Jake “TikTok” Johnston is a multi-disciplinary creator from Victoria, BC. He’s known artistically as TikTok—a name that originated while trying to pass the time in what he calls “the lethargic realm of the high school classroom,” where doodling was his saviour. While people often think of artists as individuals whose creativity is manifested through passionate bursts of inspiration that are transferred to canvas or wall, this usually isn’t the case. It’s not all slingshots, symbolism, and splashes of paint a la Maude Lebowski. Art is about workmanship, discipline, and attention to detail. And TikTok’s attention to detail in preparing for this interview was certainly a testament to his artistic process. “Now that my cigarettes, lighter, cell phone, note pad, and water bottle are placed beside me, properly spaced with perfect parallels, and the music volume is just right, let’s get started.”
You’ve been artistic since you were young. Was pursuing a career as a professional artist a conscious decision, or has it been more of a one-thing-lead-to-the-next journey?
I’m not sure what my definition of a professional artist is, now that you ask. Someone who lives off and supports himself financially through his art? Or a person who has a professional demeanour with each aspect of their art? Either way, I take each step of my creative process with serious consideration and planning, but also have a full-time kitchen job, and I am as broke as a boxcar bum. (Shout out to the Repayment Assistance Plan!). I've had times of uncertainty, and definitely nervousness, but that usually means a chance to be brave is approaching. Overall, it takes trust in yourself, and your craft, to dispel any fear that may arise.
When an artist draws, or paints, people or objects, it's easy to ask about the themes or intended meaning behind their work. Your work deals largely with shapes and colours—elements that are less easy to read into. Are these things representative of something?
For the most part, there is no specific theme or meaning that I’m trying to capture or project. For me, it’s more of a formula of line and form, composed of past structures, breaking them down, moulding together, reforming, discovering new techniques to add, stumbling into old ones, and then considering how all those pieces will fit into place when put together.
It’s more about the evolution of formula than any one piece at that time. I find it fascinating that even without a recognizable image or context, one is still able to create mood and language through placement and colour, while escaping the definitive boundaries of realism. I like to leave expectations fairly open ended as far as what people take away from my work. I enjoy the reaction to the initial punch of my images more so than the lasting impressions, but the "Damn, those lines are clean" comments upon inspection are pretty good, too.
Was there anyone who showed you the ropes? Or anyone who inspired you to keep going with the art game?
It was just a bunch of us doing our thing together when I was younger—sharing what we were doing, learning as a community, and collaborating—and all eye to eye, for the most part. I do have one definitive memory of when I had my big Style Wars "This is it!" moment. It was Vancouver 2011, with my friend Drew Young. He took me to a showing on Granville Island entitled "Unintended Calculations" that consisted of Remi Rough, Augustine Kofie, Jerry "Joker" Inscoe, and Scott Sueme. I remember walking through the gallery absolutely astounded by all of their work. Since then, I have been following their progression and catching wind of others through the website Graffuturism.com.
Any landmark events that stand out for you, or accomplishments that you’re particularly proud of?
So far, my top of the top has got to be my exhibition at Fresh Paint Gallery in Montreal. The show came at a great time, when I was very creatively charged and ready to invest in a big project. It was great to meet and work alongside a lot of awesome people who were painting in the gallery for the upcoming show as well. Seeing each person’s process and approach was very cool. The painting entitled "Abso Lutely" that I did for that show is my favourite piece for sure. A big piece of 30x48 birch that totalled about 40 hours of work. I painted the background of the whole wall to pull into that piece and give it the initial punch when walking into my gallery space. It really captured the pinnacle of control, composition, and colour theory that I’m currently at.