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work of art

Work of Art Exit Interview: Episode Six

Last night Bravo upped the Real World quotient on Work of Art with the always volatile group challenge.

And — after clashing with group members Jaclyn, Miles, and Peregrine — the judges gave tattooed and proudly untrained artist Erik Johnson the boot. We caught up with Johnson this morning.

That was sort of a crazy episode. Watching it, do you regret anything you said or did?
I stand by everything I said and did to the extent of the one comment I made about art-school graduates having their heads stuck up their asses. It came out way wrong and I didn’t hear it until I heard it last night. What I was trying to say was that there are some art-school graduates who have their heads stuck up their asses just as there are some untrained artists who have their heads stuck up their asses. By no means was I trying to say that they all have their heads up their asses. That’s just one of those things that when you’re talking and spitting stuff out you don’t really realize how it sounds until you hear yourself say it.

Throughout the show, you really tried to take a stand for untrained artists and you did come off as having a thing against art school. Where did that come from?
I pretty much stopped considering art school when I spent an art class in high school with my own desk in the hallway because I was not allowed to do what I wanted to do. I had an art teacher who was really, really cool and I had another one who really kind of put a bad taste in my mouth. My thing isn’t against art school — it’s more about the pretentious attitude that comes out of it with some artists. I’ve always felt that being able to make art is a privilege and not something I’m entitled to. And I’ve gotten a lot of really good reactions from a lot of art-school graduates high-fiving me saying, “I get that. I went there; I graduated. I’m overeducated, and I agree with you.”

Did this experience ever make you reconsider your stance?
I came home wondering, Hey would it hurt to take some classes? But now that it’s aired I’ve gotten so much positive feedback and so much acceptance from everybody, I don’t really think it is something you need. I don’t think it’s something that would hurt, but I do my art my way and I create the things I create, still, out of life experiences and what I like doing. I hope I can turn that into a career, but I really wouldn’t want to jeopardize the way that I do things. I think it would be good to learn technique, but as far as the art history, what’s accepted, what’s not … I think that would almost hurt me more than help me.

Had this been an individual challenge, how would you have approached making work for that space?
Man, I don’t know. I really haven’t given it too much thought. The first idea that popped into my head was a figurative sculpture of a marionette. Once it was a group challenge, I was just trying to come up with ways for all four of us to have our personalities in it, four individual things we could say, almost like a band — everybody puts their own thing in there, but you get one really great song in the end.

Is there anything we didn’t see in terms of ideas you suggested or contributions you’d have liked to make?
Everything I suggested they weren’t willing to work with me on. But that’s all right. At the time I was bitter about it, because I was trying to stay in a competition. In hindsight it’s like, realistically, if I was educated and I really had a good understanding of what the judges would see as good or bad, I might not listen to me either. In that regard, I really don’t blame them.

Are you still in touch with any of those three teammates?
No, I’m not.

What about everybody else?
I’m still close with Mark and Ryan and Trong. Basically, I’m close with everybody except for those three people in my group. Mark and I talk almost every day and Trong — man, that was the most enlightening dude I met out there. He ended up being the one person who was most open to where I was coming from because, for him, it was almost like being able to see things with this new perspective. I feel lucky to know him.

You said after your elimination, “This was my last-ditch effort at art.” Is that true? Have you stopped making work?
My thought at the time was this is my last shot. I had given up doing art when I turned 30. And then I went out for the audition thinking, What do I really have to lose? When I had been eliminated I thought, Well, that was it. I gave it my all. That lasted, like, two hours. And I was like, get out, I’m going to keep making stuff. And I’ve been working on art nonstop since I’ve been home.

Are you showing at all?
No, I have nothing planned because I came home and I’ve been working on finishing this short film I had put aside when I quit doing art.

Is it a narrative film? Or more of an art film?
It started as more of a narrative. That being said, it takes [watching it] a couple of times to really get it. I would love to show my art, but my ultimate goal since I was a kid and even now is movies. I feel like if I could have David Lynch’s career, I’d be ecstatic. That guy can go to a grocery store and still blend in, but he can make the stuff he wants to make and just blow people’s minds.

What did you learn from this experience?
My biggest lesson from the whole thing was Jerry Saltz. It’s almost embarrassing to admit because at the time I was thinking, This guy just doesn’t like me, he’s discouraging me … But as soon as I was home and removed from the situation I thought, Dude, I was so wrong about that. That guy was like the cool teacher that pushes you as far as he knows you can be pushed, but to make it better — not to discourage. The first episode when I was saying that I was untrained and he was giving me strikes, I was so mad because I’m thinking, I’m proud of being untrained! And that’s not an excuse! But when I watched it I was like, Oh my God, could he hurry up and say that because I am just making excuses. That’s always the fun part — to look back and see where you were wrong. And I think maybe if I had stopped being stubborn and just listened to what he said at the time I might have got it. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with him. But got that he was, in a sense, just like, “I see more in you, and I want to pull that out.” If he hadn’t given me strikes for saying that I’m untrained I probably would have said it the rest of the time I was there. That was my biggest lesson — learning how to shut up and listen to somebody.

Read our recap of last night's episode here.