Spiritual in Nature: Art of Verlena Johnson


Self Portrait, Raven and the Owl


The halos in her work echo and conjure up the ethereal, ancestral strength and intuition that is female.  It is spiritual and diverse and its essence is recognized by eyes that seek insight. Garden Spices celebrates and honors the work of Verlena Johnson.  Gate open. – Victorine


“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Audre Lorde

I am a multimedia artist. My artwork includes drawing, painting, sculpture, puppetry, performance and video. Oftentimes my art is figurative and conveys a narrative.  I am interested in the psychological and emotional possibilities of portraits and exploring the gaze and the subjectivity of my figures, as well as, interrogating blackness, whiteness, gender and sexuality.  

Much of my artwork explores topics that are spiritual in nature and serves as a mechanism to manifest more love, more abundance and more peace in my life and in the lives of others.  At it’s core, much of my artwork is about transformation and healing.  A common symbol found in my work are halos.  I have taken the halo as a symbol found in early European and North and East African paintings and used them to more generally symbolize divinity and our connectedness with the Universe (or Love). 

I have been greatly inspired by a broad range of genres, styles and philosophical approaches to artmaking, i.e., Comix Art, Pop Art, “Outsider Art,” and Abstract Expressionism.  I have also found great inspiration in mysticism, spirituality, feminism, queer theory and popular culture.

The Healer Side #2, 2021

Self-Portrait with Feather

I Am Trusting, 2020

Meditation, Self Portrait, 2019

BLISS, 2021

Manifesting Happiness, 2021                                                                                                                                              

Verlena L. Johnson

Verlena L. Johnson was born in Chicago and grew up in Madison and Beloit Wisconsin. 

She earned an M.F.A. from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Sculpture.  Verlena’s M.F.A. thesis project entitled “Witness to Whiteness, a multi-media puppet performance and video installation, explores the social construction of whiteness and maleness and her location within these constructs as an African American multiracial lesbian.

Verlena has also studied wood carving with Ghanaian Master Wood-carvers, Djam Vivie & Kwakou Gerai, as well as, at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft and Penland School of Craft.

She has exhibited her artwork in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland and beyond.  Her artwork has appeared on the cover of the book Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison and the journal Sinister Wisdom. 

Verlena has taught studio art and art history to children and adults in community centers and colleges.  Verlena began teaching in 1992 and has taught on and off for the last 25 years.  She has taught studio art, art history and cultural studies to children and adults in various contexts.  Her community-based teaching includes Insight Arts and Gallery 37 (Chicago, IL). The Arts Council of Long Beach (Long Beach, CA), and the Poly Cal Down Town Center Summer Arts Academy, (Pomona, CA).  Verlena has also taught African American art history and visual culture in Chicago, IL at The Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College.  

Additionally, Verlena has given numerous presentations and workshops on topics ranging from her artwork to racial/cultural identity.

See full Bio and contact information at: Verlena Johnson’s Welbiste.

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