Angela Johnson and Justin Bitner: Artists in Residence at Zinn Preserve
March 10, 2021 | Topics: featured artist
The Natural Realm presents Angela Johnson and Justin Bitner, a husband and wife team who are among 17 artists participating in a year-long residency program called ARTservancy, a collaboration between Gallery 224 in Port Washington and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, River Revitalization Foundation, Milwaukee Area Land Conservancy, Tall Pines Conservancy, and the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory. The mission of ARTservancy is to promote the visionary work of both the artists and conservationists. Each artist (or team) has selected a preserve to spend time in and to engage with.
Artist Statement by Angela Johnson
As a photographer and installation artist, one of my favorite pastimes is exploring nature—parks, paths, habitats, state parks and preserves in Wisconsin. I am intrigued with both micro and macro environments, the details and subtleties that can be observed when we focus in and really look and spend time in nature. This year-long residency is an added bonus—my husband, Justin Bitner (also an artist and my collaborator) and I were both placed at Zinn. We live in Madison, and so we turn our visits to Zinn into exciting road trips, building the day around our trips there.
I approach my work at Zinn Preserve with curiosity and a sense of exploration, using both a macro lens and a wide-angle lens, capturing tiny details as well as vast landscapes. In addition, I am also using a medium format Holga toy film camera in order to get a unique view and perspective. I am threading the needle through the continued exploration in the photographs I create. After printing the images on watercolor paper or Bristol board I play with them in my studio, adding encaustic wax and watercolor to some images, and sewing on top of others. My final presentation at Gallery 224 next year will draw from a variety of mixed media.
Because I like to work in different formats as well as learn new skills, I am creating a coloring book of images made at Zinn. This will go through the seasons of a year. A service-learning student at UW-Madison is working with me to help me learn the logistics of putting a coloring book together.
Artist Statement by Justin Bitner
I love exploring. I love observing. Much of my past work has been about collecting objects. The work I create about Zinn Preserve will start with the collection of photographic images from many visits. Like, Angela, I have been drawn to the micro- and macro-aspects of nature while on site. The same patterns echo from all around, patterns in the roots of the trees to the veins in the leaves. Repetition continues within the entire eco-system they inhabit, from the branching of the stream and valleys to the animal trails that run from hilltop to lake.
My first instinct as an artist is to use the photographs I create to explore fractal-based sculptural objects. What final work will be created using these ponderings? In the past my work was an attempt to model what I observe into imagery with a specific meaning. Over the years I have learned to wait and let the subject mold my outcome. What will a full year of exploration of one environment end in? I am curious to see how I will turn the two-dimensional photographs documenting the micro/macro of Zinn Preserve back into three three-dimensional objects….
Angela Johnson is an artist, educator and creativity coach living in Madison, WI. She earned both her MA in Art Education and MFA with a focus in photography from UW-Madison. Her work focuses on alternative processes in photography, installation and bookmaking. She has shown her work widely, participating in group exhibitions, including the Fort Worth Cultural Art Center, Ft. Worth, TX; Tilt Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ; Wichita Falls Museum of Art, Wichita Falls, TX, The Creole Creamery (part of Photo NOLA), New Orleans, LA; FotoFest in Houston, TX, and the Museum of Wisconsin Art.
Angela has been a lecturer at UW-Madison in the Art Department, teaching both Intro to Darkroom and Intro to Digital Photography to undergraduate students. She has two decades of experience teaching in formal and informal learning environments, including elementary schools, museums, senior centers, colleges and universities.
Justin Bitner is an Artist/Craftsman residing in Madison, Wisconsin, where he attended UW Madison and earned his MFA. His work there involved creating environments based on sound and time, exploring spaces and human-made objects. The culmination of this body of work was an installation in MMoCA’s 2013 Triennial, which explored how “once humans are removed from objects, other forms of nature are revealed in their absence.”
He subsequently served as Artist in Residence at the Madison Public Library to create “Community Through Art.” He constructed a 50-foot-long pinewood derby track and invited local craftsmen to create “Art Cars.” While there, he held workshops for children to build cars from kits, themed on their favorite library books. Justin’s current work is installation-based. He pillages the nooks and cervices of various maker environments, investigating objects once used or created by others, most of which were deemed too beautiful to throw away. With this work he acts as an archeologist attempting to preserve and document the evolution of makers, craftsmen and society by rescuing objects from landfills or dusty cabinets and telling their stories on a gallery wall.
Justin worked as a furniture maker for Richard Judd Furniture Limited building bent laminated studio furniture. His personal contracts included building display tables for the Madison Public Library and an outdoor learning center for the Bayview Foundation. He has also contracted for the Madison Children’s Museum.
This is the latest in our series of featured artists, which is intended to showcase the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. To see a list of previously featured artists, click here. The work of the 2019-2020 ARTservancy artists in residence is currently being exhibited monthly at Gallery 224. To meet the other ARTservancy artists in residence, click here.
Ozaukee Washington Land Trust is a project partner of A Wealth of Nature.
All images courtesy of the artists, except as noted. The featured photo at the top of the artists walking on the frozen lake at Zinn Preserve is by Eddee Daniel.