Artist Roger Hayden Johnson captures human experience in boat paintings at Raitman Galleries
Editor’s note: This story appears as a paid feature in Art magazine.
Roger Hayden Johnson has painted just about everything, from complex yachts and European buildings to landscapes and portraits. But for the last six years, he has concentrated on painting one simple form: small fishing boats, or skiffs.
Through Jan. 12, Raitman Art Galleries in the Vail Village is showcasing Johnson’s Winter Exhibition. The artist will make two appearances on Sunday, Dec. 28 and Sunday, Jan. 3.
Small boats, big stories
Johnson’s paintings sweep people into his extensive travels through Europe and the Mediterranean islands. The details, colors, light, contemplative feeling and stories found within his oil paintings hold a world of intrigue for viewers to explore.
“I try to find boats with history that show the wear of nature, time and the weather and are repaired in an informal, improvised way,” he said. “I want them very simple and humble; that’s what I relate to better.”
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He avoids American boats, which are usually in very good condition, in favor of damaged skiffs in areas like Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and the Mediterranean. There, he captures each detail: chipped paint, sun-bleached colors and light reflecting off the water.
“I try to show what I’ve seen: the effects of the climate, the hand of the man that was rowing the boat and repairing it. I see the life of the fisherman,” he said. “I try to get the viewer to feel what I feel: peaceful.”
When Johnson first began painting the boats, he focused upon the reflections of the vessels in the water. These days, he zeros in on the boat itself.
“I make it look isolated in a large expanse of water with nothing to distract from what I’m trying to show, which is all the particularities,” he said.
He also used to frame them in ornate, 9-inch wide gold-leafed frames, but two years ago he started gallery wrapping them, so water seems to spill over on all sides.
“That opened up the paintings and made them more contemporary and more peaceful and more evocative,” he said, adding that it allows viewers to put themselves in the situation easier. “I’m constantly trying to figure out ways not to distract from the boat.”
For instance, he never paints horizons because they draw viewers’ eyes and pull them “far away,” rather than intimately into the boat, its details, its history and ultimately, the story that lies within the skiffs. Even though he never paints humans in his boats, they all contain a strong human element.
“What I’m interested in is the hand of man,” he said.
He compares his paintings to Chinese scholar’s rocks — natural stones weathered into incredible shapes and placed in gardens or used as focal points in meditation.
“The scholars contemplate the shapes and effects of time and nature, which is exactly what I want these boats to portray and read a hard life on the sea and read the presence of the man in the boat, a man who constructed it, painted it and is constantly repairing it,” he said. “It’s like a story to me.”
Interacting with art
Just as Johnson hopes people will explore the stories held within his small skiffs, Brian and Ross Raitman strive to present art that helps people connect with the environment.
“Art is transformative, both in terms of aesthetics and personally,” co-owner Ross Raitman said. “It adds color, warmth and a personal touch. On a personal level, art can take a viewer to anywhere they want to be or to mold their mood. …I love being able to provide that experience.”
As such, Raitman Galleries designed their space to help viewers relax and consider one piece at a time on clean, uncluttered walls, just as they would in their own homes.
“When you walk around the corner, there are artistic discoveries to make,” co-owner Brian Raitman said. “You get lost in the story the artist is trying to tell. When you enter that new room, you’re on an adventure.”
If you go …
What: Roger Hayden Johnson Winter Exhibition
Where: Raitman Galleries, 223 Gore Creek Drive, Vail
When: Through Jan. 12
Cost: Free to view the work
More information: The artist will be at the gallery to meet patrons and discuss his work on Sunday, Dec. 28 and Sunday, Jan. 3. For more information, visit http://www.raitmanart.com