West Salem student artist Abby Johnson

Tobias Mann – Coulee Courier, La Crosse Tribune Suburban Weekly Papers
April 13, 2017


West Salem High School senior Abby Johnson’s artwork stands apart as a mixture of abstract and realism.

Abby Johnson’s artistic works are on display in the Marie W. Heider Center lobby. She is West Salem’s art student of the month for April.

The honor is bestowed upon student’s whose works exceed expectations.

“She has been experimenting with different forms and mixed media ever since she got to the high school.” West Salem High School art instructor Quenten Brown said. “I felt that she should be rewarded for all of the hard work she has been doing, and the best way to do that would be to give her her own little exhibit.”

Johnson said she was proud of the honor.

“I feel that being art student of the month really showcases all of my hard work that I have put in over the last four years,” she said.

Many of her pieces are meticulously crafted.

“The great thing that happens with Abby is that she is a true artist in that she will experiment with a lot of different materials,” Brown said. “The stuff that we see in the gallery is the representation of the many many media that she has experimented with.

“There are a lot of pieces that never get displayed,” he added.

Johnson derives inspiration from the people who influence her life. Sometimes the subjects of her work are close friends and sometimes they are famous musicians or actors whose words or lyrics have captured her attention.

A series of Johnson’s works depict actor Heath Ledger and artists Katy Perry and Adele.

These works were assembled with carefully placed dots of gray and black paint. Up close these dots form a cloud that in which the artist can be vaguely made out, but from a distance, the dots come together to form a concrete image.

Johnson described this process as similar to stippling, but on a large scale. Stippling is a process of shading using the point of a pen or pencil to place dots. The more dots and closer they are together the darker the shading.

While most of her works are completed relatively quickly, these works took considerably longer.

Johnson spent weeks working on a similar work of art depicting Frieda Kahlo, a Mexican artist whose works explored native folk art Mexican pop culture and surrealism.

“Frieda Kahlo has always been an inspiration to me,” she said.

The portrait was constructed using beads of various shapes and sizes glued together to form a collage in the likeness of Kahlo and many of Kahlo’s self-portraits.

“I like to use unconventional materials,” Johnson said.

She said for her art is a release.

“I find enjoyment and I find peace when I am doing paintings it is kind of life my therapy,” Johnson said.

From an early age, Johnson was enamored with art.

“I got started as an artist because my mom is an art teacher,” Johnson said.

Her mother, Angie Hemker, provided her with the foundation for her passion.

“Ever since I younger I really liked picking up a paintbrush or picking up a pencil, and I would start drawing whatever came to mind,” Johnson said.

This love of art has followed her all throughout school career. The teen is an active member of the West Salem Visual Arts.

Johnson also turned her passion for art to helping others this winter when she used her senior exit project to raise money to fight hunger, working with Empty Bowls to raise money for a local food pantry.

Brown said Johnson is one of the leaders of the art department, someone students look up to.

“She is fearless. She is not afraid to try and fail to make a piece,” he said. “As we get older, we tend to get a little more fearful. Art is the one place where a student like Abby can experiment and have fun.”

As her high school career comes to a close Johnson has turned her attention to college. She plans to pursue a career in art therapy or sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Johnson’s work will be on display in the Heider Center lobby until the end of the month.

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