The Hand of Man

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I have felt extremely anxious about hanging these five illustrations; I’m not sure why. Perhaps I’m not feeling good about this work because I became sick right after starting, and got a little sidetracked when I was finally able to get back to it again.  The pieces are hanging, regardless, at RiverRead as of December 2nd – First Friday – through the end of the month.

Sadly, I received notice that RiverRead will permanently close their doors on January 31, 2017. Several reasons were cited for the closing, but I suspect Amazon is highest on the list. RiverRead has been kind to me; they have hosted my work twice. My first show at the bookstore was “Story Hats.”   I will miss the little shop greatly.

Here is the write-up:

Each of he five 12” x 18” watercolor illustrations in the series “The Hand of Man: Things Left Out” tells a surreal story imagined by visual artist Anni Johnson during a recent trip to Alaska. Anni handmade deckled paper to complement the drawings, and the images she created were rendered using photo reference material taken in Alaska with her iPhone. There are words from Emily Dickinson included in the illustrations to imbibe Anni’s visual stories with the quirky natural phenomena found in Dickinson’s poetry. The titles reveal the Dickinson poem used if one references Thomas H. Johnson’s edited collection “The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson”; however, the poems are handwritten, in their entirety, on the backside of each image. Of the work, Anni says: “In Alaska, viewers can begin to sense how small and insignificant they are while standing in the shadow of a towering rock cliff or sailing above the depths of Bering Sea, an eerie feeling of being connected to a vast endlessness can flood the senses. Freud likened this surreal experience to ‘an infantile lack of an ‘I’’: he could not make the leap with his friend French essayist Romain Rolland to call the ‘Oceanic Feeling’ they passionately debated an ‘article of faith.’ I think this connection to our environment is, too often, left out of human considerations in the name of progress at the expense of our precious natural resources. (This subject has been passionately and professionally broached in the National Geographic documentary “Before the Flood” featuring Leonardo DiCaprio.)  Perhaps this is because not enough decision-makers get out of their sterile offices. They don’t get out from behind their computers to spend time in nature, to try to reconnect with what can be called, per neuropsychologists, ‘primal consciousness,’ to glean certain ‘truths’ as scientist Carl Sagan explained: ‘The cosmos is with us. We are made of star stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.’ Reading Emily Dickinson, even though she never traveled far from her home in Amherst, M.A.,  I feel she would understand completely.”

As always, thank you! for reading.

Best – Anni

Picture and a Poem

Today, as I framed the five watercolor  illustrations I painted for a December show at RiverRead, a local bookstore,  it dawned on me that I never posted the last painting in the collection.

This watercolor caribou is from a photo I took at Chena Hot Springs, A.K. earlier this year. He was such a sad, shy fellow that he turned his face from me every time I tried to take his photograph. He was being kept in a spot that seemed hidden, out of the way. Maybe he didn’t get along well with the other deer, or maybe it was because he wasn’t as attractive to look at with clumps of hair remaining from the last molt. His eye just seemed to look right through me.

Like the other illustration from this collection that I posted previously, there is an Emily Dickinson poem penned around the image. She never titled her poems, so we start reading them with no introduction.

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself—
Finite infinity.

I think the “polar privacy” fits this caribou. And the poem carries a mood that seems to fit my “Oceanic” theme.

I’ll post a picture of the installed pieces after they are hung tomorrow. I’ll also post the write-up that was written for RiverRead’s newsletter.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think.

Best – Anni



In An Abyss’s Face

Here’s the 3rd piece in my Alaska series. I’m giving each illustration a title from an Emily Dickinson poem. I liked letting the holes do their own thing, while making this piece of paper. I think it will look nice mounted on black mat board.


What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far –
A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar

The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.

Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands near the sea –
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray

But nature is a stranger yet:
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.

Part Deux: More Surrealism


This is part two of my Alaska trip illustrations – planned  to be surreal images.  I think, maybe, this drawing has something to do with a dream image of the whale as a “beast of burden” for the fishing industry. And it might have something to do with the way I felt visiting Anchorage. I didn’t find Anchorage to be a beautiful city to visit. The visitors bureau tries to make it a pleasant tourist site, but maybe that’s the problem; it’s too touristy. And I was overwhelmed with the large number of homeless natives  that, I guess, you’re suppose to ignore while visiting the local attractions. I used public transportation to get around, and every bus stop had native peoples asking for bus money and cigerettes. There were natives loitering on every street corner, and in the parks – young kids in the parks. I wanted to beg them to go back to their old ways, their natural lives as depicted in Claire  Fejes books and art  on the Noatak  and Athabaskan tribes: life was tough, but not poor, not poor in community.  (Fejes was a Fairbanks resident and founder of The Alaska House Art Gallery  that is, now, run by her daughter.) Maybe Anchorage is doing their best for the native residents, people who seemed caught between two worlds, I don’t know.

On a more positive note: the Anchorage historic district boasts many good restaurants. I tried Fat Ptarmigan which later prompted a poem. And the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail Knowles Coastal Trail is awesome: I biked twenty two miles just to spot a moose. LOL

Below is the photo, taken in Anchorage, that inspired my drawing: a whale mural close to downtown; the historic district.


And here’s the moose :