Rochelle Johnson brings ‘Urban Life’ to Basalt’s Art Base
Denver artist Rochelle Johnson had always found inspiration from the people in her neighborhood, but then her neighborhood changed.
“My work really centers around the black narrative,” she said. “So, what I’m showing mainly is the ‘Urban Life’ series, and it consists of just people that I found interesting around my neighborhood, before gentrification. And how I’m dealing and grappling with the aftermath of that, how I’m connecting with my new neighbors, and if there’s a connection there. I found that it was tough.”
She is bringing her “Urban Life” series to The Art Base in Basalt for their inaugural RedLine pARTnership. Johnson, who was former RedLine artist in residence, will be exhibiting works for a solo exhibition in the Alpenglow Exhibition Space Feb. 7-March 3 and will be here for the opening reception on Friday from 5-7 p.m.
In 2005, her artwork was featured on the cover of the novel “When a Sistah’s Fed Up,” previously on Essence’s Top 10 List. Johnson has been published in several journals. Today, she continues to develop her style of storytelling through painting from her Denver studio and has also added to her accomplishment as curator. In 2017, she curated “Inclusion: Diverse Voices of the Modern West” at the McNichols Civic Center Building in Denver, and n December 2018, “The Search Within: Daughters of the Diaspora” at the Western Colorado Center of the Art in Grand Junction.
She is currently working on her MFA from Lesley University in Cambridge and hopes to start an organization that solely focuses on black artists and getting them prepared for the fine-art institutions and galleries because “that’s where they can really get noticed.”
She grew up in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver, which she described as “one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Colorado in the ‘70s and ‘80s” and she remembers that though there was a certain amount of segregation, neighbors of different backgrounds came together at the grocery store and had to get along.
She eventually moved to Five Points, a traditionally black community at the center of the jazz and blues scene in Denver from the 1930s through ’50s.
“Before gentrification, it was the older women around the Five Points district, and it was basically a black business district,” she said. “You could go to a shop, and the older woman would gossip about who did this and who did that, and that’s how you got your news. So, my work is mostly portraits. Or what I call full-flicker portraits of what was going on before the neighborhood changed.”
She has been drawing for as long as she can remember, noting she used to draw things she saw in National Geographic before focusing on her neighbors. But she didn’t call herself an artist until she realized she had enough skill to make a living out of it.
She acknowledged that since the neighborhood has changed, she has “lost her subject matter,” but her work maintains an optimistic outlook she contributes to being raised in the black church, where love was preached and followed.
“You know, we got to love our neighbors. We got to come together, and it’s kind of hard to do right now because we are so divided,” she said.
These days, Johnson is turning that love and positivity onto herself and other black bodies in her latest “Blue World” series.
“I’m talking more about myself and how I go through life being a marginalized human and being vulnerable. I found out it is not anything to be ashamed of,” she said. “I’m trying to make a statement that hopefully everyone can see themselves in my work. And I just love the human form. You know, I love painting people.”