Painting political perspectives

Posted: Thursday, January 09, 2003

The idea of what constitutes art has been continually expanding since early man first started painting on cave walls. Since that time, the term "art" has evolved to include creations that are not just decorative, but that serve religious, structural, social and functional purposes as well.

Don Johnson of Soldotna has created a painting in the style of another sphere of art -- political commentary.

Johnson's 16-inch by 20-inch black and white watercolor painting is part of a collection he is developing that expresses his political views about what he calls the "resident-nonresident" issue in Alaska.

"People somehow get the idea that people who live here should have more privileges than people who don't live here," Johnson said. "... I believe we should probably offer our residents some type of a break when it comes to recreational access, but I don't think we should grant the massive breaks we are."

That mentality leads to distinctions being made between residents and nonresidents, where the two are categorized and are assigned different rights and rates for access, like with fishing licenses, Johnson said.

"That's historically how critics have looked at it," he said. "I look at it more from an American perspective. I don't believe that it's a concept of America to break our citizens down like that."

Johnson wanted to express his sentiments through an artistic medium. To do so, he likened the resident-nonresident issue to the historic segregation of blacks in America. He based the design for his painting on a segregation propaganda piece that is in the Library of Congress. In his painting, Johnson copied the design from the original piece and kept the black and white color scheme but changed the wording in the sign to read "nonresident" instead of "colored."

"It brings it back to (the segregation in the) '30s and '40s," Johnson said. "Instead of doing it to the resident-nonresident issue, they were doing it to the blacks and whatever else culture wasn't the 'in' culture at the time. Now everybody sees that as strange and weird. But now they're doing the same thing to the resident-nonresident issue.

"... There's a lot of people that don't agree with that mentality that you can compare the segregation issue to the resident issue, but I know a few people who do."

Creating this kind of art was a new experience for Johnson.

"I've done a half dozen paintings, mostly wildlife-related," he said. "This is my first attempt into the political statement through artistry. It's a political subject."

The painting is on display in Johnson Brothers' Fishing Guides and Outfitters store in Soldotna, but Johnson hopes to find a more public place to display it so it reaches more viewers.

"It's an attempt to make people consider the gravity of the direction they're heading with regards to the issue of resident and nonresidents. I think a lot of people have basically sloughed it off. I think with this I've turned it into a magnifying glass to focus on the issue."

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