Davisville artist reflects on nature, time and their influence on his work
For artist Mark Johnson, the moment he introduced colour into his work was when he met his wife Madeline in 2005.
Bruce Springsteen’s Human Touch is playing on the radio as he recounts his meeting with her while seated on the couch of the Davisville manor. It’s his Lady’s home, he says, and he refers to her as his “Lady” because of the discrete nature of her work as a psychiatrist. A ginger tabby, Ulysses, sits curled up by his side, and an elderly yellow lab loafs at the couch’s base.
One of his whimsical drawings, a polar bear painting colour onto a penguin, was done as a birthday card for his Lady, and signifies a change is art, and an evolution of him as an individual.
“I had been feeling major changes in my life because of it,” he said of what is his second marriage. “That card was really an expression of it.
“I met my lady, and I started working in colour.”
The polar bear, Madeline’s favourite animal, represents her. The penguin is Johnson, since she introduced him to the documentary, March of the Penguins.
“That particular image seemed to coalesce. It was apropos, as they say.”
That “flash”, as he calls it, comes into him every so often, and he grapples with how to address it on paper. The living room he sits in is full of his work: reflections, whimsies and “tree dancers”.
The latter are sinewy tress in female form. The face always a depiction of his Lady.
“Nymphs, dryads — I call them tree dancers — they bare her likeness in the face,” he admits, joking that he’s only allowed to look at pictures of other women to spur on his creative muse.
There are more drawings on the walls of the house that span the years. He admits he’s blue collar in mindset, and certainly not a nature guy even though it factors into his works.
Johnson used to work at a point-of-purchase advertising firm, and as his previous marriage fell apart he began to return to his childhood yen of artistry. He talks in great length about how Lawren S. Harris and Pablo Picasso influenced him in his earlier years.
“I was in my early 40s and life was just a treadmill grind at that time because I was running as fast and hard to avoid getting further into debt,” he said. “Different parts of my life started imploding and, blah blah blah, boring story, guy in his mid-life, whatever.
“I’m lucky enough to know that I’ve got something. But I never utilized it. I’m ripping myself off and my kids off if I don’t find out what I’ve got.”
So, as the wheels were coming off, he put the wheels on another vehicle to put in motion. He purchased and black book a began drawing one piece a day.
What has captivated him through it all is humanity’s manipulation of time, and reaching for immortality through art and architecture.
“I find the human element is kind of a way of connecting to this,” he says. “I think it’s an important element to give a context.
“There are elements of awareness that people bring because of our thinking, and that humans are magical, and by that I mean we can bind time, and I don’t know of many other animals that can bind time. We can write books, we can carve stone, we can pass on stories, myths, knowledge and we can accrue. We’re magical that way.”