Fargo Fashion | Using Art as a Narrative

Some artists use their talents to create a political conversation, while some use them for self-expression or even self-reflection.

North Dakota State elementary education student, Jessi Johnson uses her artistic talents to start a conversation.

Originally a mechanical engineering major from a small town in North Dakota, Johnson knew after year one that she just wasn’t in the right place.

“I chose (mechanical engineering) because a lot of my family is in engineering, and I liked that you kind of have to have an artistic mindset because you have to be creative,” Johnson explained. “But I liked the creative part more than the math, science, logic part.”

Like many students, Johnson eventually found her passion in a number of different areas, one of those being teaching.

“I always knew I wanted to teach,” Johnson said. After graduating in the upcoming fall semester, Johnson hopes to seek a change of scenery and move to Denver, Colorado.

Although Johnson isn’t an art major, her creative content hasn’t suffered.

“I went to art camp in middle school. As far as having a real, formal art experience and being taught, I don’t have that. I’m not an art major,” Johnson shared.

However, Johnson has taken a few art classes through NDSU and is consistently working on a number of projects.

Recently, one of her paintings was showcased in the “The Great Winter Crow Show” in downtown Fargo.

The non-competitive exhibition revolves around an underlying theme of crows and blackbirds. Local artists can submit their works of art, and they have complete creative freedom in terms of the form of artistic content.

So what drives Johnson to constantly be creating?

“The point (of art) is that it gets to create a discussion about a point or a view or a feeling,” Johnson said. “It’s a way for me to use art as a narrative about what I feel. I’m not very good in front of a crowd. I don’t like public speaking. I feel like I have ideas, and I have things I want to talk about. It kind of takes that really personal thought and puts them into something concrete and real.”

So what is Johnson’s current obsession?

“Right now, it’s oil painting with oil paint,” Johnson said. “It takes a while to dry so you can really work with the paint. Whereas with acrylic, when you lay that color down, it’s really hard to blend the colors together because it just takes a couple minutes to dry.”

Canvas isn’t the only base for Johnson’s work. Currently, she’s expressing herself through a denim jacket-painting project.

Johnson has previously created denim masterpieces with hidden meanings weaved into a combination of words, floral patterns and bold colors.

“I just wanted to try something. I had read a book about the meaning of flowers, and so on the back of (the jacket) is some orchids, peonies, lilacs and daisies. And each of them have different meanings,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of cool because you can paint things and you can put secretive meanings with them, but I don’t have to tell everybody that.”

“If I want, I can say that orchids are my favorite, or I explain that the combination of those things can stand for what it means to be a woman,” Johnson shared. “You can be a little bit beautiful and a little bit innocent, a little bit strong, a little bit angry.”

For any aspiring artist out there, Johnson said it’s all about finding your inspiration.

“For me, it depends. Any good painting will just be in my head. I’ll be on my phone, or I’ll see something, or I’ll see an artist, or a current event will come up … and then you write it down. And you sketch it out. But any good idea has been in my head for like two weeks,” Johnson said in hopes to inspire future artists.

At the end of the day, it’s all about Johnson’s aim to tell a story through her work and how it is more than just art.

“It’s really cool because you can connect with someone,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of like when someone likes your favorite song. It’s fun like that.”

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