Arts·Art Minute

Illustrator Johnnie Christmas on the weight of experiencing police harassment in Florida as a child

Christmas says moving to Canada has reduced that weight — and opened up more space for creativity.

Christmas says moving to Canada has reduced that weight — and opened up more space for creativity

(CBC Arts)

"I got harassed by cops since...I think 6th grade was the first time. They came into the school and started interrogating me."

For Vancouver illustrator Johnnie Christmas, his experiences with police while growing up in Florida have had a lasting impact on him. "From that point until I left Florida I was being harassed by the freaking cops. I got a car once in high school — there were three of us driving around. I would always make extra time because we knew we're getting stopped. We're all artists, so we had, like, paint on our clothes. We didn't look like whatever the myth of the black criminal is supposed to look like, but that didn't matter."

Watch the video:

Art Minute: Johnnie Christmas

4 years ago
Duration 1:05
Vancouver based illustrator Johnnie Christmas describes his experience with police harassment growing up in Florida.

Speaking about moving away from Florida and to Canada, Christmas describes it as a feeling of a weight lifting. "I remember when I first got here, I could feel the absence of it."

"It has freed things up for me quite a bit here and I'm sure it goes back into my work. I mean, it's not anything you'll ever forget, that's for sure."

Christmas says the lessening of that experience has given more space in his mind for creativity and life. "I can meditate on these life experiences and now, creatively, different things are starting to come out because I can go weeks without feeling those sort of things from the outside world pushing in on my entire life." 

See more of Christmas's work below or on his Instagram, and check out our previous piece on his work illustrating Angel Catbird, a graphic novel he created with Margaret Atwood.

(Johnnie Christmas)
(Johnnie Christmas)
(Johnnie Christmas)

Art Minute is a CBC Arts series taking you inside the minds of Canadian artists to hear what makes them tick and the ideas behind their work.