There are artists among us who live life like their flesh was cut from the same mold as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Billy Holiday and the Nicholas Brothers. Livingroom Johnston is perhaps the only one of these luminaries who has openly described his body as a vessel for two distinct entities — Jamal the creator and Livingroom Johnston the creation. Most sages who probe the human psyche argue against dualism, but Livingroom Johnston and Jamal have turned their split personality into an artistic exercise that we can all partake in. His unique fashion sense is only the beginning of his aesthetic principles. By uniting his double-edged experience, Livingroom Johnston has successfully crafted a series of novels, several short films and paintings that are as resonant in a record store or a skate shop as they are in a Soho gallery.
â€œIâ€™m wearing this physical body of a man of African descent and itâ€™s beautiful, wonderful and powerful. We are one of the newest races on this planet. Therefore we are always providing new things. And these new things we are giving, be it music, literature or style travels miles.â€
Format: Who, or what, is your God?
Livingroom Johnston: Livingroom Johnstonâ€™s God is everything that was and everything that will be. Livingroom Johnstonâ€™s God changes everyday, every second. Levels of consciousness.Yes!
Format: Your literature, paintings and films appear to be a sign intended for individuals to perceive the possibilities that one can manifest. Is that the foundation of your work?
LJ: Livingroom Johnston is everywhere at every point in time. So what Livingroom does is he creates and it is. It is not just one thing. It is everything everywhere at every given moment. When an idea is born, if it is beautiful, Livingroom feeds it and lets it expand. A painting. Here we have this idea. [For example] Livingroom might look at Dali. Why does Livingroom like Dali? Because of his level of consciousness, that level of awareness and humor.
Letâ€™s reference this one and then put that other one into it and Livingroom might say, â€˜Ok well, I can reference this guy because he referenced this guy…â€™ We can take religion; we can take Ganesh and Jesus Christ. We can take Livingroom Johnston and Cab Calloway. Now Livingroom Johnston has a zoot suit on and he has this idea for a painting, heâ€™ll reference Dali and heâ€™ll put Ganesh in there. Now what else? Leonardo Da Vinci. This is a magnificent idea…
Then heâ€™ll say, â€˜hey man, lets write some literatureâ€™. Now Livingroom can use his imagination and say, â€˜yo man, thereâ€™s nothing new under the sunâ€™. Like Chester Himes, he had a bit of a broader perspective. So now we look at Bukowski. He was wild for the night and he had his ideas. What if Chester Himes met with Livingroom Johnston and Bukowski and Raymond Carver and Donald Goines and Jesus Christ and Iceberg Slim? Now put that together. Put it out there; release it, you dig. So long as Livingroom Johnston lives and breathes there is always more.
Format: What is the relationship between your written art and your visual art?
LJ: They are the same to me; as a writer Livingroom Johnston thinks in pictures. When Livingroom is creating a fictional story he is seeing the characters and the environment, the weather and the temperature. He is seeing this stuff and describing it. Thereâ€™s a difference between fictional characters and human beings. When he creates he can describe these people with words or he can describe them with a paintbrush. Itâ€™s all the same visual root, it just depends how we choose to let it out.
Format: Since the call to arms issued by Amiri Baraka under the banner of the Black Arts movement, many black writers have assumed a certain consciousness in their work. Do you feel like you are a part of that tradition?
LJ: I am that tradition. I am everything that was and that will ever be. You dig? And Iâ€™m glad you mentioned Amiri Baraka. I remember watching an interview he had and he was saying as he grows within time space reality his perspective changes and it grows as he grows. Thatâ€™s what it is. As I stated [earlier] my ideas and thoughts are ever expanding.
Iâ€™m wearing this physical body of a man of African descent and itâ€™s beautiful, wonderful and powerful. We are one of the newest races on this planet. Therefore we are always providing new things. And these new things we are giving, be it music, literature or style travels miles.
Format: How central was the work of Amiri Baraka and Melvin Van Peebles in your development, given their expression of similar ideals of self-empowerment?
LJ: They are tremendous in my eyes because they know that things never stop. Itâ€™s evident when you look at Melvin and you listen to his perspective when it is broadcast over an interview. But how do you know that is really Melvin if you havenâ€™t talked to him in person?
What Livingroom Johnston gets from that is strength, honor, pride and happiness. This idea that I am going to create and I am going to find joy in the experience of creating. And Iâ€™m going to let you know that this creating is not going to stop, whether Iâ€™m here or not. Thatâ€™s what Melvin was saying.
Format: In todayâ€™s world of digital media, information is as pervasive as you allow it to be. Given this atmosphere, what keeps the essence of your work rooted in the tangible, from the bricks you aesthetically flip to your handmade novels?
LJ: Livingroom Johnstonâ€™s relationship to the tangible is beautiful. Everyone wants something, we want to see, feel, touch and smell. So many of us are caught up in the five-sense reality that this is all there is. And it is what it is. Itâ€™s simple. Itâ€™s nice. Itâ€™s just like a book that Livingroom Johnston has made with his own hands and his own mind.
Format: In regards to your audience, do your creations work to bring them into a similar understanding of their world within or are they simply witnesses to your manifestations?
LJ: Livingroom Johnston creates to remind himself and to remind others that it is possible. It is possible to do what you want, when you want, how you want and not be judged because you are not judging yourself. If all our physical bodies are made up of the same things better or worse cannot exist. Hell, why would you want to place your work into someone elseâ€™s hands where they can say if itâ€™s good or bad when it just is? It is only an idea manifested into a tangible form. It never stops. It is always moving forward and it is always changing perspective. So there is no better or worse. There is no high or low. It just is, now.
Format: How central is the city of New York to your work as a place for inspiration?
LJ: New York is good because there is so much here right now that we can pick and choose from. You can have an opera; you can have a hip-hop show. You can have whatever you want — in New York it is what you say it is.
Format: What should we expect from you now and in the near future?
LJ: Right now Livingroom Johnston is in agreement with the Knitting Factory and he is hosting shows. We are working with SHUT Skate and the Etnies shoe company gallery on Green Street in Soho. Livingroom Johnson is having a painting and book release and signing. Heâ€™s also created his own jewelry and clothing lines. We started with T-shirts and will expand from that to suits. Also the first five books Livingroom created are going to be made into a film that will be produced by Mos Def. Iâ€™m looking to have shows in Barcelona, Spain and Australia.