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Meet Stephen Johnson


As serious journalists (at least in our spare time), we recognize that there’s no real reason to report on a little-known designer’s favorite flavor of ice cream. But then again, those little details are where the magic of a good profile lies — they help us connect with the subject. Earlier this week, Artecnica sent us a newsletter containing a Q+A with one of its newest designers, the London-based RCA alum Stephen Johnson, in which he professed his undying love for McFlurries; it was short, but colorful, and sounded just like something we might write if we were in an especially playful mood. Most of all, it was fitting for a young designer whose whole impetus is to have fun, which he does by way of pieces like his outsize Happy Happy gift bows made of polished aluminum and the Surprise Surprise lamp they inspired, now in production with Artecnica. We’ve excerpted that interview below.

Q+A with Stephen Johnson

What is your current state of mind?
Obsessed with colour.

What inspires you?
The unlikely stuff. Things that take you by surprise.

What music do you listen to at the moment?
I tend not to listen to music really. Unless I’m running and need something to drown out the sound of my lungs gasping for air. But when I’m in the studio or at home I constantly listen to News Channels. I’d have them on 24/7 if I could. I seem to crave the reality they neatly pack and deliver, like economic disasters, war and obesity. My work is all about our need to leave the realities of life so I guess watching the news is my starting point. And I’m now getting married to a news reporter which is a little strange.

Where do you work on your creations?
In my head mostly. It’s the best studio ever with no limits, amazing views, all the machinery and materials a designer could ever need. And you can take it anywhere like the subway, bath or cinema. I guess being creative in my head originates from my school days. I’m chronically dyslexic and was terrible in the classroom. I never really got the whole math and English thing, with all its set rules and systems. So my days would be spent imagining what I could draw and make as soon as I got home. I was a master of cutting, sticking and glitter by the age of 8.What made you decide to do Surprise Surprise for Artecnica?
I lived in New York a couple of years back and became obsessed with objects designed and produced to make us happy, lift our mood and give a little high to the day. Things like doughnuts, wind up toys and candy. I know most places have such things but Manhattan just seems full of that kind of stuff. I remember walking down Broadway reading about the gloomy economy in The New York Times, then looking up and seeing a guy walking towards me holding the largest bunch of multi-coloured balloons I’ve every seen. It was a moment of perfect opposites.

Is Surprise Surprise hanging in your space, and if yes, where?
My Surprise Surprise is hanging in my D.C. apartment. I’m spending a little time over here from the UK. It’s a rental pad, so a little uninspiring so Surprise brings a real sense of wonder to it all. When we have guests it gets all the attention, more than my canapés in fact which makes me slightly jealous. I love how it looks great during the day, but turns into a whole new object once lit at night.

What is your favorite travel destination?
I have a secret place where I go every year in Cyprus. A few years back we discovered a beautiful secluded forest with a beach, away from all the tourists. It has a little beach bar selling cheap beer and food. There’s nothing to do there other than swim in the warm sea and lie in the sun. You’ve got me thinking about it now… I want to go!

What is your favourite Ice cream flavor?
McDonalds McFlurry in all the flavors… I’m so embarrassed.
Johnson’s Happy Happy wall pieces in polished aluminum, the precursors to Surprise SurpriseAnother related project: his Genuine Bows series of modified ceramic figurines