Art Professor Brings Scotland, Scandinavia, and Thailand to Westerville 

Posted Jan 20, 2023

By Kailey Mishler ’24 

Associate Professor Jonathan Johnson, Department of Art and Art History, is turning his sabbatical work into an immersive art gallery experience for the Otterbein community. 

The art exhibit displaying his work, Mixtape: Landscape, runs through Feb. 24, in the Miller Gallery located in the Art and Communication Building, 33 Collegeview Road, Westerville. The exhibition features various types of photography, including darkroom experiments, video, and large-scale color prints that focus on landscape, place, and autobiography. Much of the work was created during sabbatical at artist residencies and travel in Scotland, Scandinavia, and Thailand. 

Johnson’s sabbatical started in the spring semester of 2022 and continued throughout the summer. During this time he took two big trips where he worked on a photography project that includes concepts of identity and nature. 

His first trip took place in February in Scotland where he was an international artist-in-residence at the Island Darkroom in the Outer Hebrides Islands. Johnson spent a lot of his time hiking during the day to shoot photos and videos of nature, and his evenings were spent making prints in a darkroom.   

“My project in Scotland focused on small bits of plant life from the vast moors and valleys—from a distance, it looks like brownish low rolling hills. But if you look closely there’s a wide array of tiny blossoms, ferns, fungi and plants that look like they belong deep in the sea,” said Johnson.  

With these prints, Johnson created abstract arrangements and made photograms of them. Johnson explained that a photogram is where an object is laid on light-sensitive paper and exposed to light, which leaves a black-and-white shadow impression. 

While staying in Scotland his hosts took him to experience an informal whisky tasting, a folk concert, and to see art at a local museum. Johnson explained that the community was very connected to the land and local culture.  

The second trip of his sabbatical took place over the summer. Johnson traveled to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Johnson explained how his work in these countries was different than in Scotland.  

“Some of the themes that emerged out of this process were land use and how people interact with and become a part of the landscape,” said Johnson. “This series has more traditional vista landscapes, portraits of people embedded in nature, and more Super 8mm film work that focuses on landscapes, and the changing light around Norway’s fjords and the High Coast, Hoga Kusten, in eastern Sweden.” 

Johnson explained his experiences traveling abroad as positive and immersive when learning about other cultures.  

“The travel experiences reaffirmed something I already believed — that encountering people from different backgrounds is crucial to understanding that we have things to learn from each other. That lifestyles, climates, attitudes, and creative approaches to life and art you encounter abroad are worth taking with you,” said Johnson. 

The opening reception of Mixtape: Landscape will include food from Thai Grille, as well as limited photo zines. Johnson even collaborated with 2020 Otterbein graduate and graphic designer Stephen Kanicki to create a limited t-shirt for the gallery. 

“I hope to create a communal experience by getting people together to enjoy and talk about art,” said Johnson.