August 7, 2012 | 10:10 a.m.
By Michelle Westlund, Communication Specialist
Professor of Art Dale Johnson retired from Bethel after 42 years of teaching and mentoring countless art students. His final exhibition, Drawing into Painting, took place in Bethel’s Olson Gallery April 2 through May 26, and an exhibition closing party and retirement celebration were held on May 11.
Johnson served as professor of art at Bethel University from 1970 to 2012. He completed a Master of Fine Arts in painting at Michigan State University, studying with Angelo Ippolito. For the next 40-some years, he combined teaching, travel, and the development of his own considerable creative gifts. He designed traveling art courses to the Dominican Republic, where he used Altos de Chavon School of Design as a base, teaching cultural history along with developing a series of paintings and drawings. In Italy, he bicycled in the countryside around Florence and local fishing villages, staying in Catholic convents while teaching painting. For 18 years, he taught painting during the summers at the Minnesota Institute for Talented Youth at Macalester College, St. Paul. Johnson’s own paintings are represented in numerous museum, corporate, and private collections.
“Anyone who has had coffee or sat through a meeting with Dale Johnson knows that his hand is in near-constant motion drawing,” write Wayne Roosa and Jeffrey Wetzig, Bethel art professors and colleagues of Johnson. “Not doodling, like most of our hands, but drawing…What this near stream of consciousness activity indicates is more than restless distraction. What it indicates is that for Johnson, drawing is truly a mode of experience, thought, and mediation.”
The exhibition Drawing into Painting was a rare glimpse into Johnson’s drawings and practice. “Very often,” explain Roosa and Wetzig, “drawing is treated as only the background or peripheral activity to finished painting. But at least in Johnson’s case, a retrospective look makes it clear that drawing is a major and central component of his life’s work.” The exhibition explored four recurring themes in Johnson’s work: the figure, landscape, abstraction, and the ice shanty.
Johnson has had a profound impact on the way his students think about color, beauty, and the world around them. His deep faith sustains and inspires him, says close friend and fellow artist Robert Michmerhuizen. “It is a joyous catalyst for his creative drive and a bedrock of his very being,” Michmerhuizen explains. “It pervades his teaching of Bethel University students. This force has helped him become the artist that he is.”
Based on their more than 40 years of friendship and collaboration, Michmerhuizen summarizes Johnson’s exceptional nature as an artist and a person: “In an era when fine art often consists only of wordy concepts or the capricious placement of accidental elements, Dale Johnson is a traditional painter. His technical skills have evolved to the point where he is no longer dependent upon formal procedural process; pigment flows like automatic writing from his brush. But technical skills produce only physical marks. Dale Johnson’s art is much more. It comes from a lifetime of experience, filtered through his eyes, his mind, his heart, and his memory, and, as with all true artists, it finally reveals as much of his very soul as we are likely to see.”