Studio Visits: John Tennison

With a rolling chair, this artist whips around a home studio and whips up playful paintings

Studio Visits: John Tennison
Photo by Jana Birchum

"I've always maintained a studio in the same space that I live," says painter John Tennison, laxly sitting in an office rolling chair, "so having a studio in my house, being able to run into the kitchen, and to maintain a kind of domestication is important." That rolling chair comes in handy as it allows Tennison to whip around his studio – at his most frenetic pace, Tennison can produce three paintings in a day. Buying prefab paintings at thrift stores, usually for no more than a buck, Tennison takes them apart at home and uses their constituent elements to make his own droll, roughly hewn arrangements. For example, a scrawled list of artists who destroy their own work (labeled "Suspects") is paired with a painted piece of two-by-four and another smallish abstract work. Tennison's use of ready-made materials suggests a practice centered on play. Indeed, he's the kind of artist that privileges the corner instead of the wall.

John Tennison: My girlfriend and I just moved here, but before that I was living on East Cesar Chavez. Over there, the art community is so close – I was within biking distance of Co-Lab, and being here I feel a little bit detached from that. But, you know, I've been liking it so far.

Austin Chronicle: Is there more unpacking you need to do?

JT: I'm fairly unpacked. I have this amazing long closet that runs the length of my studio. It's gigantic. I've got lots of painting storage! All these paintings are just stacked up in that closet, waiting to be used.

AC: Are there specific pressures that come with having your studio be in your home-space?

JT: No, it's been great! One thing I can say is that I always want to be in my studio, so that's perfect for me.

AC: And what goes on here besides making work?

JT: This is my standard go-to space, where I do research, mess around on the computer, read. I do a lot of reading.

AC: Oh yeah? What are you into these days? What have you picked up and liked?

JT: I just got back from New York, and I picked up a Mike Kelley book and saw his retrospective at PS1, which blew me away. Just the scope of it! Also I've been reading The Medium of Contingency.

AC: Are your canvases, which migrate and can be rearranged, technically bound in any way to each other?

JT: No. They're not bound in any sort of way. I like to just pick them up and put them in different places, rearrange them; it's a drag-and-drop mentality.

AC: So a small group of paintings/objects will change over the course of a year?

JT: Absolutely. The arrangement is something that's very intuitive for me.

AC: Did you go to school at the University of Texas?

JT: I actually go to Texas State. I was in your contemporary art class a couple years ago.

AC: Oh no! I'm so sorry! I feel really silly that I didn't put that together before this moment. It's so hard to remember students in classes with over 80 students enrolled ... Mea culpa!

JT: There's no need, really! For me, it's been such an amazing program – and I didn't know how amazing it was until I got there.

On that embarrassing note, more of John Tennison's work can be seen at "The End," a senior BFA thesis exhibition, Dec. 9-13 at Galleries [1] & [2], Joann Cole Mitte Bldg., Texas State University, W. Sessom & N. Comanche, San Marcos; and at the artist's website,

For more images from our visit to John Tennison's studio, go to

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More John Tennison
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Caitlin Greenwood, Jan. 30, 2015

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John Tennison, Austin visual art, Mike Kelley, Texas State University

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