In Conversation With Brandon Ragnar Johnson



February in Southern California is permeated with a festive MidCentury Modern vibe couresy of Modernism Week in Palm Springs, a ten-day celebration of the clean, functional aesthetic that gives the desert town its distinctive cool look. Even if you can’t attend this year’s festival, you can bring a touch of the city’s stylish energy into your home via California-based artist Brandon Ragnar Johnson‘s collaboration with Lamps Plus.

Ragnar Johnson’s cheerful designs, which cover a selection of pillows, standing lamps, desk lamps and shades, marry the artist’s spritely aesthetic — part illustration, part design — with the bright colors and sharp lines that have made the work of this period so enduring. The artist, whose clients include Disney, Warner Brothers, Dreamworks, DC Comics and Bad Robot, sat down with us to answer a few questions about his work and his latest collaboration:

So, how did this partnership with Lamps Plus come about?

I’ve been expanding into home goods for some time now, and Lamps Plus was a perfect partner for continuing that reach.

There are so many facets of midcentury modern design — what were some of the inspirations that came most vividly to mind when it came time to designing the collection?

I really love simple, abstract shapes that hint at something organic – shapes that may or not be the silhouette of an animal or a plant, maybe something microscopic like an amoeba. I think a design is most successful when it seems both familiar and completely new at the same time. Being able to accomplish that with just color, form and line is challenging, but when it works, it’s very rewarding.

There seems to be a particularly Palm Springs / cocktail / playful vibe to the pieces — was that intentional?

Mid-century designers were so adept at combining sophistication and humor, and I do my best to strike that same balance in my work. To me, that’s really what makes design appealing rather than rigid and stuffy. I think even the best design can falter when it takes itself too seriously.

How did you get started designing? 

I love good design and have always incorporated it into my illustration work. As time went on, I began to make more of a distinction between the two and let the design work stand on its own. Now I get just as much creative fulfillment from creating new patterns as I do a movie poster or book cover.

Is there something in particular that gelled your aesthetic for you?

My grandparents’ house was sort of a frozen in time post-war midcentury time capsule. I spent many weekends there as a child playing board games and watching old movies — everything seemed to be stuck in a time that felt perfect to me. I think my fondness for that time really imprinted my memory. 

You’ve designed everything from static to moving images, products to logos, how is designing something for the home different than the other work you’ve done?

What I love most about designing home goods is the utility of it — you’re making something that people see and use on a daily basis, something that expresses who they are. Whether it’s lamp shades, pillows, bedding, drapes or wallpaper, people see it. It’s not put away in a closet or sitting on a bookshelf, and nothing says more about who we are than what we choose to have in our home.

For more about Ragnar Johnson, click here. See the entire Ragnar Johnson collection at Lamps Plus here.

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