Artist Statement

My work is concerned with the Natural environment. I’ve had people say, “if you are so concerned, why you don’t paint about the disastrous consequences many of our actions are having on it?

As I see, it there are two approaches one can take to try and change our actions. One can either use a carrot or a stick. Both approaches are needed . I have chosen the carrot approach to try and foster a deeper appreciation for what is left of wild Nature. In my work I focus on the beauty and sacredness of Nature. I feel like a medieval pilgrim on a pilgrimage to the world’s last remaining cathedrals. I record my observations while there and bring my notes back to the studio to develop paintings that capture my experiences of these places.

The kind of art that has most influenced the style of my work is religious art from the late medieval period in Italy, Indian Miniature Painting, Tibetan Thangka painting, Balinese painting, and Folk Art, all of which I have studied and from which I have freely stolen.

My interest in Botany, Ornithology, Mycology, Entomology, and other Natural Science disciplines comes from a desire to understand and get more deeply connected with the environment in which I find myself.


Robert Johnson on Painting From Nature

Robert Johnson’s Biography

Robert Johnson was born in Washington D.C., but at the age of 2 months, returned with his family to Caracas, Venezuela, where they had been living. His father was a field geologist and his mother a librarian. On vacations, his father would travel to different parts of the country to visit and would take the family along. Robert was fascinated by the lushness of the Natural environment he saw.

At the age of 14 his family returned to the United States to live. He married at an early age and moved to Louisville Kentucky, where he attended the University of Louisville and graduated with a BS in Painting. He stayed married for 4 years , just enough time to have 2 children.

After his marriage broke up, he decided to get serious about pursuing painting and moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he apprenticed with the Modernist painter Karl Knaths for 3 years. He worked for him cleaning his brushes, transferring drawings to canvas and gardening. In exchange, he received a place to paint, lodging, and a small food allowance as well as weekly critiques of his work.

His last year in Provincetown, he received a fellowship at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center where he got to meet such painters as Robert Motherwell, Jack Twurkov, and other Abstract Expressionist painters. His last Summer there he joined a group of young painters that meet with Mark Rothko for discussion and criticism once a week.

Thinking about how he was going to make a living as a painter, Robert decided to go to graduate school with the idea that he would teach college to support himself and his family. Since it was the late 60’s and it seemed like very exciting things were going on in the Bay area of California, Robert decided to go to school out there. He received a good scholarship at Mills College so he moved out to Oakland and studied at Mills for 2 years and received his MFA in painting. While out there he immersed himself in the late 60’s/early 70’s culture of psychedelics and spirituality.

On the East Coast, he’d painted abstract paintings but under the influence of West Coast culture, he began using images.

Robert returned to Provincetown after graduation and got a job teaching Painting and Drawing at Roger Williams College in Bristol, Rhode Island. He found out that he enjoyed teaching, but found that it took up too much time and attention from his painting.

Inspired by the Back to the Land Movement of the times and a reconnecting with this love of Nature, he and his new wife decided to move to the mountains of North Carolina, where he has lived in a Land Trust Community for the last 40 years.

He built a house and a studio bordering the National Forest. Living in an isolated area in the mountains, the beauty of the natural environment he was surrounded by was the biggest influence on his work. He helped support his family by working as a visiting artist in schools all around the state. He gradually came to learn about and paint the plants and animals around him and to use these images in his paintings. Discovering one environment made him interested in traveling to discover other Natural areas. He made long trips to Ecuador, Panama, New Zealand, Baja, California and both the South- and the Northwest U.S as well as to India, Nepal and Bali, where he studied traditional painting from each of those cultures.

He now supports himself by selling his work through several galleries and paints full time He makes many drawing trips to Natural environments in different parts of the world where he finds inspiration to create new work.