There’s a lot to take in.
If you walk into Tanya Pixie Johnson’s studio out in the Slocan Valley, first you’ll be met with a grinning hipster fox sporting a samurai sword. Beyond that a quartet of furry guardians with animal skulls for heads stand sentry on her work bench, only one small aspect of her visually overwhelming space.
Then there’s a jaguar with nails coming out of its back, a baby doll with a plant sprouting from its blown-out brain and a table crammed with books that have been gutted and repurposed, some of them with illustrations and others with simple messages blow-torched into them like “Berlin is burning behind you”.
She’s even got an upside down saxophone jutting out of the floor.
“A large part of my art practice is an obsessive collecting and sorting of materials. I have this compulsive urge to always be collecting dolls and things,” Johnson told the Star.
And once she gets her hands on them, things get pretty heady.
“I’m trying to explore the liminal space between reverence and irreverence, between art and ritual, between light and dark.”
Everywhere you look her shelves are full with knick-knacks, paintings, art installations and evolving creations, with musical instruments, gardening equipment and idiosyncratic antiques being used in delightfully strange ways.
One particular piece is comprised of what appears to be a sheep skull, a rake, a clock-face and a pair of horns — the musical kind. And on her windowsill she has a dismantled violin broken into two pieces with the word “Inhale” and “Exhale” on either half.
Johnson’s got all this stuff out these days because she’s preparing for her upcoming Touchstones exhibit Edge of Light, which will showcase four of her most recent bodies of work. And though some of her pieces may seem light-hearted, there’s a lot more going on there.
“My work is often irreverent, but it’s ridiculously deep at the same time. I’m constantly looking for the edge, what’s on the edges of society, what’s on the edges of our consciousness,” she said.
Born in Kenya and raised in apartheid South Africa, Johnson has long been fascinated by the continuing effects of colonialism and aims to help dismantle its legacy with her artwork. This was something she explored with her vivid red bear painting “My Grandmother’s Hands”, which is currently on display in the lobby of the Savoy Hotel, and during a collaboration with Sinixt elder Bob Cambpbell called River Spines.
“I’m trying to find a way to acknowledge my ancestors that isn’t borrowed from a culture that isn’t mine.”
She wants to encourage “a paradigm that’s about relationship with the land, which is the antithesis of the colonial mind.”
And she’s fascinated by death.
“In Africa there’s much more of a connection with ancestors, and their ideas around death are different. They have a continuing connection and we’re always acknowledging the ancestors who have gone before us.”
Edge of Light will debut with an opening reception on Friday, Feb. 24 from 7 to 9 p.m. There will also be an artist talk on Thursday, March 16. The exhibit was curated by Arin Fay.
And though Johnson’s been busy with all this mixed media work, she knows she’ll ultimately get back to the visual art she’s best known for.
“I believe this will inform my painting practice,” she said.
“I’m going on this really big journey, then I can come back to my paint and it will be something fresh. But for now I’m very excited about all this mixed media.”
Her goal is to find a fresh methodology.
“As a painter oftentimes you’re wanting to unlearn everything you’ve ever learned so your work can be unlabored, almost childlike, because there isn’t that burden of being trained.”
And she loves that feeling.
“I don’t know what I should or shouldn’t be doing. Which basically means I can do whatever I want.”