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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! :)