November 2021: MCA Guest Artist Cristin Johnson

Discovering a Clear Seeing Place in the Natural World

Slip into Cristin’s etherial moonscapes. Tap (click) on any artwork to select it. Click on the little double arrows icon at the bottom right of the image, to enlarge it. Then scroll through the gallery with right and left arrows.

Cristin Johnson. Image, ©Kathryn R. Burke

By Kathryn R. Burke

Cristin has been working on the creative process all her life. It’s a process that she has watched grow and change from life choices she had made. Making art is both a joy and a journey of discovery for her, especially when working Plein Air, selecting natural elements to integrate into her landscape compositions, applying them directly onto her canvas.

“This allows me to connect with and interpret the mountain range landscape I see, and in light and gratitude, transfer that vision to a painting. I am inspired by the natural world,” she says. “I love to be outside. And, I’m really connected to the super moon.” Which is the subject of her entries in A Clear Way of Seeing, the current exhibit (November 2021) at the Montrose Center for the Arts.

This series of Cristin’s paintings—ethereal, almost ghostly landscapes that invoke a feeling of protective calmness—was completed following the Super Moon Cycles, occurring during the Full Moons in March, April May and June. “I was responding to the call of especially powerful times and events during 2020-2021, and following our Solar System’s Annual Natural Cycles as a way to express it.”

Standing back, looking at these paintings, I feel drawn into a place of peace, cloaked in serenity…safe. In a world that has been traumatized by a plethora of fright and fear, Cristin’s paintings provide respite.

It’s a heady experience, and I want to stay there. It’s hard to move away.  How does she do this? Create a safe haven on canvas?

Cristin reminds me again, that for her, making art is a process. She begins with a mixed media background, organizes her materials, then begins layering. “It’s a sequence of events,” she explains. “At any given work session, with confidence, I move forward on the canvas. It’s a kind of traditional practice that mixed-media artists can follow. I get my negative space, the colors and shapes I want.” She works slowly, lovingly, adding layers, building a story on her canvas.

Cristin relates how she “really felt inspired” making paintings during the Super Moon. “It’s a golden hour. I used time as a window, a gateway. Using a daily practice helped me to dive deeply into my creative practice: mark-making meditation, heart-opening—it was (and is) for me a really receptive time. That golden hour was the perfect place to jump right in for the few hours I had and really make something happen. Preparing the canvas, the working in layers is part of that process.

With such complex compositions, how does she know when the painting is finished? “It’s part experience,” she explains “knowing when it’s done, when the final layer is complete. As I’m working, I’m always asking—and answering—questions, making decisions along the way.” Thus, the finished painting is a culmination of a series of decisions.”

But, in many cases, like the work she is exhibiting for this show, it’s not one painting but a series of them; it often takes more than one to tell the story she wants to relate, to share. Why? Explaining her choice to paint in a series,

Cristin reminds us of one of her most important core values: life is about choices; choices you make determine your path, and her case that path of creating art—has brought her the continual joy of discovery.

“I like to paint in a series…so many connections to make. I like to go big. Do a layer on one piece, move fluidly to the next. The ideas (and emotions invoked) are connected. Each piece turns out differently, yet there is flow from one to the next. Working simultaneously on 2 or 4 canvases a time, it’s a series of discoveries.  When the series is finished, it’s a composition complete in those canvases.”

Cristin and her husband, Adam, live in Ridgway, Colorado, where she is presently teaching in the elementary school. She got her fine arts degree from at Southern Illinois University (SIU), where she met Adam, who is “a big part of my creative process,” Cristin says. A scientist and a biologist, Adam also teaches at the Ridgway school. He is also an artist; he does woodworking. Both are also physically fit and avid outdoors enthusiasts (helpful when it comes to plein air artistic endeavors, which often involves hiking to find the perfect painting location).

On her travels, usually accompanied by Adam, Cristin takes along a little backpack full of art supplies. She collects botanicals for her collaging and uses natural water for painting her landscapes, often bringing some of the water home with her to use later in her studio as a 50/50 blend with a gel medium on her collages.

At her home, plein air studio space, she works on her paintings and does her “morning pages” writing in her journal and making sketches from her sojourns. For this series of paintings of the full moon, she often worked in the evenings to capture the night sky. “Adam is a big part of my light sky love,” she notes. “We traveled back to SIU for the eclipse, and to the Black Canyon for another. Being outside, doing things together outside, is a thread that runs through everything we do.”

Spending time on the water is another common venture. We were sailors, kept a boat at Ridgway State Park. I kept a art kit on the boat so I could make sketches on the water. Sailing was something I did when I worked Outward Bound in Maine. Sailing in romantic. I love painting water and sailboats, the shore and the sky. I have a little kayak. I paddle up along shore, paint, dip my brush in the lake for my water source. I just entertain myself. Hours and hours go by and I am happily entertained with my creative process.”

“I have deep roots in that kind of fascination, artistic adventure and a sense of discovery. A big part of who I am is interacting with the natural world.”

Like many visual artists, she is also a musician. She sings with the Threshold Choir [related article] and plays the piano. “The piano taught me how to improve my art technique. Playing the piano is part of my artistic practice. I sit there and let chords come, create a  melodic composition. Often I put a painting I am working on, on my piano. It’s part of connecting—melodic plus visual composition.”

It’s an interesting juxtaposition, and one that fits with Cristin’s overall world view: her love of nature in all its incantations. She has found a way to transpose the magic she sees and feels in the natural world through her art.

Featured Artists & Shows

January.Marko Marino
February, Wine & Roses
.. Musician, Nick Carozza concert
March, Gary Ratcliff
..  Fiber Arts Exhibit
April, Joan Anderon
May, Tim Brady
June, Square Deal Fundraiser
July, Jeff Ellingson
Natalie Heller, solo show
The Rood Collection, 19th century art
September, Pat Jeffers, solo show
... Deb Barr, Singer/songwriter
October, MVAG
November, Clear Way of SeeingJulia Reid, Cristin Johnson, Jenny McIntyre
December, Cheri Isgreen, Solo Show
December, Bill Wilson & Apprentices
December, MVAG Miniature Show

February, Mike Simpson
March, Sheryl Williams
July Barbara Kendrick, pastel
October, Bonnie Heidbrak, photography
December - Mary Pat Ettinger, paintings

December, Virginia Blackstock


Opening Reception