The story behind Rebecca Johnson’s intriguing barn paintings
“Wait, what am I seeing?” Our guest peers closer at the paintings in the Great Room, eventually walking right up and touching the wooden barns to verify that, yes, it is in fact real wood that creates that 3D effect. They had already done a double take from the other side of the fireplace, but they still weren’t completely sure what their eyes were telling them. We can see the thoughts shifting through their mind: “Is that shadow painted on or real? Is that actual wood or just a really realistic representation?” Even after they’ve gotten in the close inspection, the guest has to step away from the pieces and take another look from a little distance.
We see this scene play out over and over again here at the inn – the narrowed eyes that denote intense focus, the bent neck and reaching finger, the amazement that spreads across the newcomer’s face. And we smile every time, because we know that our featured artist Rebecca Johnson has done it again. She has drawn them into her beautiful, intriguing world.
Herself an avid observer of the tiny details of life, Rebecca offers a compelling invitation in her barn paintings to stop for a minute and think about what you’re seeing. You might say she almost demands that you double, and even triple check your observations. She does this as much for the sheer fun of playing with optical illusions and the magic of perspective as she does to give people the chance to pause, the chance to step outside their frantically rushing lives and find a moment of peace.
We had the honor recently of chatting with the artist about her fascinating work in her Anderson Valley studio, which just so happens to be a historic barn. During our conversation, the theme of peace and quietness came up repeatedly. Rebecca talked about searching for peaceful quietude in her work, and she credited this peace for much of the success that her barns have had. In her mind, the serenity most people get from these unique pieces is what really attracts them, what keeps them coming back for more. She posited that this peacefulness might be the simple byproduct of our modern nostalgia for slower, less hurried times, and the symbol old barns have become of those bygone days. Or, perhaps it’s that sense of sleepy mystery that hovers over empty structures, those dimly floating hints of who has passed and what they’ve done that waft through chinks in walls and stubbornly cracked doors.
This sense of history is in fact another of Rebecca’s recurring themes. She delights in collecting material for her pieces from the world around her, seeing each piece of wood or stone as a postcard from the past. While this is true of her greater body of work, it is perhaps most obvious in her barn paintings, as each piece of wood that she uses has been salvaged from old redwood barns. “See the pattern of this grain?” she asked as she gently stroked the piece of old siding before us. “I see that, and I see the tree growing in the hills. I see the hand-drawn saw of a lumberjack hewing out thousands of boards in the early 1900s. I see years of storms and sunshine gradually wearing down the wall that this board once formed a part of. I see a story.”
That, perhaps, is what it all comes down to – storytelling. What Dickens and others do with written word, Rebecca Johnson does with her art. She tells stories; stories of places, stories of people, stories of earth and sky. And her barns, her quietly austere and richly compelling barns, just might be her best stories of all.