Everything is a canvas… with permission

by Keith Barber

Mary Johnston has a wicked sense of humor, and she shares it with everyone who moves into her orbit. Johnston likes to joke that she enrolled in nursing school because she was embarrassed by the fact she was making so much money as an artist.

“In other words I was broke,” Johnston said, laughing. “While I was waiting to get into the nursing program, I started grabbing random items from furniture to décor to anything I could make something out of and repurposing, using mixed media, and it started to sell.”

Johnston’s success repurposing everyday objects led to her decision to delay her nursing career and pursue her passion.

“Once in a while I will walk out of my carport into my driveway and someone will have left these really neat items for me — random chairs and just décor,” Johnston said. “Even the canvas that I’ve found, I’ve repurposed, sprayed, treated and used the mixed media on it.”

Almost any item can be transformed into a work of art, Johnston said.

“If someone stands still long enough in my presence, they’re going to be painted,” she said with a laugh.

Johnston’s mother was a painter and fine Book Writers and Illustrators, Johnston still artist, so when young Mary began drawing draws cartoon frames, but her space at Art- cartoons as a child, she’s certain her mother mongerz is mostly filled with her mixed-media was appalled. Nonetheless, Johnston’s family abstract works. always encouraged her to keep making art. One of Johnston’s mixed media works poses “Every time I picked up a pen or pencil, I the question, “What does girl mean?” — a was drawing something. I didn’t know what it work that expresses the artist’s feelings about was but I was drawing something,” Johnston what it means to be a woman. said. “I think my big thing when it comes to Johnston described another one of her mixed this is to completely demystify that idea of media works as a self-portrait. Using a photo- what an artist is — how they act, what they graph of herself, Johnston created a stencil that look like. Because a lot of people are like, ‘I she recreated in different aspects on the canvas. don’t understand it,’ and you don’t have to.” “You see the different personalities that Johnston said you don’t have to be a Gug- come through,” she said. “How do I feel? Do I genheim or a Kennedy to appreciate art. have a specific body type or look that I’m going “Anything is a canvas and anyone can ap- for because I think I’m supposed to or because preciate art,” she said. I want to?” Earlier this week, Johnston stood in her Repurposing objects has a greater signifi- studio space at Artmongerz and pointed out cance for Johnston. repurposed items such as two hand saws, a “It’s another thing on social commentary to toolbox and an antique mirror. say, ‘Think before you throw that away. You Johnston explained that she creates her own can reuse that,’” she said.

stencils out of recycled cereal boxes and uses With her trademark smile, Johnston shared spray paint to create abstract lines and designs. another philosophical gem. She utilizes acrylics to give her works a high- “Everything is a canvas with permission,” gloss sheen that also protects and preserves she said. “Because I don’t want some 11-year- each item. old saying, ‘This lady in the magazine said I A member of the Society for Children’s could paint your car.’ Uh, no.”

wanna go?

Mary Johnston’s work is on display downtown Greensboro. For at Artmongerz, 610 S. Elm St. in further info, call 336.389.0398.