Alumnus’s exhibit displays humor, struggle through paint




Upon entering former Augustana student Don Johnson’s exhibit in the Eide/Dalrymple Center for Visual Arts, viewers will be immediately greeted by paintings such as “Somewhere Visible,” “I Can Change” and “The Restless,” all colorful “village-scape spaces” inspired by the artist’s residency in Italy.

“I spent two summers in Italy,” Johnson said. “There, I was part of artist residencies, and I was able to just create art while I was there.  When I came back to my art studio, it just sort of came together.  I began working from my drawings and eventually began to create my own ‘village-scape’ spaces.”

Johnson is displaying his work at Augustana through Oct. 4 in an exhibit called “Transitory Memory: Paintings by Don Johnson.” He graduated from Augustana in 2009 with degrees in business and fine arts.

According to Johnson, the time he spends creating art allows him to “contemplate and think” in different ways.

“With my art I am constantly searching for something, searching for more,” he said. “I don’t know what I am looking for, or if I will ever find it, but that’s what keeps me making and creating.”

Art professor Tom Shields instructed Johnson when he attended Augustana. He remembers Johnson as “quiet,” but also as an “excellent student.”

“[Johnson] did work that surprised you,” Shields said. “He is very unpredictable and uses art to express himself. It’s fascinating to see the other side of him.”

Johnson’s posted gallery statement says that his “play with perspective, line and color bring[s] a sense of humor to [his] artwork.” According to junior art student Katie Retterath, Johnson’s “balanced” colors are noteworthy.

“The bright [colors] equal out with the dull, darker ones,” she said.

Shields agrees that Johnson’s paintings are aesthetically pleasing.

“He has a wonderful sense of design,” he said. “His color relationships are quite nice.”

According to Johnson, this duality is intentional.

“While on the surface the work appears humorous, an underlying struggle is veiled by layers of paint,” he said.

Now that his show is on display, Johnson is ready for some relaxation.

“After making work for a show and focusing on it for months, my brain shuts down,” he said. “Maybe there will be something I work on next, maybe not. Things just sort of show up on my doorstep, metaphorically speaking. It just feels better when it happens naturally, but curiosity never hurt[s].”

Johnson will be speaking about his work at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26. The reception will take place in the Eide/Dalrymple Center for Visual Arts.