Jumping out from the canvas, Angela Johal‘s paintings feature striped diagonals and circular bands of color teasing the eye into optical illusions. Eschewing representational art, Johal draws on pop culture and chooses to use geometric form in the abstract, taking after artist Bridget Riley and Frank Stella who also used music to guide the mood and setting for each piece.
Read our interview with Californian artist Angela Johal to find out more about how each piece is made, why the living room is the best bit of the house to paint in, and which piece of furniture Johal has in ample supply!
A Portrait of the Artist
Angela Johal grew up in California in the 60s and 70s, a time when psychedelic artists and textile designs featured bright colors in their work, creating art that sought to break through conventional barriers. Their abstract expressionism reframed the art world, and the counterculture movement has now become symbolic of the era. All of these things as well as current trends and designs have had a profound influence on Johal and her work.
Tying together different styles from contemporary art, Johal describes her work as “primarily geometric paintings that are reflective of the formal aspects of mid-century hard edge, color field and op art painting.”
After completing a BFA in Painting from San Jose University, she is now represented by galleries in California, New York and Boston.
How do you work?
I begin with an initial idea, then draw multiple rough sketches until I am satisfied with the composition — one that is balanced and energetic — then draw up a final plan with dimensions, and transfer it to a sanded canvas. I apply varying thicknesses of tape to mask certain areas and to achieve a neat, hard edge. I then select my music, then paint intuitively with little pre-planning of color. The composition is the stable element and then I “risk all” and let my mind and music determine the colors which allows for many more varieties of color than a planned color scheme would allow. Since the eye can never figure out the color pattern, it keeps scanning and searching for a pattern and then when the eye goes to the hard edge where two colors meet, halo effects form — similar to what I have learned from studying the early pointillist painters.
Also, I want my paintings to be truthful. I want the flatness of the painting, color and geometric shapes to be the subject, rather than to create false illusions of things like representational art does when it draws from nature or fabricated worlds. I believe that abstract painting is more of a balance between the world that is visible and the world that is invisible, it reaches beyond what the eye can see. I also like working with geometric shapes because they are easily understood by people of all ages, races, nations, cultures and I like my paintings to relate to everyone, to be easily understood by some and complicated to others.
Who or what do you look to for design inspiration?
Everywhere I go and everything I watch, or read, I am searching for visual ideas. I am never a passive onlooker. I take little notebooks to museums and jot things down. I love artist quotes. I pick up little fragments of things all day. I love to look at all the artists that work in similar genres on Instagram. I also like to look at contemporary art, spend time at SFMOMA and discuss what I like and don’t like. I think we are all products of our past and present culture, but it is important to hold on to the good things. I also like to go to math websites for inspiration which is strange because math was never my strong point. I also get inspiration from works that I have already done and incorporate those shapes into new pieces.
At home, Johal’s living room is large and north facing, which made it the perfect spot for painting. It has become her artist’s studio, where she spends around 60 hours a week dedicated to her work.
How do you decorate your home?
I have observed that in designing a home, art is most often an afterthought. So my husband, Sukhjit, and I have decided to design with art as the prime consideration. I have found a neutral gray wall paint that compliments every painting. My husband is an interior architect, so we are always remodeling. We both love to collect furniture and objects, especially mid-century modern, but have decided to go minimal, because it best complements my paintings.
Once, I counted that we own 69 chairs! One day, we spotted six Bertoia chairs that a neighbor had out by the street. Yep, we got them! We are trying to rid ourselves from this obsession so that we can live simpler lives. I have this huge crystal chandelier that we purchased many years ago that has been the centerpiece above our table for many holiday dinners with our three daughters, Natalie, Abi, and Emilie, and I am sentimental enough to not want to get rid of it at this point, even though it doesn’t go with our new minimal lifestyle goal.
Art in the World
“I strongly believe that artists need to concentrate on creating great art that indeed changes and elevates the culture,” decides Johal. Regarding the story of Banksy shredding his art, she delights in the creative urge to destroy, as she has also shredded her own paintings in the past.
But at the root of art, Johal believes artists can use their work to elevate and change culture. “We should focus on educating our youth about art. It changes their brains, helps them to problem solve, gives them a strong sense of worth and creates great artists who transform our culture. I think that art evolves with the culture and the more we explore and create, rather than tear down, the better we become. If we work hard in the present, that will take care of the future.”
Do you have a mentor?
In college I learned almost everything I know from one 2D & 3D Design instructor who taught me so much about composition, less is more, and how to hold the viewer’s attention. Nowadays when I need advice I usually ask my husband or my daughter because family is almost always brutally honest.
Do you coach or mentor anyone?
In the past, I have headed up an art organization and run art shows, taught painting classes to children and adults, and participated in artist critique groups. I am currently finishing up an eight year term as an arts commissioner. I have also mentored troubled teens [through] painting.
With many series of work under her belt, Johal enjoys adding to each collection over time. The Chromatic Scale series flow around a seeming ‘knot’-like shape, some are designed to be viewed as either vertical or horizontally.
What are you working on currently?
At the moment, I am adding to my Dot Series where two geometric dot shapes converge at the center. When you look at the dots, after images of dots pulsate all around the white areas, which ties in the funk, disco and soul that I am listening to.
Testimony to her willingness to share and reach a keen audience, her paintings are represented by David Richard Gallery in New York and Santa Fe, Slate Contemporary Gallery in Oakland, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Artist’s Gallery in Fort Mason, as well as Jules Place Art Gallery in Boston. With many exhibitions under her belt, Johal believes in the enjoyment of hard work, explaining “if we work hard in the present, that will take care of the future.”
*This interview with Angela Johal has been edited for clarity and length.