Reader review: Johanson’s green eye focuses on night insects


April 25th, 2012

Omaha, NE – If You Build It They Will Come: A Contemporary Ecological Survey in Omaha shows local artist Heather Johanson’s intimate and delicate artistic eye as she witnesses and cultivates her Dundee habitat.

Heather Johanson in her Dundee garden. (Photo courtesy Les Femmes Folles)

When Claude Monet saw the village of Giverny looking out a train window, he was so inspired he rented a house and eventually bought it, developing the area into the now famous Giverny house and gardens from which he painted many celebrated images of flowers, bridges, water and landscapes.

When Omaha-based artist Heather Johanson moved into her Dundee home in 2008 she was intrigued with the plants themselves but also with what they attracted—insects, specifically, those that come out at night.

Her current exhibit at Birdhouse Collectible showcases drawings and paintings of these tiny bugs she has observed over the last three years.

Johanson said she’s interested “in night flying insects because they are mysterious, less known and less valued,” Johanson added she is also fascinated by the seduction part of the process. To attract the night fliers, she uses plants that give off certain pollinating scents. Sometimes she will set out a black light to speed up the appeal.

By Heather Johanson, (Photo courtesy Birdhouse Collectible)

The result are very delicate, detailed some hyper-realistic images of these minuscule creatures. “Night Flying Insects, 2009-2012” is perhaps the showcase piece. Over 20 or 30 different types of insects are shown scattered on a white page, painted with acrylic and gouache. The extreme precision and attention to detail from the size, to color and form gives testament to Johanson’s passion for her subjects and also deep curiosity.

Conversely, in “It All Started in the Garden,” the largest piece of gouache on paper, is reminiscent more of Monet’s impressionistic style—also exhibiting her love for the insects with a few of them strumming around the dark environment, but more abstractly. It, too, seems to be taking place at night, with a rich blue iridescent background, with shimmers of white and violet flowers and their light green stems popping up. The darkest spots of blue almost seem to form eyes peaking out at you from behind the shadows.

"Night Flying Insects, 2009-2012" by Heather Johanson. (Photo courtesy Birdhouse Collectible)

In other pieces like “Parasitic Wasps” she also seems to look at the darker aspects of insect’s life and even how it relates to ours. Here she draws in heavily detailed graphite and screen print on paper the wasp and moth caterpillars, one probably after the other. The background, instead of blank, is covered with the words “The World is Not Safe” in yellow over and over again. The message isolated only on two pieces proves very poignant in the show that otherwise seems to celebrate nature. These two pieces remind us of the looming darkness that’s always around in the dark and in the light.

The artist would also like to promote general environmental awareness and appreciation for nature as population grows and perhaps more pressures are put on the planet and all its inhabitants. She continues to work in her lawn with plants that “seduce, are interesting and beautiful” to witness the plants’ and inhabitants’ evolution.

Witness Heather Johanson’s green eye in If You Build It They Will Come: A Contemporary Ecological Survey in Omaha at Birdhouse Collectible through May 4. The artist will give a talk Saturday, April 28 at 2pm at the Gallery.

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