INTERVIEW // Johnny Sampson from Memphis // TONIGHT: His Last Hurrah!


Tragically, Mr. Johnny Sampson, a dear friend, one of my mentors in the arts field, and one of my favorite bartenders is moving on from his position in the curatorial department at Orange County Museum of Art and relocating to San Francisco at the end of the month. As tragic as this is, there are a few good things about this situation:

1. He will be absconding with his lovely wife to spread smiles, laughter, and art [and doubtlessly booze as well] to the denizens and visitors of the Big Gay Metropolis up North. The men are going to *love* him. Well, ok, everyone will; I’m sure of it.

2. I will have another kindly mischief-making soul with whom to create shenanigans when I visit the Bay Area.

3. Johnny is back behind the bar, for 1 night only, at Memphis at the Santora! That night would be tonight. [FB Event Page]

And I guess there is 1 more good thing to come out of this. I conducted an interview with Johnny for my “Employee of the Month” series in April 2013. I fell off the blog boat and never posted the interview. With this post, I am officially back on the blogwagon and with Johnny’s departure, it’s at least somewhat relevant and/or timely. Yay, everyone wins! Now, onto the goods:

El surrealismo

 Interview from April 2013:

t♥a: Tell us about your history with Memphis. Why did you decide to stay on 1 night a week?

JS: It was January 5, 2004 when I walked in to my first shift at Memphis—I did not know that I was about to fall in love with a culture and community that I would cherish for the rest of my life.  I love DTSA and all of its characters, past and present, dearly. The area has lost some close friends yet has made so many more.  I tip my hat and my drink to your memory, to all of you.

Memphis is like family to me, as is all of Downtown Santa Ana.  Over the past 10 years, we have grown and evolved together.  I think that is one of the things that makes Memphis such an amazing place to be a part of—its ability to grow with the community while retaining the core values and ethics that it was founded upon.  Memphis has been such an integral part of the development and identity of both myself and DTSA that it is hard to imagine where we would be without it. 

t♥a: What is your current favorite cocktail?

JS: Recently I have been on a floral kick, making variations of aviations and their ilk at home.  I don’t know what it is about American cuisine, but it has mostly forsaken the whole floral palate (with an exception of jujubes—lilac and violet—who knew?!).  Lavender bitters, rose water, orange flower water, jasmine tea—I’m hooked! And it carries over to the grill too…imagine some fresh halibut with a blueberry-citrus-lavender sauce…delish! I am still a fan of the classics though—there is a reason I met my wife over manhattans.

t♥a: What is your role at OCMA? What is your educational and arts background?

JS: I am a curatorial associate at the Orange County Museum of Art.  So basically, I get to work directly with the director and the chief curator to make incredible exhibitions. It’s a lot of research and a lot of organization, but the results can be breathtaking.  It is a great team.

Before working at the Museum I was the curator at The Box contemporary art gallery in Costa Mesa.  We had a pretty intense schedule there—while focusing on emergent artists, we hosted over twenty successful shows in just three years.  Previous to The Box, yet still during my time at Memphis, I earned a MA from CSUF focusing on Exhibition Design and Museum Studies (to complement my BA in English from UCI).  The graduate degree definitely was the step I needed to move onto the next tier in my arts career.  I have also spent time as a figure model, exhibition designer, preparator, and researcher.

t♥a: What do you enjoy most about your work at OCMA? What do you look forward to the least? 

JS: Every day at OCMA is pretty amazing; I get to work with the top people in their fields to make world-class exhibitions and publications.  I get to talk to artists, scholars, gallerists, and an astounding team of passionate professionals on a daily basis.  I am proud of what I get to be a part of.

What do I look forward to the least?  I hate to disappoint, but it is trying to find a parking space after my commute home that is the worst part of my day.  I try to minimize the things I complain about, and this year I have chosen parking…ask anybody…I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing about it.

t♥a: Can you recommend some current or upcoming art exhibits worth checking out in Southern California? What are your favorite galleries and museums? [oops; not timely!]

JS: One must-see show is the Richard Jackson retrospective at OCMA that just opened on February 17th.  It’s intense, irreverent, and an experience not to be missed.  It will be up through May 5th.  I would also suggest the Llyn Foulkes retrospective at the Hammer Museum right now if you have the stomach for it.  I dare you.

t♥a: What is your favorite part about bartending? Least favorite?

JS: I love tending bar.  I love the interaction I get to have with people and I love making up new cocktails to fit every mood of every one coming into the bar.  I’m no “mixologist”; I’m no “craft bartender”.  But I am fascinated by how with just a few ingredients one can replicate a mood or an emotion.  Most of the drinks I make don’t have names because most of them are for a specific person at a moment in time–It’s a different type of therapy.

I want everyone who comes into my place to feel special.  Whether it is through their drink, a little face time, or a hug.  I may not have a lot of flair, but I do have a lot of love.

t♥a: How do you spend your time outside of your museum and bar shenanigans? Any other projects you’re working on?

JS: It’s interesting you ask that.  I love adventure and I love the absurd.  This year I am re-editing some children’s books I’ve written and submitting them for publication, I am constructing an x-ray machine (that I started years ago when I hurt myself and was uninsured), and hopefully doing lots of spontaneous travel. 

t♥a: What made you decide to leave Memphis?

JS: Releasing Memphis has been one of the most difficult and avoided decisions I have made.  Ever.  Obviously Memphis was more than just a job to me—just as it is more than just a bar to most everyone who experiences it. And I can’t actually say that I am leaving it, I will just be participating with Memphis in a new and different role—that of the patron!

Memphis has continually supported me in my professional development in the arts. They encouraged my graduate work, they were there for my gallery, and they are active in the arts community in Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, and Southern California in general.  It has been through them that I have made many of my contacts and relationships that have led me to where I am today. Yet as I move forward in my arts career, I decided that it was too difficult to maintain my Thursday night shenanigans. I am proud to have been a part of it, and I am even more excited to watch it grow.

So no, I am not leaving Memphis; we are just entering into a new phase in our relationship.

Aloha and bon voyage, Johnny. Best of luck on this next leg of your relationship with Memphis: the long-distance relationship!  ♥ tracey



About traceyheartsart

Check out my blog for smirky, smiley, snarky updates on local music, art, politics, libations, veg food, and thrifty finds in Downtown Santa Ana and beyond... @traceyheartsart
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