Johnson’s collection features energized artwork

Christian Shepherd
Staff Writer

Dion Johnson, director of art galleries and distinguished artist at the University of La Verne, is exhibiting a collection of his own artwork titled “Feel the Sky – A Ten Year Survey,” at Azusa Pacific University.

The title of the exhibition comes from the largest of his paintings in the exhibit, “Feel the Sky,” which Johnson completed in 2014.

The piece spans over 12 feet long and demonstrates an array of different colors and shapes. The abstract artwork emphasizes hard edges, solid colors and line curvature.

“There is an energy that goes across the room from canvas to canvas,” Johnson said about the acrylic and watercolor pieces throughout the exhibition that was 10 years in the making. “I want the paintings that sit still on the wall to feel energized with movement.”

Johnson uses the two largest sections of color in the piece, a contrasting duet of dark and light blues, to symbolize the shifting color of the sky as it moves through the day.

Johnson did not organize the show chronologically.

Instead, he chose a structure that he believes focuses on arousing an emotional response within the viewer.

The first piece in the show is a watercolor painting titled, “Edge 2008.”

In “Dion Johnson: Feel the Sky: A Ten-Year Retrospective,” an online tour with Eric Minh Swenson, Johnson said that it was an experimental piece that served as the spring board for the rest of the collection and features only three colors: blue, orange and yellow.

“Giving myself simple rules of using three colors, working from top to bottom and (with) bold colors really created a new energy in the picture,” Johnson said in the same tour with Swenson.

“Instead of a narrative, it’s more about sensations,” he said.

“The color choices he used were something I never would have thought of,” said Josephine Jimenez, production assistant for the department of art and design.

“It was all systematically beautiful in a way I never would have thought of myself,” she said.

As a visiting artist for APU, Johnson provides graduate students criticism on their work.

He also answers questions about his own work and the process he goes through.

Jon Leaver, chairman of the art department at ULV, said that Johnson’s expertise as a practicing artist is one of his biggest assets to students.

“He is very much a part of the Los Angeles contemporary art scene,” Leaver said.

“He gives our students incredible access to what’s going on in the contemporary art world,” he said.

Johnson said that one of the unique techniques that he employs is his use of tools not traditionally associated with fine art.

Instead of paintbrushes, he opts instead for masking tape, stencils, spray guns, or other instruments that are more likely to be found at a hardware store than an art shop.

“I think that his art definitely has a different look or feel to what I would usually expect to see at an art gallery,” said Ashley Osburn, adjunct professor for the School of Nursing at APU.

“I really like this style of art and it has definitely made me more aware that art that is simple and clean can be just as emotional as something more complex,” she said.

“Feel the Sky” will be on display in the Duke Art Gallery at APU until March 2.

Christian Shepherd can be reached at

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