lights which will hopefully in the right light help me to achieve the effect I am looking for.

One artist who never ceases to amaze is Cornelia Parker, I first saw Cornelia’s work when she used the British army to blow up a shed and then recreated the explosion in a gallery setting. It had everything, intricacy, scale, and an element of the unknown as the light in the centre of the installation throws shadows across the walls of the gallery making this work completely immersive.

(Cold Dark Matter, by Cornelia Parker. Photograph: David Levene. Guardian web site)

In the book “Cornelia Parker-the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston” her work is described.

“For the second phase of Cold Dark Matter:An Exploded View, Parker collaborated with the British armed forces. She transferred the shed to the base for the army’s school of ammunition and, with the unlikely permission of the fighting force, had a controlled explosion performed. The destroyed pieces, now mangled, burnt and utterly transformed, were carefully gathered together and brought back to the gallery, where Parker suspended the fragments on thin wires around the single bare lightbulb that had once hung inside the original structure. The suspended particles appeared like a constellation of planets and stars. It was as though she were recreating in three dimensions the type of diagrams she had admired in in children’s encyclopaedias, fashioning a bizarre solar system of metal scraps and twisted objects.

After the bang of the explosion- a big bang of sorts –these household objects became a universe unto themselves.”

(Parker.C, 2000, Cornelia Parker, Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, P.22)



One of the ideas I like within my work is that the image or sculpture, lets say creation will continue to change over time. Unfortunately as the creator this is not always something you get to see through to fruition. For example one of the things I like to do is add atomised metals to my paintings, my hope is that over time these metals will oxidise with the air or mix with chemicals within the paint and will continue to change and develop over time. When I say that I may not get to see this through to fruition in this case I don’t mean never finish the work. What i actually mean is that the image may change beyond recognition but i would never know as the creation may have been sold or no longer in my possession. Personally I like this, I can also see the other side of the coin though. In some cases I may not wish for the image or creation to change but by this point it is too late, that decision was made many steps earlier.

(Image By Rowan Johnston, 2016)

In Kiefer’s work “Salt of the Earth” he has taken large sheets of lead and exposed large images of landscapes on to the sheets. After this he has used electrolysis to tarnish or verdigris the sheets which has several effects. one effect is to age the lead, make it feel old and tarnished. The other effect is to give an almost glowing green & turquoise vanishing point to the image.

Germano Celant comments that “the large slabs of lead that house images of landscape as expanses of sea and/ or land in which a solitary figure appears walking on the beach are treated with electrolysis, in order to give them a green patina, the colour of hope. This fusion of nature and fiery material, positive in sign, reveals an optimistic desire on the part of the artist to expand his completeness, setting profound forces in motion in the whole of the perceptible world.”

(Celant.G, 2011, Salt of the Earth, Venezia, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca, P.26)

(Anslem Kiefer, Salt of the Earth, 2011, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova)


(Image of stalagmites taken from racqworld.com,https://racqliving.com.au/outdoors/what-are-stalactites-and-stalagmites/)

One of the things I am currently experimenting with is different ways of replicating not just the physical of natural formations like stalagmites but I also want to try and convey some of the awe which is experienced when looking at these natural works of alchemy. As I am not mother nature and these works are not completely natural, they are works using natural and alchemistic processes but the process is me trying to replicate or emulate mother nature.

I have been making stalagmites  out of a clay called Crank. It is quite a course clay but is really good for Raku Firing. I will come back to Raku Firing as this is more process than reason.

With the stalagmites they are quite rough, I don’t want it to look to intentional or perfect, I want a natural formation. some of the stalagmites i have made hollow, now at present I am just experimenting with what things create what effect but I have made tiny holes in some of the stalagmites with the aim of placing an LED light inside the sculpture so that little pin pricks of light shine out of the stalagmites. In the right light i feel that this would be one element to creating the feeling of awe which i mentioned earlier.

(Johnston, R. Stalagmites)

When it comes to sculpture one of the artists who I constantly have in mind is Giacometti. I think of his work as unrefined which is what makes it so emotive.

(Dog, Giacometti. A, 1957, MoMA Collection, image used from https://www.europuppy.com/blog/dog-art-alberto-giacometti-and-his-dog/)

Angela Shneider comments that “The figures bear witness to the bustle and exertions of everyday life, but the work as a whole conveys an atemporal conception of life and nature.”

(Shneider, A. 1994, Alberto Giacometti , Berlin, Prestel Books, P.47)


Using change as representation is not as simple as it might seem, many people use objects or materials to represent meanings within their work e.g using news paper print within a work might represent the politics within piece. or using something literally heavy such as lead to represent a weight of responsibility or knowledge, as Anslem Kiefer does in his work “High priestess”.

(High Priestess, Kiefer. A, 1986. image from http://untitledstore.blogspot.co.uk)

By using base compounds such as metals within my work i am able to use corrosive acids or lacquers  to achieve different finishes within the metal. Copper and Zinc are most commonly used so firstly I decided to experiment and see what is possible. Copper seems to have more vivid reactions with its ability to verdegre (Turn a mixture of greens)

So i wanted to see if i could get the metal to paint the image itself through oxidisation.

Firstly i took an image i was happy with, then digitally turned the image in to dots, kind of like the old images from newspapers. The next process was to take the image and use light sensitive silk screen and expose the image on so that it could then be screen printed on to the copper. Instead of using inks to print though I used a combination of Salt, Ammonia & lemon juice which permeates the screen and leaves the residue in the shape of the image. after 2 weeks exposed to the air these were the results.

(Johnston, R. 2016)

Now i am looking into using this type of effect to represent feeling tarnished or not how you’d like to be on a personal level.

this also ties in very closely with many of the other topics which i am aiming to try and explore within this blog.

On the Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca web site there is a blog about Kiefer’s work “Salt of the Earth” it describes some of the reasoning behind some of kiefer’s processes.

” in his paintings and sculptures, Kiefer makes use of symbolic materials and processes like lead and electrolysis, gold and salt, which in ancient tradition were used for a metaphorical transformation of self.”

(Published on the Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca website, http://www.fondazionevedova.org/en/mostra/anselm-kiefer-salt-earth)


One of the key aspects about all of my work is that in my mind at least, a piece of work should keep evolving.

while creating most people accept that part of the creative process is changing something from one thing to another e.g turning a blank canvas in to a painting or turning left over scraps of metal in to a sculpture….

My question is why does this process have to stop? it doesn’t in nature.

Within my work i like to work with materials which can, will and do continue to change over time. Within a lot of my paintings i use bitumen which continues to corrode and eat paint long after work has stopped on the image, I also use many types of atomised metals which will react with elements in the air over time and change within the image. For example I may add copper to a painting, now with copper it changes and reacts when it comes in to contact with air but if you want to push the change add some ammonia and salt and the copper will fully verdigre (react and turn green). If on the other hand you don’t want these reactions to happen use a varnish or a resin to seal the metal away from the elements which cause reactions.

one of my main influences for this kind of process is a artist called Dieter Roth. Within his work the pieces which i find most interesting are the work made of foodstuffs.

Dieter Roth is a swiss artist who lived in Germany and is best known for his published notebooks of graphic style images though his interest in the process of decay is fascinating. within this blog i have attached a few  photos of examples of his work.

Top – (Roth.D, 1968, Insel(Island), MoMA Retrospective)

Below – (Roth.D, 1969, Chocolate-bar picture, MoMA Retrospective)

Dieter Roth was predominantly known for his graphic style sketch books which admittedly are phenomenal in their own right it is stories like the one i am about to share that inspire me most, you could say controversy is and amusing drive to create.

“Roth produced arguably his most spectacular group of works, 120 variations on ‘Kleine Insel’. He had already explored the idea of small-format landscape representation made out of kitchen scraps as a prototype for the collector Sohm. He returned to the idea when commissioned to create a series for the renowned Basel advertising agency GGK, where he had previously applied for work. It was agreed that he would receive 2000 swiss francs a month to create a work for each of the firms 120 employees as a Christmas gift. The client envisioned small pictures or drawings and was instead confronted with works whose substance was, to put it mildly, problematic: to a panel painted blue, Roth attached various edibles with nails, screws, and wire arranging his materials like islands in an ocean. To finish, he would drown the composition in sour milk or yoghurt and pour liquid plaster on top as a fixative. The objects were then displayed without protection, allowing the decay intended by Roth to take its inevitable course. This meant a sequence of mouldy stages, bacterial decay, and intense insect attack, until, finally, only inorganic or nondegradeable constituents remained. The ‘Kleinen Inseln’ thus became microcosms, ‘pars pro toto’ embodiments of the fate of all living things.”

(Dobke.D, Walter.B, 2004, Roth Time- A Dieter Roth Retrospectave, New York, Museum of Modern Art, Lars Muller Publishers, P.106)