Jan Johnson’s wife

Jan Johnson’s wife

Late Sooke sculptor celebrated with big exhibit

The Sooke public will have a first-hand experience to see Jan Johnson's deep and powerful sculpture works.

They say that whatever it is that swims up from the depths of our dark subconscious, art always has a story behind it, be it via pastels, metal, granite or Lego.

For the late Sooke artist Jan Johnson, his metal sculptures were a form of expression; a way of telling a story of something too beautiful, too haunting, or even too horrible to be put into words or be spoken of.

And now, the public will have its chance to see his works and interpret their own stories for the first time ever since his passing four years ago, with the Tales of Woe and Whimsy exhibit being put on by the Sooke Region Museum starting on Oct. 24 until March 31, 2016.

The exhibit is set to show 25-35 of Johnson’s pieces, all of which were created from a colourful collection of metal scrap ranging between anything like a rusty old clock, to a shotgun, to a bunch of gears, to the front end of your mother’s old Cadillac.

His works often reflected stories of sacrifice, sexuality, abuse of power, death and war. But despite the heavy themes of his works, he was a quiet man, recalls his wife, Mary-Alice Johnson, his wife.

“I’d come home, and Jan would be welding these things up, and he was such a well-read person, he loved stories of all kinds,” she said. “He was a quiet man, so I didn’t ask him ‘what’s that about?’ but when I did, often his response would be, ‘it’s just what you see.’”

No doubt, he’d seen a lot. Before travelling the world and spending majority of his time in Asia as a transportation economist, it was his experience in Vietnam in his younger years that started welding and moulding things into shapes, or even scenes of what he had seen.

Johnson settled in Sooke in 1976 after a haunting tour of duty during the Indo-China war. His role was as a logistics and transportation platoon leader in Vietnam.

“When he came back, he said it was an ‘utterly-futile war, and that it set something going in his brain to do art,” Mary-Alice said, adding that it wasn’t until after he went on military leave back to his home, a cattle ranch in Wyoming, that he “started sticking things together.”

She said much of his way of building his creations was, ironically, based on a military ideology: observe, record, and report.

“As the artist and the person seeing everything around him, he would then report it through his art, often which included military atrocities and misuse of power,” she said.

It wasn’t all just disturbing war stuff though. Johnson also had a great sense of humour, poking fun at all kinds of ironic, and often ridiculous aspects of daily life, such as boredom, or the reoccurring subject of company executives making bold and risky decisions behind closed doors.

He also loved the idea animals and their place among humans, which is why he’d often fuse (often literally) the two ideas by creating a face, or a shape of a bird or animal from something as cold and trivial as an exhaust pipe.

Johnson said her husband created around 400 sculptures, though only a handful were chosen for the upcoming exhibit, due to space limitations. Luckily however, visitors will get to experience pieces from each of his most heartfelt themes.

Naturally, even those in charge of putting on the exhibit itself were touched by the deep nature of his works, such as Brianna Shambrook, collections and exhibits manager at the Sooke Region Museum who spent months putting on the collection and picking the right pieces for the exhibit.

“They’re all kind of mysterious, and because Jan is no longer with us, we can’t ask him any questions on what they mean,” she said. “Some of the titles give us hints on what stories they come from, or what religions, but he wanted people to just look at it and make their own assumptions.”

Tales of Woe and Whimsy opens to the public on Saturday, Oct. 24 and runs until March 31, 2016.

news@sookenewsmirror.com

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Paul Lewis is the Goldstream Gazette’s 2021 Local Hero as Arts Advocate of the Year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
West Shore driftwood sculptor inspired by Esquimalt Lagoon

Paul Lewis is the 2021 Arts Advocate of the Year

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Vancouver Island is home to approximately 800 cougars, which makes up about a quarter of the total population in B.C. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

Cathy Armstrong, executive director of the Land Conservancy, Paul Nursey CEO of Destination Greater Victoria and Saanich Coun. Susan Brice helped to kick off the annual Greater Victoria Flower Count at Abkhazi Garden Monday. This year, the flower count is less about rubbing the region’s weather in the rest of Canada’ faces, and more about extending a bouquet of compassion and love. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
2021 Greater Victoria Flower Count sows seeds of compassion

Friendly flower count competition runs from March 3 to 10

Robert Schram, here seen in January 2016, died Saturday, according to a friend. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sidney, Saanich Peninsula mourn the death of Mr. Beads

Bead artist Robert Schram was a familiar, well-loved figure in Sidney and beyond

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Police have identified the vehicle involved in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run in Chemainus and are continuing to investigate. (Black Press Media files)
Police seize and identify suspect vehicle in hit-and-run

Investigation into death expected to be lengthy and involved

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Sewage plant in Lower Mainland, operated by Metro Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver screenshot)
‘Poop tracker’ launches as researchers test Lower Mainland sewage water for COVID-19

‘Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population…’

Most Read