Bigger Picture

The colorful vibrancy of the Whiteaker with its pastel houses and the fecund dishevel of its front-yard gardens can be credited to bohemian culture. However, to overlook Kari Johnson’s contributions to that neighborhood would be equivalent  to failing an acid test or choking through a bong rip — just flat out un-Eugenean.  Johnson, a resident and artist of the Whiteaker for more than twenty years, has brush-stroked and stippled her way into the position of neighborhood muralist. Her work is as outspoken as it is tasteful. She draws on naturalistic themes and, in some cases, unabashedly calls out the powers that be.

“The way I learned to paint is that I went out and I painted what I saw in nature,” Johnson says. “That’s how I learned about shadow and light and color.” 

Humanity’s dominion over nature plays a crucial role in her first Whiteaker mural on the side of the Jawbreaker Gallery at the intersection of 4th and Monroe. Beginning in ‘91 and after several revisions, the piece has developed into an idea of optimism in a post-collapse world through a patently feminist lens. Ideas like male childrearing, the sanctity of elders, tribal living and cancer survival all work their ways in.  

Murals tend to ride a fine line between high art and street art, but they are indisputably public works of art, art for the people — and Johnson has made them a good portion of her life’s work. 

“It’s sort of in defiance of galleries,” says Johnson. “We (muralists) break the art out. We take it out of the frame, out of the building, out of the mediated commercial aspect of the gallery relationship. And I feel like I can give to the people, just like people give to me. I feel like I can contribute; it’s just real satisfying.” 

Kari Johnson’s murals can be seen along this week’s Last Friday ArtWalk and all throughout the Whiteaker.  As always, the Last Friday ArtWalk is free. For more information visit http://lastfridayartwalk.