Collages have apparently been around since the 10th century, but digital collages have taken the art form to another level. No more do fingers get glued up from physically constructing an image of images. Now it’s possible to create an entirely coherent picture, with one image incorporating another, that presents something surreal or unnatural. Johnny Smith is one such artist that manufactures digital collages. Guided by his moods, he skillfully unites different visual elements to produce images that stimulate laughter or mild discomfort. Briefly noting his usage of Alice, I would say his collages resemble Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in that they’re not so much about social (or political) issues as they are about sleight of hand and the warping of space. I might even venture to call Johnny a modern, Adobe-savvy Dr. Frankenstein given his proclivity for perverting what is familiar or sensual (though he also has the capacity to create something beautiful). However unpleasant it may get, his work is assuredly impressive and you’ll find yourself bound to an unconscious desire for more.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in Los Angeles, California but I am originally from Texas. I work with the artist duo The Haas Brothers, occasionally act in commercials and I love making collage art while I listen to old episodes of the Howard Stern Show.
What got you into collage art?
I started collage art as a distraction from writing. I had been writing plays, screenplays and sketches for years but hit a wall, creatively and financially. I went from having a lot of free time for writing to working 5 days a week at an artist studio. I think working with artists daily opened up a new form of expression for me, one where I could produce something creatively in such a quick time and then share it on Instagram and see how an audience responded right away. I didn’t get that with writing, because there are way too many variables/obstacles in producing and then sharing it. I don’t have the patience for it right now.
Your collages are certainly humorous. Was it a choice to make them so or a reflection of your personality?
I live for humor. I love to laugh. Laugh lines are my favorite form of body definition. I don’t think I consciously made a decision to reflect my goofy nature in my collages, I think it just depends on my mood. Sometimes I make disturbing images when I am in a bad mood, humorous collages when I am feeling funny and perverted collages when I’m feeling like a horny creep. The last two I guess are more of a reflection of my personality. I’m a funny creep!
How else would you characterize your artistic direction? Because I do find particular ones quite profound, like the one you posted for Memorial Day (above).
I think I sometimes get caught up in a genre and then just milk it until it runs dry or I get bored. I was doing surrealistic scenery collages for a good while and then did an “art porn” series where I took porn images and made them G-rated. So now the man isn’t jerking off, he’s strumming his guitar. I did that for awhile but then got bored with it and went to making my “digital bulimia” series, where I made collages of meat ice cream or a steak cake. I guess it just depends if I’m feeling funny or feeling more profound. I usually lean to the sillier side of things.
I love the sneaky nipple pupil. Do you feel strongly about female censorship?
I’m not really a political person, but I do find female censorship so fucking dumb. A nipple can destroy lives! The female body is beautiful and complicated and shouldn’t be shut out. I thought it would be funny to see if removing the nipple and just placing it somewhere else would make it okay to share. And it has! If the nipple is on a protruding organ that we know as breasts, it’s bad. But if it’s located somewhere else, like in an eyeball, it’s good. So. Fucking. Dumb.
Is there something you’ve been wanting to collage but haven’t found the images for?
It’s funny because there are images for everything on the web so I rarely run into that problem. Most of the time my ideas come from looking at these images. However, it is fun to shoot something myself if I can’t find what I’m looking for. I wanted to find a photo of a woman inspecting her vagina with a mirror, but had a hell of time finding the right one. So, my friend Jake shaved his legs, put on pantyhose, panties and heels (he does drag), and we art directed it and then Bam! I got what I wanted. I forget sometimes that I can actually make my own images, I don’t have to be at the mercy of what I discover online.
Written by Katrina Wong