Interview | Creativity, Identity, and Isolation with Simon Johnson

Interview | Creativity, Identity, and Isolation with Simon Johnson

This month as part of our community journal, we caught up with Simon Johnson. Simon is a multi-talented musician, painter, educator as well as being the creator of THAT Magazine; an independent art and culture magazine published in Istanbul from 2010-2017.

Where are you from/a local? In what ways has your ‘local’ experiences made you the person you are today?

I have lived for half of my life in Istanbul, Turkey and the other in Stratford on Avon and feel very much connected to both places although more of a local now in Istanbul. So yes I do consider myself a multilocal. My identity, my growth and potential and realisation of my limitations has always been directly related to my relationships, daily life and participation in the culture(s) in the places I live. In Istanbul especially, and this is very important, I have always been made to feel welcome and often by complete strangers which has been key in terms of feeling safe and confident enough to explore the opportunities here and become an active member of various cultural communities of the city. I am truly grateful for this and understand very well that this is not a universal immigrant experience.

You’ve hosted radio shows, built a music studio, played in bands, as well as being the creator of the Istanbul based indie “That Magazine” and now you’re painting. What is creativity to you and how has it shaped your identity?

Creativity for me stems from either the need or desire to make connections, adaptations and adjustments in any area of our lives. “Creativity” is how we achieve this by any means necessary. Art in all its forms is a way of making these needs and desires public and is essential to helping us not only share and thus to relate but to develop communities and cultural identities. As Chomsky pointed out, the origin of the growth of cinema in the US is a classic example of this. The first silent movies enabled the diverse multicultural and multilingual early settlers to actually come together and enjoy the same event. No wonder they adopted the art form so successfully. I think back to my youth and how I moved through and within subcultures that were both born out of and brought together through gigs and festivals and how I gained and shared so many different experiences and perspectives through films, books, albums and magazines that the new friends I made through these events recommended. These experiences and perspectives inform my own creative endeavours now. The indie magazine that I set up, “That Magazine”, was influenced by the kinds of anarcho DIY photocopied zines that I used to devour as a teenager in the pre-digital era. “That Magazine” had the explicit intention of being a platform for literally anyone to “Connect, Create, Explore and Live Good” and a call for contributions from the readers in each issue led to the content collection for the next issue. So in my experience, creativity comes at you from outside in many ways but when it comes in an art form it is really to invite you to share an emotion or experience or idea and through sharing become part of a collective. Creativity is what changes you and moves through you and changes others. It is why we are both from here and not from here and why you will never really be alone.

Creativity is what changes you and moves through you and changes others. It is why we are both from here and not from here and why you will never really be alone.

What have you done to stay well during the pandemic and how has it impacted your creativity?

The pandemic has had a huge impact on my creative endeavours. Prior to the pandemic, painting had always brought me a sense of wellbeing as a portal through which to become more present as well as a way of finding new ways to connect and communicate. Knowing this enabled me to embrace the sense of isolation of the lockdown as a positive. This isolation itself also meant that I had more time to work on my art as well as emphasising for all of us just how fundamental art culture is for the well being of our communities. In this sense art and all creativity equates with wellness on a broad scale to my mind and deserves recognition as such. The pandemic also afforded me time to research. I looked into the history of abstract painting and painters,in particular, the New York School. It came as no surprise that this early experimental group was significantly influenced by Buddhist philosophy.

‘The good we get from art is not what we learn from it; it is what we become through it.’

– Oscar Wilde

What’s your definition of the following…?

CULTURE– is the unifying vibrations of communities. It’s the colors, forms, textures and sounds that emerge when people connect and communicate with one another.

COMMUNITY – is the result of individuals, families, friends and strangers converging.

CREATIVITY – how we survive and change.

TRADITION – knowing and showing respect for our cultural manifestations.

AGING – how we get to know ourselves.


Thank you Simon. All images belong to Simon Johnson. Instagram @that_magazine_istanbul

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