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Artists Among Us: Artist Profile - Jane Johnson

Originally Posted: May 04, 2009

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"#206 Polyphonic" 20 x 22, 2009, oil on wood. Images courtesy of artist

Continuing with our artist profiles of artists both living and working in the Hamptons, our next artist is Jane Johnson, who lives in East Hampton.

Sag Harbor Jane Johnson was born in Ohio in 1943 and was raised in West Hartford, CT. She attended public schools where she studied, however, she states that, "There were no special moments in art class then."

Artist Jane Johnson at Towd Point. Photo by Montague Ferry

As an adult Johnson indicates that she spent her summers in Plymouth, VT and spent time, "More or less living in the woods with no electricity which definitely affected my views of nature and landscape."

Johnson fondly recalls her many travels, reminiscing, "When I first went to Italy in 1963 I spent a month driving around with three friends. It was a profound experience. I painted cypress trees for years and still do sometimes. I love just wandering - Italy, France, the old Yugoslavia, Greece, Spain, Morocco, and recently I took two trips to India."

Elaborating on her respect for certain artists, Johnson stated, "I went to the recent Morandi show in New York City at the Metropolitan. I love his stillness and the way he uses very restrained colors and shapes. I look at Morandi whenever I get a chance. In fact, I'm going to Washington next week to see the Morandi show there at the Phillips Gallery, and I also love Albert York's paintings."

Commenting on her own career as an artist, Johnson reveals that "I am still working. and developing. The process is very important to me. I look, sometimes I photograph and take the memory back to the studio. I don't do plein air paintings - I work from memory in the studio - distilling shape and color - getting more at the feeling than at any replication of reality. Sometimes I go through spells of being fascinated with certain color families. For years I avoided anything purple or violet. Now I am obsessed with a color called "caput mortum." I haven't looked up the Latin translation but it doesn't sound good (I am also a word freak and play scrabble). It is a grayed deep reddish violet. I am using it now in the work in progress. I like to work on a number of canvases or wood panels at once. I love painting on the hard surface of birch veneer plywood. It doesn't move when I get carried away and put pressure on it. I am listening to Lucinda Williams. Her songs are so sad - all about longing or life being hard. It suits the "caput mortum" moment.

"#111 Sag Harbor," 18 x 20, 2009.

Johnson's work is in the permanent collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, the collection of the U.S. State Department, and in numerous private and corporate collections. Several paintings appeared in the early 1990s Mathew Broderick, Meg Ryan film "Addicted to Love."

When did you start making art and what medium(s) do you consider to be your roots in art?

Jane Johnson: I grew up in West Hartford CT. At the end of our street was "The Little Red School House", an old one-room school which had been converted to an art school. I started there when I was in elementary school. The first thing I remember making was a chicken wire bird dipped in plaster. I enjoyed that and toyed with weaving , stone carving, printmaking, pot throwing and hand-building clay, but painting was it for me. I also remember doing a "paint by number painting " and being so surprised by how many colors made up one area - it actually taught me a lot. My grandfather had a hunting cabin in Vermont and he was always puttering around. With him, I learned to paint wooden/canvas canoes - my introduction to doing large areas and cleaning brushes.

I learned very little about art in high school and in college. I was busy avoiding my greatest love. I don't think I wanted anyone to judge me and I was enjoying studying psychology and literature.

"#120 Places" 40 x 48, 2003, oil on canvas.

I lived in Cheshire, CT when I was first married and my two boys were born there. I always had a painting I was working on, but didn't get much done in those years. I studied with Henry Gorsky in New Haven, CT who, though he is no longer with us, is having a show at the Chaffee Art Center this fall in Vermont. He taught me to experiment with space. I named one of my early works there "Seacaucus" - guess I had driven by on the highway and liked the word.

In Washington, where I lived for 25 years, raising my kids as a single mom, I managed a gallery for two years, then opened my own gallery in Georgetown (with a partner) called the Summer Squash Gallery - it was the hippie era - people used to call and ask if we sold Indian jewelry at first. That was more of an education than all my art history classes. I learned what was going on in contemporary art.

But I wanted to be painting, and in 1980 I wandered into the Corcoran School of Art, smelled the paint, and began to study and paint immediately. My teachers there were wonderful. Gene Davis, part of the Washington Color School, who had a show every year in NYC, was articulate - he had been a White House correspondent, which is something unusual for an artist. He furthered my devotion to color. Bill Christenberry - an extraordinary man and artist - Christenberry loves the Southern writers. He sculpts, paints and photographs Hale County Alabama. He had worked with Walker Evans, and taught me how to draw and how one artist's can focus on a place. Bill Willis and Bill Newman showed me different ways of seeing.

"#205 Places" 20 x 22, 2008, oil on wood.

I started showing in Washington almost right away. Washington has an interesting artist community and, of course, the museums there are spectacular. I lived right near the Phillips Collection. I had a studio in an old elementary school building on R Street just above Georgetown. I showed at the Mahler Gallery for many years on 7th Street. She developed collectors for my work. When she closed the gallery and moved to London and Egypt with her husband, I knew it was time for me to move nearer NYC. I was already showing in New York on Lafayette Street at Rooms and Gardens. They later moved to Mercer Street and I showed many years with them, until they closed their NY space.

What is it about the Hamptons that brought you here and enticed you to stay, work, and pursue your art here as opposed to some place else?

JJ: I took a Master's Class at LIU , the summer of 1993 which Anne Chwatsky directed. I really did it to be able to live in Southampton for six weeks. I met many of the local artists and fell in love with the area. I remember Jerry Saltz talking about the convergence of artists, museums, critics, writers, and NYC galleries that is perfect for artists. Being near NYC appealed to me. The energy is much greater than in Washington. I had been to Sag Harbor in the summer. I started renting places for a month in the summer just to paint a show. I looked for 10 years for a house and finally found one in Noyac. I moved in 1996 and built the house I am in now in Sag Harbor in 1999. It isn't the light here, but the people and the ocean. I couldn't believe I get to live near the ocean - I used to cry when I would round a bend and suddenly there it would be. Living in a place of such beauty and being near the greatest city is the best of all worlds. To me it is magic.

"#4 Two Crows" 30 x 37, 1998, acrylic on paper.

How do you support yourself as an artist?

JJ: I have never been able to live off my work. I didn't want to teach so I worked in related fields , owning a gallery, working in galleries, working for architects and designers, and even selling houses. I am fortunate to have a few collectors who really help me. My paintings have appeared in traveling State Department Shows, at embassies, in Martha Stewart's magazines and books, The Sundance Catalog, and a Meg Ryan film. They have appeared in the Baker furniture showroom in Washington and in designer showcase houses.

"#52 Sag Harbor" 2001, 18 x 20, oil on wood.

Why live and work in the Hamptons as opposed to elsewhere?

JJ: The wetlands inspire me the most. I grew up feeling part of the woods and fields and animals. I loved the wetlands on the eastern shore of Maryland and Delaware also, but I didn't want to live there. Sag Harbor has been the best place for me to work. It is much better than living in a city for my painting. I am also inspired by travel.

What local environmental or historical aspects of the Hamptons do you relate to that may be reflected in your medium?

JJ: The last show I did at Gallery Merz in Sag Harbor was an estuary show. I had been boating around Three Mile Harbor and walking behind the Pollock Krasner House and on Gerard Drive. The wetlands in North Haven are very beautiful as well.

What artists do you feel have influenced you and your work?

JJ: I was influenced by Cezanne, Vuillard, and Matisse initially. Then later I was profoundly interested in Rothko, Milton Avery and Morandi. I look at Turner, Blumener, Dove, Marin and, of course, there are others.

A happy Johnson poses with her work at Guild Hall's 2009 Members Show. Her piece was selected as "Best Landscape" by Juror Jodi Hauptman, Curator in Dept. of Drawings at MOMA. Photo by Montague Ferry

What gives you an edge (if any)?

JJ: I am interested in edges in my paintings, but don't believe I 'have an edge.'

What advice would you give an emerging artist?

JJ: My advice to people who want to paint is to learn the basics - learn materials and drawing, composition, etc. Learn the business of art. Then go wild - let it rip, or as Gene Davis used to say "shoot from the hip. Get loose - turn on some music and dance and paint or whatever."

What are you working on now, and are you involved in any upcoming shows or exhibitions?

JJ: I am working on about eight paintings right now in my studio. I don't paint outside. I am simplifying space and paying attention to the color edges. My painting is about loss, quiet contemplation and subtle color exploration. It is about memory of place. I keep trying to use images from travels to Morocco and India - but so far I have ended up returning to the landscape as my touchstone. I like to walk a fine line between abstract and figurative. I am always looking for a new color and the excitement exists for me when I find analogous colors bumping up against each other that "sing" in some way.

I received the Best Landscape award at this year's Guild Hall Membership show. That show will be up until May 30. I am in a show opening May 9 at Hampton Road Gallery that will benefit The Retreat - assisting children and families on the East End who have experienced abuse. In June I will participate in The Retreat's plate auction - "Artists Against Abuse."

 • To view more of Jane Johnson's work, visit the following website at www.janejohnsonstudio.com, or email at jajoart@hamptons.com.

Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.

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Guest (Paige Husted Duff) from West Palm Beach Florida says::
Great Article about you - Great paintings too! Let me know how you are doing and what's happening - Paiged1200@aol.com - XXOO Paige
Jan 2, 2017 8:14 am

Guest (Jane Johnson) from Sag Harbor, NY says::
Wow - just found all these comments..I do not believe any of the paintings owned painted by Jane Johnson are mine - not the Tetons..not sure about bush with berries or jutting rock. Send me a photo: jajoart@hamptons.com
Jan 1, 2017 5:50 pm

Guest (Debbie keene) from michigan says::
Dear Jane,its so nice to meet you even tho it thru this computer..i recently came upon two of your Oil Paintings..two of my favorites..one is called Jutting Rock(i think unable to read the writting).The second one is not named but has the painting of the sea,sands and two seagulls in flight.Thank you for your beautiful work..
Jul 29, 2015 6:24 pm

Guest (Macy Lovelace) from New york says::
Very interesting work.
Jan 28, 2015 5:24 pm

Guest (Jane Parrott) from Mansfield Texas says::
Found this article when searching for an artist Jane Johnson. We have a water color gifted to us many years ago by Robert Koslow and have been trying to find out more about the artist. It is a snow scene with a small bush - red berries. It is beautiful and resides in a prominent place in our home. Was hoping to find out more about the artist. Would love to know if this is your work.
Nov 9, 2013 2:11 pm

Guest (Dick) from Michigan says::
I have had a beautiful painting of the Grand Tetons (Jackson Hole WY)in my home since 1975. A Jane Johnson signed the painting. It was painted in 1973. Is this the same Jane Johnson? Thanks.
Oct 2, 2011 10:14 am

Guest (Guest) from new york says::
I love your work Jane thank you for sharing it with me. eric, your hairdresser from John Barrett
Sep 26, 2010 8:05 pm

Guest (suzie baker) from East Quogue says::
I think Jane Johnson's sense of color is gorgeous.
Feb 21, 2010 10:16 pm

Guest (judy gilmer) from Edgewater, Fl says::
Thanks for showcasing the Hampton's art community. I was very drawn to Jane Johnson's work and hope to be able to see more of it when I visit my family the end of September.
Sep 2, 2009 11:04 am

Guest (JW) from Sag Harbor says::
Love reading these artists among us stories by Eileen Casey- she must be an artist herself to bring such insight to the stories. One of the best things on H.com- and one of the few that I read on a regular basis.
May 9, 2009 8:30 am

Guest (Paul Hokemeyer, JD. PhD(c)) from NYC says::
Thank you Hamptons.com or highlighting yet another great East End talent. Jane Johnson's work is magical. Playful and serene, lyrical and grounded. Colorful yet muted. Thank you Jane for sharing your gifts with us!
May 6, 2009 5:18 pm


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