A Denver native who grew up in Park Hill, Rochelle Johnson has her thumb on the pulse of the local African-American community. In turn, that’s inspired her as an artist: most specifically, the everyday interactions she’s observed between people of different origins as her neighborhood goes through gentrification. A graduate of the Rocky Mountain School of Art + Design, Johnson has developed a lovely and matter-of-fact view of the people around her as a painter, and a fierce desire to raise opportunities for black artists in galleries.
Much as she approaches her subject matter as a painter, Johnson isn’t so much polemical about bringing positive change as she is down-to-earth. Follow along as she sorts out her own quiet pathway by answering the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Rochelle Johnson: I’m inspired by whatever idea comes into my mind when I least expect it. My muse comes at different times, and I always pay attention to it. If I don’t, it will find someone else.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
I would love to party with Lois Mailou Jones, Jacob Lawrence and Toni Morrison. The first two, who were painters, I looked to for inspiration in my early years. Both navigated their creativity in a world that was hostile to them. And Toni Morrison because I would love to ask more about her journey as a writer.
What made you pick up a paintbrush in the first place?
I wanted to express myself in a medium I found sensual, to relay what I found beautiful.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
I found that the local creative community embraced me with open arms. The worst thing is that we all have our own journeys, which makes it hard to stay in contact with everyone.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
I grew up here. This is my home, and currently in my life I want to be close to my family.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Denver needs to highlight people of color who are living in the city through gallery representation. I feel there is a lack of gallery representation specifically for black artists.
What’s your dream project?
Right now I’m focused on receiving the Creative Capital Grant for a project I proposed to highlight African-Americans in cities where black subject matter has a lower presence and visibility. I’d like to see them be better represented in galleries so the general public can find a more inclusive representation of all. To me, Colorado is lacking in that area.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
There are so many that I can’t name one. I believe if you have the balls to be a creative, I applaud you.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
I plan to keep painting and to see where it leads me.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
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I don’t know if I can answer that question...or let me put it this way: I’m rooting for us all. I think there is room for all of us.
Rochelle Johnson’s collaboration with Sylvia Montero will be included in the summer exhibition PinkProgression: Collaborations, opening on June 4 and running through August 23 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada.
Johnson’s interpretation of “Fear” as one element of Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms painting series will be unveiled at History Colorado, 1200 Broadway, as part of the museum’s Colorado Day celebration on August 1.