At her studio in East Los Angeles, Kysa Johnson transforms the secret patterns of science into art.

You’re best known for your paintings of subatomic decay patterns. Sounds complicated. I explore patterns in nature and space that exist at the extremes of scale; physical realities that are invisible to the naked eye. My recent work is paintings or drawings of subatomic decay patterns based on the life cycle of stars. I draw the paths that particles take in space as they decay into other particles.

What drew you to atomic art? When I first saw these kinds of images in a science magazine I was amazed by their beauty. And I’ve always been interested in science, so it was a combination of the two. It was my impression that the world was actually drawing these paths.

So you’re like the messenger for the artist that is, in fact, space? Yes! I like that!

You lived and worked in New York for 17 years. How is life in LA now? I didn’t want to leave New York but my husband got a job here and he was done with NYC. I warned everyone that I would be depressed for at least six months, but after a week I loved it here. New York is getting so expensive so a lot of people in fashion, music and art are moving here.

You said you wouldn’t drive in LA. How’s that working out for you? I take the bus! And we moved to quite a walkable area, Silver Lake, so I’m sticking to my plan.

How is the art scene in LA different from NYC? It’s much more communal and friendly here. New York is a big art market, which makes people very competitive, and sometimes there’s more focus on what happens to the work after it’s done than the process itself. The art is often overshadowed or colored by money and the market in NYC. There’s more emphasis here on conversation and helping each other. And it’s cheaper so it’s easier for artists to focus on their work.

Did you ever consider becoming a scientist instead of an artist? I don’t think it occurred to me that you could actually do that for a living, as my mind was always on the creative side of things. I would love to take science classes though.

Do you think there are similarities between being an artist and a scientist? Definitely. I have friends who are scientists and there are lots of similarities. We’re all looking for answers and it’s a process of trial and error. You have to be open to being wrong about things as an artist or scientist. And yes, we’re trying to make sense of the world around us and in some way communicate that to others. Things have to make sense in the real world, not just in your head. And it’s hard to make money! Text: Sofie Zettergren

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