JOHANNA BURAI: A Swedish Graphic Designer and Illustrator

Interviewed by Gabriella Alziari

“Each work has its own message. Sometimes the message is not as clear, but since I almost always start from myself or a subject, there are things I say through each work.”

-Johanna Burai

Johanna Burai is a graphic designer and illustrator based in Sweden. She is pursuing her Bachelors degree in Visual Communication at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm.

How long have you been making art? Where or how did you begin?

I have always enjoyed drawing ever since I was little. It became more than an interest when I started the arts programme at my high school. It was then I decided that I wanted to work as an illustrator.

Two years after I graduated high school, I moved to Stockholm to continue to study art, but lost my interest completely. I just wasn’t inspired. I had a break of 5 years when I didn’t draw or paint anything at all. During that time, I studied everything from religious studies to tv-production. I wanted to find something that I could educate myself in. But the things I studied never felt right. Then in the summer of 2011, things changed. I was really unhappy with my work situation and decided to quit my job as a clothing vendor and look for other jobs. So I started to paint just to get money to pay the bills. That’s when I made the bird paintings; the Toucan painting was the first one I sold. Since that day, I’ve been focusing on the art and soon I will graduate from my BA studies in Visual Communication at Beckmans College of Design.

"Toucans" Acrylic painting on canvas

Acrylic painting on canvas

Tell us about your artwork.

I work with everything from graphic design and painting to pottery. The variation is important for me. If I have been working for a long time in front of the computer, I need to take a break and work more physically with my hands. Right now I have summer holiday, and the plan is to hang in my studio and try to paint as much as possible. Graphic design and typography is one of my biggest interests right now.

Are there specific themes or inspirations that your art tends to focus on or draw attention to?

I think a lot about white normativity and the political climate with the fascist winds blowing across Europe, so the stuff I’m working on right now circulates around it. For a while, I painted only animals so that was really high and low in my work. And sometimes my work is only based on my intuition.

"Anti-racism" A typographic study of demonstration signs throughout history

A typographic study of demonstration signs throughout history

"Run" A colorful illustration

A colorful illustration

Some of your pieces are colorful and vibrant, while others use only grayscale tones. Can you talk about your use of color, or lack thereof?

I love color! Artwork can really be lifted by an intriguing color combination. Sometimes I determine what colors to use before I decide what the artwork should be, so that the content can be controlled by the color. For a while I used pink on everything, so right now I am working on using as little color as possible, just because it’s very difficult for me to do.

Where do you gain your inspiration?

I get inspired by everything. Really, everything. It may be different materials, colors, people, music, conversations, architecture, children’s books, art exhibitions. I love to look at books and magazines from the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s; advertisements from that time can be very inspiring because they are so ugly cute-looking. I love ugly cute-looking things.

"Happy Nation" A fanzine that celebrates the 90's (Inspired by books and magazines from the 70's, 80's and 90's)

“Happy Nation”
A fanzine that celebrates the 90’s (inspired by books and magazines from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s)

"Do one thing everyday that scares you" A colorful illustration

“Do one thing everyday that scares you”
A colorful illustration

Is there a specific message you wish to convey through your work?

No nothing specific, it is very diverse. Each work has its own message. Sometimes the message is not as clear, but since I almost always start from myself or a subject, there are things I say through each work.

What are some of the benefits or challenges about being an artist in college?

That you can do whatever you want! There are no limitations, you are free to experiment.

Later on when you start to work for real that freedom gets smaller. Therefore, I try to prioritize the subjects I find more fun, and put more effort into the things that I really enjoy. It’s very fast-paced at my school, and if I were high performing in every task, I would get burned out.

"Ocean Dreams"  Poster made only through intuition and lack of color

“Ocean Dreams”
Poster made only through intuition and lack of color

Is it difficult to be a woman in your field? If so, can you explain how you might have overcome certain difficulties?

Not more difficult than being a woman in this society. For example, a while ago I was afraid that my portfolio would look too cute because I used a lot of pink in everything I did. In turn, it depends whether cute things have a lower status because they are associated with the feminine. You are always a part of a larger context. Therefore, it’s important to question everything you and others do and try to break norms.

What has been the most rewarding experience of being an artist?

When I was admitted to the Visual Communication program at Beckmans College of Design and when I got my first scholarship.

"Everybody's free to wear sunscreen" A colorful illustration

“Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen”
A colorful illustration

Do you have future plans or projects coming up?

I will work for a week in a pottery workshop, I will also hang in my studio and hopefully have a little summer vacation. Then I have my degree in the spring, with the thesis and all that it entails.

How does being an artist affect your life overall?

I’m bad at math but beyond that it is only positive! :)

Learn more about Johanna Burai here.

Presented by the International Foundation for Women Artists.

Interview / Mary Coss

“My sculpture explores narratives that are personal, yet globally informed meditations on our cultural landscape”.
-Mary Coss

3 Graces

3 Graces

This week we present Seattle based artist Mary Coss who makes artwork inspired by life’s stories. Born in Detroit and raised in an atmosphere of politics, art, and spirituality she has lived throughout the United States collecting stories and telling them through her artwork. Coss received her Master of Fine Arts from Syracuse University and has accumulated an extensive national exhibition record, focusing on alternative venues and community and public art projects. Coss has received residencies and grants from institutions such as the Candyland Arts Center in Stockholm, the National Endowment for the Arts, the San Juan Island Museum and Sculpture Park, James Washington Foundation, and Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture. Mary Coss’s public art experience encompasses a wide range of commissioned installations and written community art plans. Her public work is in numerous collections including King County and Seattle Housing Authorities, McNeil Island Corrections Center, and Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. Coss’s curatorial experience includes exhibitions at METHOD Gallery, North Seattle Community College Art Gallery, the Columbia City Guest Gallery, Another Roadside Gallery, and co-curated projects for the New City Gallery.

My sculpture explores narratives that are personal, yet globally informed meditations on our cultural landscape. I am interested in the intersection of nature and the human made, nature and the sociopolitical. I explore issues through the universal commonalities of ancestral bones, feminist struggles, and artifacts from nature. Often my projects engage community or create interventions in nature.

I am working in the space between the real and the imagined; abstractions from our lives are reworked using metaphor, nostalgia, humor, and ultimately, reflection. Poignant interpretations use the unexpected, navigating scale or unusual material that reflects and builds on the intention of the work. The layering of text and sound has organically evolved from my use of story as inspiration. Integration of sound and story with the visual creates a third form of experience.

Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your works?

People are my inspiration. I have done a lot of work around issues of identity, both others and my own. I’m inspired by stories and also simple things I come across in life. Strewn broken umbrellas on the street in NYC inspired my umbrella formed skirts. A long saw blade in a trash pile inspired a protective hoop skirt.

Finding an incredible overgrown tree with thick Ivy growth inspired ladderwalk- I wondered how a calculated machined wood intervention would appear inside such rich organic growth.

The Frameworks of Who I Am

The Frameworks of Who I Am

Serendipity Installation with video

Installation with video

How do you look at your previous pieces?

I see them in the same way I look at my memories, they are poignant, sometimes naive, sometimes worth revisiting and sometimes not.

How does your cultural background affect/inspire your work?

My recent work is a lot about this. Bloodlines is a  body of work on cultural inheritance and an investigation into my ancestral history. Blood and Water was inspired by genealogical mapping. Plotting the emigrant points of my ancestors on a map revealed a pattern; most of my family lived near the coastlines. Water has guided my personal moves from the great lakes to the east coast to the west coast. Finding I had a commonality with centuries of ancestors living near the water inspired this work. The poem Blood and Water is recorded in four voices, dialects from my ancestral countries of Ireland, Scotland, and France, layered with the sound of waves crashing. You can read the poem here. Here is an excerpt from the soundtrack.

Artist installilng blood and water

Blood and Water mockup

Blood and Water mockup

Blood and Water

Blood and Water

Blood and Water

Blood and Water

What’s the best thing about being a woman artist?

Haha well I do think women have a tendency to be able to multitask which is a required skill for artists. I think I have to think a while on this one.

What is the most difficult part of being a female artist?

Ha ha again, all the multi-tasking. because we can, we take on too much.

How do you manage in such a situation?

Lately not so well, I’m trying to say no to things. But I stay afloat by making lists and staying up very late at night.

What do you think is the artist in society?

To make people reconsider, question, it’s a way to communicate and have others rethink their assumptions on life. To understand the world in a different way to see it differently to push the culture forward socially and politically and through what we value and to keep in touch with what is important and has meaning- beauty, nature, life.

Layers of the hijab

Layers of the Hijab

Layers of the hijab

Layers of the Hijab

Layers of the Hijab

Layers of the Hijab

Did you ever feel like giving up? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given at that time?

Only say yes to the things you really want to do. No matter how difficult it is to say no to things- if they aren’t on your chosen path, say no, otherwise those very things you do not want to do will fill the path.

Once I started saying no to the things I didn’t really want to do, the things I did want to do started filling up my time.

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Follow what has meaning for you. That is what keeps you going.

This Birds has Flown

This Birds has Flown

What is your dream project?

Not sure, have to think about this.

What do you want to do next?

I am working on some female imagery that is inspired by a mix of social issues and whirling dervishes.

bebés la leche

bebés la leche


Her exhibitions are going on now in Seattle. You can check them in our blog!

Images of the Homeland by Mary Coss / January 14- Fabruary 7, 2014
Public Debt to the Suffragette by Mary Coss / January 2- February 15, 2014

Also you can see more in Mary’s website and our Women Artists of the World website.