Snooping Through Studios column: interview with Lorna Johnson

By September 10, 2021

Art & Photography. Leeds.

Lorna Johnson is an artist working across a range of materials to make sculptural objects, installations, assemblages, collage and photography. She is drawn to objects and materials that could be perceived as non-precious and uses these to explore the associations people may have with these as materials and as objects. These themes are central to the research she is currently doing towards a practice-led PhD at Leeds University.

Court Spencer caught up with her at Patrick Studios to find out more about her work and current projects.


Lorna Johnson in her studio. Credit: Court Spencer

Court: Thanks for having me over, and on a Sunday morning… thats dedication! Do you want to begin by introducing your practice?

Lorna: No problem, thanks for coming! So I would say I’m a maker of things – at my core it’s all about objects, making, finding, placing or combining objects. My instinct is to cherry-pick and I see this as part of my role as an artist. I’m drawn to objects and materials where the monetary value is questionable – these could be perceived as disposable or non-precious. I explore this visually through the combinations of materials and the quantities I choose to use, and as you said, the associations people may have with both material and object. 

Court: What were you like as a little kid? Did you like collecting things? Were you a bit of a maker even back then?

Lorna: Yes! I definitely liked collecting things from a bottom desk draw full of conkers and acorns to anything shiny and gem like. It’s a habit I don’t think I’m any closer to shaking off!  I was attracted to combinations of colours which made me feel good and things I could line up – haha…. a lot like my work today! I liked to construct things out of paper, cardboard and tape – a lot of tape!


Small artist made objects. Credit: Court Spencer.

Court: Materials and the history and associations with those materials feel like theyre important. Are there reoccurring materials you use that have particular significance?

Lorna: Yes, that’s really important to the items that I make and my thought process. I like my materials to have substance, something of a life force. I definitely see the materials as ingredients that I bring together to make the piece – all are needed and all bring their own individuality. 

As to reoccurring materials, I like working with string, raffia, thread, stone, wood and shells. I feel these work hand in hand with the reoccurring methods I use, whether this be sewing, plaiting, knitting, sanding, collaging or placement. I like materials that feel basic but are open to possibility. Through repeat use, my knowledge of these increases and they provide a familiar foundation that gives me a solid foundation to work from and the confidence to introduce new materials.

I also like materials I can get loads of! I can then go through a process of sifting through which of these materials makes the cut. It’s important to me that the viewer can identify the materials used and tap into how these materials make them feel, and possibly think about their own relationships or memories with these materials they have or may have had in their lifetime. For example, the small wooden forks you get from a fish and chip shop, wood chips, kindling, muscle shells etc.

Court: A lot of the materials have a connection to your childhood to some extent, for example, the mustard velvet curtains you used in a piece you showed at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. Can you talk us through this piece and the process you took?

Lorna: It might be the case that I come across the material or object by chance and then it feels right to use in a piece as with Fabric offering – Heirlooms. With this piece, I put the mustard velvet material through quite a therapeutic process of cutting, unstitching, washing, ironing and folding. It felt right to spend time with this material and get it into the best condition that it could be after it’s long time serving as curtains. The piece was then brought together through patch working, beading and pinning.

The materials or objects are generally ones which I feel deserve a new lease of life and to make it out of my grandmother’s back bedroom. The objects chosen have a certain charm for me and my grandmother’s curtains are an ever present visual memory when I think about my grandparent home. I also think I quite like putting some of these ‘real’ items into the mix just for me, even if I don’t talk about their personal connection to my childhood – they are my secret within a piece, a hidden backbone to the narrative I give the work.