Burning Questions: Artist Michael Chesley Johnson on Moby and More

In the newest issue of The Artist’s Magazine (September 2013, on newsstands now), Michael Chesley Johnson is featured in a landscape article titled “Poetry of Earth,” by Maureen Bloomfield. We’ve asked him a few just-for-fun questions–keep reading to discover more!

What’s the one color you can’t live without and why? “White” would be an obvious response (unless you’re a watercolorist, which I’m not) since you can’t adjust value properly without it, but I would have to say “blue.” Blue is everywhere in our world. It’s in the sky, it’s in the water, it’s in the shadows. I think a little bit of blue goes into nearly all my color mixtures. Some people have said that my paintings tend to have a generally cool cast to them, and perhaps that is why.

Riverdance, oil painting by Michael Chesley Johnson, Zion National Park

Johnson takes place in many juried plein air events. He painted Riverdance (oil, 9×12) at Zion National Park for an “In the Footsteps of Thomas Moran” event in 2012. “This is a backlit scene,” he says, “and though painting with the light behind you is hard on the eyes, I enjoy and paint many such scenes.”

Give us your bio, in 6 words. Southern roots, Yankee wannabee, thinking globally.

What are your plans for the fall? Every fall comes my annual migration from the Canadian Maritimes to the American Southwest. Along with the migration comes traveling workshops. This fall, I’ll be teaching workshops in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia, and Florida. The beauty of this plan is that I get to ride the crest of a wave of fall foliage south and west and follow the color changes.

Do you have a ritual that gets you primed for painting? Music is key. If I’m just getting started and not sure of my direction, I choose what is classified as ambient music. Lately, Valtari by the Icelandic group Sigur Rós has been helpful. Other music includes The Geese and the Ghost by Anthony Phillips, certain symphonies by Mahler, and some recent atmospheric work by Moby. Coffee used to help a lot, but I’m not allowed to have that anymore. Or chocolate. I miss them both.

Favorite author? I have many, especially among dead writers. But if there’s one living author I’ve followed over the years, it would be John McPhee. Author of The Pine Barrens, Basin and Range, The American Shad and other fine nonfiction books, he always finds something fascinating to say about anything. McPhee, I discovered, also spent summers as a child at a summer camp just down the road from where I lived in Vermont for many years. That created a personal connection for me, and so I’ve always looked for his latest book.

Mystery or sci-fi? I’m a voracious and eclectic reader. However, my heart is in science fiction. I even write it, that and fantasy. My claim to fame is a short story published in a Marion Zimmer Bradley anthology. I also recently self-published a sci-fi novel, DREAM SECTOR, under my pen name, Mac Braxton. Another novel, DOGS OF SPRING, is in the works.

Night owl or morning person? It’s gotten to be a joke among friends about how early I go to bed and how early I get up. Usually, I’m in bed by 7:00 to read, asleep by 8:00 and then up by 3:00. I must have some serious farmer genes. I remember my grandparents getting up about that time to milk cows. My most productive and creative time is early in the day, and if I don’t get started early, things just won’t get done.

Read “Poetry of Earth” in the September 2013 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. And, learn more about Michael Chesley Johnson at www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com.

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