In addition to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s sponsorship of this year’s ArtPrize, the Grand Rapids downtown office will also become host to one of the entries. Artist, Michael Johnson, will be displaying his entry, “Each of our children has a gift,” in the BCBSM display on Monroe Center downtown.
ArtPrize is a great resource for the community and the artists involved. Art itself boasts a number of different benefits to a person’s life. Johnson is proof of that fact as he has used art his entire life as a way to express himself and persevere through any limitations having Down Syndrome may bring.
Johnson, 41 now, began creating art through drawing when he was ten years old. As his mother, Robin, remembers, “We converted his wood working bench into a drawing table with a roll of butcher paper fastened to the side and magic markers and pencils to draw with…Michael produced endless landscapes on a single scroll.”
He participated in programs like Young Evanston Artists (YEA) where students exhibit at different venues around the city. After Johnson graduated from his school, he began painting every day and building his skill through practice and self-teaching. Johnson is known for his use of bright colors, flowers, and trees. He uses watercolors, acrylics, and oil paints to create his pieces.
“The space you see in the video is our apartment. We live in the gallery and the studio, surrounded by Michael’s art. We live in Michael’s happy and colorful world. He works every day, long hours, blissfully happy, listening to music, absorbed in his craft and jobs,” says Robin.
Though Johnson often meets challenges in his work, he continues to create new techniques and adapt through his difficulties. At his age, when other adults with Down Syndrome might show symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Johnson is fully present in his life and his work as an artist. Due to his dedication to art, he has developed characteristics like fine motor coordination, strength, and stamina.
Art is as essential to Johnson’s day to day as breathing. He is able to use his creations as a way to communicate his vision and his feelings to others. As a result, Johnson’s community recognizes him less and less as someone with a disability, but as someone with talent and a real presence in the art community and industry.
Robin reiterates, “For the first time the public might be amazed by the mastery of his craft, use of new technology, his imagination, ability to create whimsy, use of color, patterns, and textures, or his insistent revelations about how it feels to live with a disability.”
Johnson lives in Illinois and as a result of the innovation of ArtPrize he is able to follow the action of the competition online, allowing him to feel included without traveling to West Michigan. “ArtPrize is Michael’s change to be included with his peers. ArtPrize gives Michael a chance to connect with the general public and to give them a new perspective, to broaden their horizons, to eliminate some stereotypes, and to share his ideas and feelings about the importance of self-determination, art education, and inclusion,” summarizes Robin.
How has art impacted your life?
Photo credit: Michael Johnson