Clay Johnson at work in the studio

My path to a good painting is indirect. I begin by dividing the picture plane horizontally into two or three sections, and the rest of the process is a series of corrections. I try to fix the things I don’t like without destroying the aspects that appeal to me. Of course, this is often not possible—sometimes destruction is necessary, and usually in the end something good comes from it.

But all of this, in a way, is a distraction. These are design decisions, and while they can be important in themselves, they also serve the critical function of occupying my mind so that I don’t think too much about “making art.” Because the art in the paintings happens surreptitiously, while my back is turned. I’m aware of it, and I try in a subtle way to encourage it without scaring it off. But it’s better for everyone if I just do my job, focus on the task at hand. “That section needs to be larger.” “These colors aren’t working together.” These sorts of thoughts let me pretend that my intention is important and that I’m in charge. But in fact I’m trying to coax a timid creature into eating from my hand, and making sure not to look directly into its eyes.