Douglas Johnson's intimate gouache paintings not only reflect the craft of Native American miniaturists but also represent the life and imagery of Northern New Mexico. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Johnson is essentially self-taught. His interest in the Southwest began in college when he became a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA), a government program designed to improve living conditions for the poor in our Country. He was assigned to the Navajo Indian Reservation and quickly fell in love with its rich culture. Although he had been painting and drawing most of his life, it was this experience that inspired him to focus his talents, ultimately resulting in his permanent relocation to New Mexico.
Johnson admits that many of his paintings have their roots in Navajo art. He has, however, been very careful to remain faithful to and nurture the integrity of Native American culture. In fact, he believes that much of his ability comes from his, "first-hand experience living with the Indians and...know[ing] a lot of details of their lives."
Johnson was especially influenced by the work of Harrison Begay of the Dorothy Dunn School. Johnson states, "I started copying his prints. It's why I paint in the flat style, so geometric and linear." Indeed, his small, highly detailed paintings glow with jewel-like colors and hard-edged lines.
In addition to Native American culture, nature has proven to be a significant influence. Johnson learned by, "examining light and shadow, weather, color, flowers, the birds... it's all out there." In fact, as part of an effort to isolate himself and to be closer to Chaco Canyon, the site of many Anasazi ruins, he built a rock house on the side of a cliff near Coyote, New Mexico. The home has no plumbing or electricity. It is Johnson's desire to live as closely to his subject as he possibly can. Much of his own life and environment can be found in his paintings, a testament to his sincerity and to his subject matter.
Johnson has been exhibiting his paintings extensively for years. However, he attributes his success to the experience of painting. "As I paint things over and over, the flowers, the birds, the people, I hope they get deeper and more complex as I see them better. When you paint something, you learn about it, and the more you paint, the more you look, the more you learn."