Being Our Authentic Selves: Christy DeHoog Johnson

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Pursuing a dream is not without risk. Anyone who has ever dreamed of being an artist has probably faced questions about whether or not that's a responsible decision.

The choice to pursue such a career path requires courage, determination, and resourcefulness. ArtPrize exhibitor Christy DeHoog Johnson's success as an artist has been a result of both her own tenacity and the support of others.

Whereas some parents might shy from suggesting their child study art in college, it was DeHoog Johnson's father (who she describes as "not artsy") who suggested she visit Kendall College of Art and Design when she was contemplating where to get her bachelor's degree. After graduating with a BFA in illustration, DeHoog Johnson pursued an MFA in illustration at California State University at Long Beach, where she benefitted from the wisdom of a mentor who told her, "If you do what you love, eventually someone's going to pay you to do that." Although she had been encouraged through her undergraduate years to focus on graphic design as a "fall back," DeHoog Johnson continued to pursue illustration in her studies, because it was what she loved.

After leaving California, DeHoog Johnson and her husband lived briefly in Providence, Rhode Island, before returning to Michigan. "I'm a Grand Rapidian at heart," she said. ArtPrize is part of her love of Grand Rapids. "That first year, nobody knew what was going to come of it. It felt like a big experiment." Looking back, she says, "It was mind-blowing that so many people, who you don't even know, are looking at your work."

DeHoog Johnson's piece is one of more than fifteen hundred works of art that make up ArtPrize 2014. She created it especially for its venue, the Downtown Market, and describes the piece as "fresh, exuberant, and full of life, in an abstract way." This is Downtown Market's first year as an ArtPrize site, and DeHoog Johnson is excited to be there. "I love the idea that someone can come somewhere besides a gallery or a museum, and see art," she said.

Her advice for making the most of ArtPrize: Visit the big exhibits, but don't leave out the less well-known venues. "The major exhibition centers offer a breadth of professionally curated exhibits, but you're going to find unexpected gems in the smaller venues—things that don't necessarily get the press." She also suggested using social media to follow reviews. "When you find someone who has similar taste, see what they suggest."

Currently, DeHoog Johnson works out of her studio in Muskegon. She has freelanced as an illustrator, worked as an adjunct instructor in the illustration department at Kendall, and currently shows her work at Lafontsee Galleries in Grand Rapids, Gallery Fifty in Traverse City, and ArtCats in Petoskey. Her work is included in many private and corporate collections, including large-scale projects include Helen DeVos Children's Hospital and Elkhart Pediatrics in Elkhart, Indiana.

To view "Dinner Party," DeHoog Johnson's entry in this year's ArtPrize, click here. To visit her online gallery, click here.

 Written by Jennifer Reynolds, staff writer for West Michigan Woman.


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