Kari Johnson stands in front of her mural ‘The Elements’Photo courtesy Kari Johnson

A Living Canvas

LCC has become a studio, art medium and showcase for muralists

The aesthetic purpose of the four outdoor murals at Lane Community College is clear, but the intention behind each of them is entirely different.

“I think art has an opportunity to start a conversation among people and to also make people aware of things that they are not aware of or thinking about. Those are the constants of art. The murals are doing that. They talk about environmental concerns. They are dealing with the balance of social equity or environmental justice,” Visual Arts Instructor Lee Imonen says.

The three murals on the main campus were funded through the LCC president’s office as part of remodeling and refreshing the campus. The fourth mural, on the downtown campus, was commissioned and funded by the city of Eugene through the “We Rise” program. “We were lucky to be able to host it,” Imonen says.

LCC expects all four outdoor murals painted by Kari Johnson, Pattrick Price and Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith to be complete by Sunday, Oct. 9. Johnson is a longtime Eugene self-taught muralist and social justice promoter, Price is an Alaska-born Tlingit artist who lives in Eugene, and Wolfe-Goldsmith is a Bay Area artist of Jewish, European and Nigerian heritage.

The selection of the artists was not easy. The Art of Campus Committee used a list of painters provided by the city of Eugene. Their criteria: artists who were either living in Eugene or had some connection with LCC — even if they were based internationally. The next step involved inviting a group of artists to make proposals. They selected three out of the applicant pool. Wolfe-Goldsmith, who painted the downtown mural, and Price worked on their murals last year and Johnson started working on hers in the summer of this year.

“This is an ongoing process; the hope is to continue inviting artists,” Imonen says. There is a desire to continue this project and space to do it, but the key is finding the resources. The committee is looking at different options, including donations and fundraising. Although several indoor murals and one painted outdoors by a group of students as a class project exist throughout campus, LCC still has several blank walls. 

“Lane Community College is a beautiful campus, it’s got so much nature, but there’s a lot of concrete. Concrete doesn’t really communicate anything to us. It’s maybe just intense. And so bring some color and human and plant and meaning and dreams and imagination,” Johnson says.

As of now, Johnson’s “The Elements,” is the last mural being painted. It depicts Manhattan and the four classical elements (air, fire, water and earth) through different human figures. 

“This is more than just a local mural; I’m trying to show something. I’m showing the general human relationships with these elements, just that we depend on these elements, these give us life, these are like the sort of deities, like gods in a way,” Johnson says. 

Inside each human body, different elements represent different stories. Strategically, each figure is positioned not below but above the metropolitan area — accentuating its greatness against the urban scene. When staring either closely or from far away, it is impossible to dismiss how they border each other, reminding us of their natural connection. 

The relationship between space and time is also represented. The latest summer fires near Eugene inspired much of Johnson’s art, and so did the people driving away from the ones in California two years ago. There is a car driving through the fire. Have you found the vehicle? Time to use your imagination. 

Johnson has been working on “The Elements” for three months, non-stop from Monday to Friday. Each human body is a person known to Johnson and whom she asked to pose for her to serve as a model for the painting. Instead of choosing perfect models, she wanted to portray the natural beauty and reality of the people’s features in the mural. 

LCC has become her canvas — a living canvas for all the artists painting murals on its walls. Imonen says there will be a public opening to celebrate the artists’ work in late October or early November. They want Johnson, Price and Wolfe-Goldsmith to be present. “We are going to make it happen,” he says.

See Wolfe-Goldsmith’s murals at LCC’s downtown Campus and on Building 18 at LCC’s main Campus, Price’s art on the back of Building 11 at the main campus and Johnson’s work on the east side of the Center Building. 

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