Fiona Mckenzie Johnston, Contributing Editor House & Garden

Fiona Mckenzie Johnston, Contributing Editor House & Garden

When did you interest in the Arts start and how?

I think I’ve always been interested - there wasn’t a defining moment.  But I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been exposed to art, and as a young child art was no less important than maths or history or scripture.  In fact, we were taught that we could find all those things in art.  Actually, having said that there was no defining moment, being introduced to Hogarth’s Marriage A-la-Mode and A Rake’s Progress was very exciting, and those paintings definitely left a lasting impression.  I was drawn by the stories within them, and the detail -  through which you could find out so much about life and politics of the time, and what it was like to be a woman in the early 18th century.


What style of art do you most identify with and why?

I don’t often find it immediately easy to connect with video work - but as for the rest, it is ever changing and it’s often to do with what I’m reading or researching. I’ve just finished reading Mary Gabriel’s Ninth Street Women, which is about the women of Abstract Expressionism - Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler et al.  Alongside, I went to Paris to see the outstanding Joan Mitchell show at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, and have been to the newly opened Action, Gesture, Paint at the Whitechapel Gallery - which is also absolutely brilliant - so you could say that those artists and their lives and works have been pretty all-consuming recently.  I’ve been immersed in their lives, and the difficulties of the time and of living with difficult men - Lee Krasner was married to Jackson Pollock, and tirelessly promoted him and supported him, arguably at a cost to her own work.  That said, she became an important art critic, in order to earn money - and her art, now, is definitely celebrated. Though perhaps she would have liked greater recognition in her lifetime!

Alongside I’ve been reading about Gwen John and her relationship with Auguste Rodin; there’s a new biography devoted to her  about to come out, in tandem with an exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, both of which I’m very much looking forward to.   

Then, one of the works I go and visit most often is Jacob Epstein’s Jacob and the Angel at Tate Britain - there is so much raw power in that sculpture, and I feel a tangible connection across time to the Old Testament story that inspired it.  I could spend days in the Courtauld - the sheer beauty of those Cezannes and Seurats and Gauguins never fails to knock me sideways.  And recently I’ve re-started stalking the halls of the National Gallery, looking at all the various Madonnas.  I wasn’t a mother when I first studied those paintings; becoming one has changed my relationship to them. 

What was the first piece of art you bought and what made you choose it?

When I was fifteen, I went to school in Paris for a bit, and I had pocket money and access to galleries.  There was no school on Wednesday afternoons; instead I would go to the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre, the Musee Picasso, the Orangerie etc.  And I’d buy postcards of the works I’d seen that I loved the best, and I’d stick them up around my bed and above my desk.  Degas was a particular favourite, and Bonnard - I loved their paintings of women, who were not as thin as the women in Vogue (it was the 90s.)  It was a necessary lesson in the subjectivity of beauty.  

Why is it so important to support women in the Arts?

I’m not going to be able to explain it better than Linda Nochlin did in her 1971 essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?  -  but in brief, works by female artists still sell for a fraction of the prices received for comparable works by a male artist, and that affects everything, from gallery representation to exhibition opportunities.  Plus there’s the childcare issue for women who - unlike Gwen John, or many of the women of Abstract Expressionism - don’t want to have to sacrifice becoming mothers in order to be artists.

You have such a beautiful and eclectic art collection.  Why do you think art is so integral in bringing interiors together and how do you go about placing and hanging your work?

I think it’s art that brings the personal to an interior; you can have really beautiful wallpaper and fabrics, but without art, a room isn’t whole.  I don’t actually think much about where and how I hang pictures - except that I tend to put the works I love the best in my eyeline, so my favourite pieces are in my bedroom at the foot of my bed (the wall behind my bed is almost empty) and in the sitting room which doubles as my study.  My bathroom and the kitchen are quite well hung too, but I tend to put photographs and prints in those rooms, because of the humidity.  

We are supporting Barefoot International College for this auction - a women centered global network focussed on sustainable education across rural and marginalised communities, whilst also celebrating International Women’s Day with our female-led auction.  What values and lessons do you feel are important to teach your own daughter and why?

Well, I encourage both my children -  I have a son and a daughter - to be kind, honest, respectful and considerate, all values that are universal.  And I’d like them both to be curious, and to find something that they love doing, and - if they can - work out how to make that make them a living, while knowing their worth (i.e. don’t work for free.) My daughter is at an advantage to many of those born in less developed countries, in that her education is widely perceived to be as important as my son’s, so she hasn’t got that battle to fight.    

The image at the bottom on the left is by Catherine Cazalet, above that is an ink drawing by my sister, Rosanna McKenzie Johnston, and on the right is a study of Descent From the Cross by Charlie Schaffer, who won the BP Portrait Award in 2019. The Persian tile used to belong to my Grandparents. On the table is an early 20th century Russian arts & crafts box (and a more recent Soviet era version.) 


Please can you choose your favourite piece from our auction and a few words as to why?

It’s not easy to pick just one - but I do love Lucy Smallbone’s Plunge Pool - it’s at once  atmospheric and inviting and escapist, while the flat planes of light and shade give it a meditative quality that makes it very peaceful, too.  

Previous Article Next Article