The theme this year for Women’s History Month, organized by the National Women’s History Alliance, is “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope” and what better way to show this than to highlight one of our remarkable alumna Rochelle Johnson, who uses art as a therapeutic outlet to express her experiences and voice. She said, “I get moody if I’m not creating. Things just don’t go the way they should.”
Her journey to pursuing art full time is one she hopes will inspire the next generation, as she didn’t initially start her education in art school. She attended the University of Arkansas, where she began studying computer science. While she was there, she quickly found her love for art and returned to Denver to study illustration at RMCAD.
From there, Johnson’s career led her to work in Seattle as a freelance graphic designer and also as an employee for the Bar Association, where she helped discipline attorneys. “It was kind of off my path, but it also helped keep me on my path because it helped me realize what I wanted to do,” said Johnson. She moved back to Denver, and in 2009, she seriously began working as a contemporary oil painter.
Ever since, her journey has been nothing short of powerful. Johnson paints what is familiar to her, “I wanted to talk about something that was familiar to me, the person that I am – a Black female. I wanted to talk about that and my journey.” She portrays this in the group series “From This Day Forward” and also in her latest series “Blue World,” where she uses the color blue to create a neutral setting for her audience to learn more about her experiences as a Black female.
“I painted the figures blue because I wanted to talk about the marginalization that I had to go through and I am still going through as a Black woman,” said Johnson. “The color blue is an uplifting color, it represents strength, royalty, wisdom and spirituality. I am using blue as a neutral color, so you can come to the painting without bias and see it for what it is.”
Johnson wants individuals to come to all of her paintings with this viewpoint. “I don’t want to tell them what the painting is about,” said Johnson. “I want them to see what is important to them.”
She encourages the next generation of creatives to keep the truth alive in their work, which is something she has learned and admired herself from artists before her, like Loïs Mailou Jones. Jones helped transform the arena during the Black Arts Movement and painted the Black narrative in a new way. “I admired her for that, for switching it up. I think as artists, we don’t necessarily have to stay on one path,” Johnson said.
Johnson was also inspired by Elizabeth Catlett, a Black female sculptor, who was known to encourage artists to pursue art careers full time. “I wish I would have gone straight from school and continued on without working,” Johnson recalls about her journey. Her biggest advice for the next generation of artists is – “If you are serious about it, don’t give up!”
To learn more about Rochelle Johnson and her inspirational work, please visit her website or follow along on Instagram. Her work has been featured across Colorado, including the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and will be on display in Greeley, CO in April 2022.
If you are a RMCAD alumnus and would like to share your story, please contact Career and Alumni Services!