Today we’d like to introduce you to Rochelle Johnson.
Rochelle was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, where she discovered her passion for drawing at an early age. As a child, she discovered the work of Lois Mailou Jones and Jacob Lawrence and was further inspired by the Denver Black Arts Festival in the 1980s. The experience of meeting the artists and seeing their work ignited her passion for the Arts. In 1989, Johnson enrolled at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design where she learned to create stories using oils and watercolors. She attained a degree in Illustration in order to pursue a career in Commercial Art. In 1992, she moved to Seattle, Washington where she worked as a freelance designer, creating community theater posters and identity packages for local businesses. These opportunities paid the bills, but she became intrigued by the idea of being a story-teller through her work. In 1997, she entered the annual Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle Minority Art Exhibition where she sold her first noncommercial piece. In 1999, Johnson returned to Denver and eventually resumed pursuing the idea of storytelling through painting, a calling that had never left her consciousness. In 2005, her artwork was featured on the cover of the novel When a Sistah’s Fed Up, previously on Essence’s Top Ten List. Rochelle has been published in several journals the most notable being American Art Collector Magazine. Today, Johnson continues to create her own unique style in her Denver studio.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I think the hardest part of my journey was when I tried selling my work out of a studio/gallery I opened in the Lincoln Park Neighborhood. I opened it about a year ago and I quickly learned that the location was not right for what I was trying to build. Not far from the Santa Fe Art Distrait but not on the stripe made for a harder time for foot traffic. I was successful at hosting several shows but could not sustain the audiences I needed to keep going. I also realized that I wanted to create the work and let someone else sell it. Today, I have been added to the roster of a gallery in Cleveland, Ohio and have had success there. My hope is to create the best art I can and be pick up by a few more galleries. This process is a struggle and I haven’t been able to get into any galleries in Denver.
Please tell us more about what you do, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I grew up in Park Hill, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city of Denver. Throughout my life, I have been a constant observer of the interactions between different sorts of people. Watching the ways that people react and relate to one another, both good and bad, has long been a curiosity of mine and that has inspired my current painting series, documenting the life and spirit of urban people.
My neighborhood is currently undergoing a process of gentrification. My paintings depict day-to-day life in the city while exploring how each person’s identity influences how they see the humanity and value of people outside their group. As a black women artist, the black narrative has been the focus of my paintings, but I can’t overlook new cultural interactions at play in the community around me. The gentrification in my neighborhood has forced me to confront its negative effects, such as the displacement of whole communities of long-time residents. Will urban life now be considered a luxury for elites only, or can the city become an intersection, where diverse groups learn to come together and can thrive together? As I observe these interactions, I capture what is important to me: unity.
My paintings largely reflect what I see in my community on a positive level. I feel too much negativity gets out into the world. I focus on portraits placed in an environment where people doing what comes naturally to them, I capture the energy and emotion of my subject matter. I believe if I paint an interaction of unusual encounters people will become familiar with those interactions and possibly change the norm. Much like the one black figure in the classical painting that people tend to overlook. My painting focuses on a narrative that is interactive in a way that single outs the sitter and draws curiosity. The question is can we live together.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I could start over, I would have finish art school and then go to graduate school right after that. I would have followed my passion at a younger age instead of trying to go right to work. This business is so complex and the learning curve is steep. Every time I’m in the presence of high school students I tell them to follow there dreams no matter what that looks like for them.
Contact Stacey at Framed Gallery at 216-832-5101 for pricing
Rochelle Johnson Studio at 303-907-1913 for pricing