Monday, 14 July 2014

Explorations of Wonder and Whimsy: Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson  always found it amazing that lines could flow on paper, but it was frustrating that what he saw in his head was so different from what went on paper.     

Colour Bear

This is a favourite of mine. It was a card I made for my Lady Madeline on our second anniversary. It represents us. We are polar opposites, yet we suit each other very well. Before we met, my art tended to be in black and white pencil and ink. She brought colour into my life. Madeline is the bear, and I am the penguin she is giving colour to. Of all the art cards I sell when I set up a tent or have a show in my home, Colour Bear is far and away the most popular.

I always liked to have stories running in my drawings. And my drawings were just like regular drawings, nothing exceptional. It’s been a slow process where I practised and practised and am now able to draw like I draw now.

Forest Depths 

This portrays the ancient forests our ancestors walked in. Those forests are now 300-feet deep under the ocean, and what once was a place of wind and distant vista is a world where fish have replaced the birds and swim where they once flew.

Myth Becomes Dream

These are related works in that they both come from thinking about the drowned lands that sank beneath the waves during the protracted end of the last Ice Age.

He always had an imagination and believed in putting things down the way he was seeing them.     

I was willing to start with something that looked clumsy to begin with, but had the determination to work on it to make it better.

Night Toad

Some of my work is based on unexpected mental images. These images often feel important in some way. Exploring why I feel an image has import acts as the start of a piece. Night Toad is the product of such an image. It is a piece with multiple stories I may share again some day.

Around the same time that his drawings got noticed in high school, his parents observed him watching a play with one eye covered. They took him to the doctor and found out that he was near-sighted in one eye and far-sighted in the other: he had anisometropia. This meant that his vision couldn’t combine images from both eyes to present a singular image with depth.

At that time, when I started wearing my glasses, I was making art using watercolours that would border on bizarre kids’ stuff, animals, and creatures. I thought they all looked kind of cool. I would spend hours sitting down and reading books, similarly, I would spend hours perfecting the art.


I was reflecting one day. You know, thinking about animals, elements, flow, and interaction. And then I thought of the word “reflecting” in its various manifestations. We think; we reflect. We act and react with and upon each other—which is reflecting each other. Water and air both reflect light in different ways. The way creatures of these elements in the environments act in ways that reflect their similarities as well as the differences between them. I take pleasure in words. I also enjoy wrapping form and colour in dynamic and interesting shapes and flows. Hence “Reflections.”

After college, he took off a year to travel out west and loved it, but his yearning for Ontario lured him back to the province.

And when my factory job became draining and dehumanizing, I decided to turn back to art. So while still doing shift work at the factory, I started taking evening classes in art and indulged myself as much as I could.

Sky Dancers

I wanted to take the Tree Dancer concept and try to translate it into paint. I wanted to sweep the sky into the earth, the surface into the depths, and the ephemeral into the eternal. I wanted to play with the paint. Stir in a taste of our Canadian North where the treeline merges into the tundra, and you get “Sky Dancers.”

He only turned to art full-time when he met his second wife and moved to Toronto. With her support and encouragement, he figured out how to devote more time to his art.


Pure fun! This is a playful drawing of a favourite concept of mine: a dragon in downtime and at ease with itself and its place. You may see the pleasure I take in the act of laying line-over-line—pleasure enhanced, because I was using a nice micron pen. The joy found in plump sinuous form. Of course (because I drew it while thinking of Christmas), there is wondering about what it dreams, what thoughts of sugerplums or dragon-equivalents are dancing behind those great closed eyes as the beast awaits Santa’s coming.

Mark draws a lot from free association. And it becomes a sort-of-story. 

Because if I draw two different creatures in a painting, I have to bring them together. So what I do is, I lean on storytelling and create an image that projects a whole backstory that supports it and can also go forward from it.

The Heat of the Day

This is a planned drawing. Taking the Tree Dancer into the veldt. Showing the care that Nature with its complex simplicities invests in every part of a place. Drawing Mother Love, and the importance of taking time when it’s possible to take time.

He finds drawing figures realistically a very hard thing to do. But he gives it his damndest best.    

I work from my own imagination because the camera doesn’t do justice to the scene, and it can produce distortions or take away from the scene as well.

The Weave
Wanting to put a taste of colour into a drawing, with a combination of Forest Depths/Sky Dancers for a starting point, The Weave is about how sea, sky, land, and all that dwell there, weave in and out of each other in a dance that goes back as far as the beginnings of life on this planet. Done while enjoying the play of lead pencil with colour pencil, form with form.

Sometimes the concept for his artwork is an intellectual device. And then there are flashes of images of events happening around him at the time that will capture his imagination. To Mark, womanhood and the female form is an exceptionally potent, flexible, and valuable tool to access. It’s an exceptionally powerful, universal form to look at.

Tree Dancer in Flight
This is one of the first larger scale truly successful Tree Dancers. I was happy with the way the form of the tree and the form of the woman were equal in strength in a rather lovely way. It has apparent depth, which is important for someone who has never properly experienced depth perception. And the likeness of my Lady, which is an element incorporated into many of my Tree Dancers, worked out rather well.

If Mark were to draw what he is actually seeing, it might come across as artistic gibberish, but he wouldn’t do it. 

I don’t want to do it only because it’s considered cool, but what is the meaning in it? What would people find relevant in it? And that would concern me. I see it sometimes when people are playing with their images, and placing one over the other and distorting it, they may be doing it for some other reasons but, for me, that’s the way I actually see things.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderfully well defined lines and colours. Amazing works!


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