Dist of Columbia

Artist's statement

Full Artist's statement

I make site-specific installations from second-hand bed sheets and pillowcases. I am informed by: my mother’s meticulously organized linen closet; the tenets of color, line, shape, and mark native to painting; and the facts of a site as I find it.

I use my work to investigate the nooks and crannies of a site. I work intuitively, folding and piling my sheets on and around the significant architectural features of an exhibition space, poking them into cracks as far as a fold will allow, and wrapping them around columns until they sag and collapse under their own weight.

I pay rigorous attention to gradual color shifts and color relationships that develop within my works, and to the forms that grow from the repetition of folds and knots. The result of my stacking, draping, and layering is a painting made in space. The interactions among color combinations, printed patterns, folding systems, and the underlying structure of chair, windowsill, or ceiling joist become visually engaging and reference gestural brush marks or large color fields. These connections to abstract and minimalist painting are reinforced by the repetition of folds and materials. Because I have removed them from their domestic context, the sheets can operate on this formal, physical level.

Embedded within these satisfying abstractions are everyday human dramas. Because I am using these materials that are so intimately connected with human bodies, the works are infused with the memories and habits of their previous owners. Since these previous owners are strangers, their stories are lost. I have to decide for myself what kind of person slept every night in a jungle bedroom with lion faces and zebra herds; who purchased the slinky nylon satin and what they expected from it; who chose flowers; who chose stripes. The sheets become fabric for pieced together, re-imagined histories, including the narrative of my own folding, sorting, and stacking over the 11 years I have been making this work.


My painting practice undergirds my bed sheet installations. Painting is thinking, a way to feed my visual cortex and to digest the images already there. I work from memory, translating imperfectly remembered places and objects into lines, marks, and piles of color. I try to conjure the way a memory or experience feels as much as how it looks to my mind’s eye. The resulting works are a combination of representational and abstract passages depicting apartment kitchens, husbands’ shirts, cluttered tabletops, striped bedspreads, impossible space, and sun-filled windowpanes. A blank piece of paper allows me to test my ideas in a gravity-free zone that is independent of the laws of time and physics. The paintings are a research lab for my three-dimensional work in which possibilities are limitless.

Additional info

Visit artist's website

All work by Mariah

Mariah Johnson
acrylic on paper
Mariah Johnson
variable, bed sheets and pillowcases
Mariah Johnson
variable, bed sheets and pillowcases