Traci Johnson Explores a Wilder Womanhood in 'Creatures of Desire'

Traci Johnson Explores a Wilder Womanhood in 'Creatures of Desire'

by Kenna McCafferty

Traci Johnson is running to get their blood drawn and nails done before the opening reception of their solo show, Creatures of Desire, at Established Gallery in Brooklyn — an apt meditation on a day’s work of womanhood (and by that, we mean all bodies and minds who experience its nuances).

Indeed, womanhood today rests somewhere between drawing blood and a manicure. There's beauty and showmanship to it, but also the draining of vital resources. As institutions, opinionated celebrities, and even those in our everyday lives either embellish or confine womanhood, everyone seems to have something to say about what it should or shouldn’t be.

In Creatures of Desire, however, Johnson asks the question, "What is?" Through textile sculptures and Femi rugs, the artist characterizes unique and ephemeral expressions of womanhood, each without expectation or definition.

"I started creating Femi rugs [as] versions of me that weren’t judged or perceived," Johnson says. "With the show, I wanted people to be able to look at the avatars — I call them avatars — and not place their own judgments or fears because, when they push those ideas onto themselves, they become projections on other people, as well."

Johnson’s avatars in Creatures of Desire then explore a freer authenticity beneath projected or idealized womanhood, using abstract patterns, vibrant hues and unconventional shapes to subvert societal structures built around the feminine form.

"I’m a very vibrational painter,” Johnson says. "When I’m choosing color, I go with the energy of where they want to go. I don’t necessarily know if it’s a masculine and a feminine thing. I use whatever colors make me the happiest in the moment or have energy that I can pull from.”

The Femi rugs, which Johnson also refers to as interdisciplinary paintings, become snapshots of their "painter" at that moment in time. Some even serve as portals into the souls and bodies of other women in Johnson’s life.

"I have a landscape where the colors I chose are reminiscent of my mother and what she’s always doing because she’s always helping people and on the run," Johnson says. "So I created diagonal zig-zags and a lot of the colors are blue, which are tranquil and calm, but also fiery colors because there’s a different side to her."

Johnson came to understand femininity through their grandmother and mother, first learning to crochet in church “in a group with all these older women,” as Johnson recalls, though they eventually staged small rebellions against their family’s concepts of womanhood. As they got older, though, Johnson says they've learned that they "don't have to abide by any of these 'types' — that I could really just be who I am."

Having first studied sculpture, they eventually wanted a softer form of artistic expression, finding an outlet in rug-making where 3D and tactile elements can come alive in viewers' hands. “If art touches all five senses, or even just more than one sense, it’s a successful piece,” Johnson says, though Creatures of Desire features work specifically for eyes only.

In hosting Johnson for their second show, Established Gallery co-owners Hally and Johnny Thornton build touch points of their own, but between artists in the neighborhood. They met Johnson first, through the work of Arts Gowanus, a non-profit dedicated to providing and maintaining space for artists in the ever-developing Gowanus area.

"[Creatures of Desire is] about reclaiming who you are, and who we are, deeply inside of who we want to be."

“The whole point for us is to get people interested in and involved, who think that art might not be for them,” Hally says. “A show like Tracy’s is so inviting. It’s accessible because it’s so visually stunning, but the ideas behind it do challenge the viewer to think about some of their long-held, preconceived notions.”

Creatures of Desire was informed, firstly, by the leaked Roe v. Wade opinion, and now falls weeks after the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the decades-long protection of reproductive rights. “[The show is] about reclaiming who you are, and who we are, deeply inside of who we want to be,” Johnson says. “It’s who we dream about being.”

Creatures of Desire will be on display at Established Gallery through July 30.

Photos courtesy of Tracy Johnson/Established Gallery