Simone Johnson: Prismacolor Visions of Bodega Cats
Simone Johnson remembers making her first drawing of a bodega cat when she saw one lying on a freezer accompanied by a sign that said: “Please do not touch the cat.” The vision of this cat— likely sitting amongst shelves stacked with bottles and boxes of products meant to be touched and taken away— would indeed be a memorable moment for anyone (myself included) who adores the furry presence of these working felines. I like to believe that Johnson’s “Bodega Cat With Fruits And Vegetables,”—now available as a Kinstler puzzle—is open to petting as it comfortably perches atop a cardboard box surrounded by produce (“3 ears of corn for $1.00” or “Heads of Cabbage 2 for $5.00”).
Comfort is key to the artist’s attraction to this particular calico, and is also what draws her to making art. In Nina Wolpow’s interview with Johnson that is included in the puzzle, we speak with Pamela Rogers, the director of Pure Vision Arts (PVA), a NYC based nonprofit that provides people with autism and developmental disabilities the resources to creatively express themselves. Johnson is an artist at PVA, and Rogers recalls her arriving at the organization after only having worked with crayons on small-sized paper. Since PVA has provided her with studio space and a larger range of drawing materials, the depictions of her chosen subject matter have really taken off. Rogers even says that Johnson is fond of the account @bodegacatsofinstagram, and that they’ve taken field trips to see the actual cats featured in the posts. The account, and bodega cats in general, are perks of daily life for many city dwellers, and this is reflected in the interest around Johnson’s work.
Perhaps Johnson’s most celebrated possession is her giant set of Prismacolor pencils. When asked if she uses different colors, she answers “all of them” and Rogers remarks that her drawings are “… so saturated. She has such a great sense of color design and texture and patterning.” Through her deftness as a colorist, Johnson translates the everyday trip to the corner store into something whimsical and exciting. It is a talent that Rogers says goes beyond PVA’s celebration of neurodiversity, and is an example of what the organization calls the “Savant Garde,” a term that recognizes the PVA artists as fitting into a larger history of figures who have possibly been on the spectrum and who have made major contributions to the arts and sciences (Mozart, Andy Warhol, and Steve Jobs, for example). In Roger’s words:
There’s a culture of autism that’s maybe existed that we just hadn’t been aware of, because we didn’t have the language. But these people have really changed history – people with this ability to hyper focus and create something and dive deep into something to make new discoveries.
The full interview with Simone and Pamela is included in Kinstler’s 1,000 piece Bodega Cat with Fruit and Vegetables puzzle, available now in our shop.