Michele Johnsen is a painter based in northern New Hampshire. A retired art teacher, artist/mother, and artist/grandmother, Michele has been a longstanding influence on my own life since we met in the low-residency MFA at the New Hampshire Institute of Art (class of ‘17!). I’m as excited to share this conversation as I was to have it.
Michele has found bottomless inspiration in the magic of the natural landscape since she was a child. While she was artistic from an early age, she (and many women of her generation) was not necessarily encouraged to go to college after marrying out of highschool and having her first child at 21, moving to northern New Hampshire to homestead was both an opportunity to build a creative career for herself through word of mouth and immerse herself in the majestic scenery from which she draws so much artistic energy.
We discuss Michele’s conceptual development as an artist as stemming from a foundational interest in the endless variations of light on the world around us. Pursuing her MFA later in life pushed her to think through “painting for painting’s sake” as well as to contemplate what compels us individually to be artists and make meaning through our media. We also talk about the role of her work in preserving the landscape around her under threat by corporate development projects, the spatial and social marginalization of rural artists in the face of artistic epicenters like New York, and the immense value of connecting with people at different stages of their lives through accessible community building like what we experienced through our MFA. But perhaps most importantly, Michele’s work serves as a beautiful reminder to reinvest in our natural environment and its stewardship for future generations.