The swaying palm trees in front of majestic mountains that we know so well from the views in Redlands are familiar objects in Athene Johnston’s work. Landscapes, flowers and airplanes are among her favorite subjects to paint. At the exhibit at the Redlands Art Association she will present about 20 works of art, several will be depicting the Redlands area.
As a little girl, Johnston found joy in painting with watercolor. She was born in Hong Kong and grew up in China and South Africa with her parents and five siblings. She went on an eight-month around-the-world trip at sea with her dad, a sea captain for Butterfield & Swire.
“I painted in the cabin. I didn’t have much, but I did paint watercolor,” she said.
Johnston described her time on the ship.
“Growing up sometimes you don’t get to see your dad that much. It was really a privilege to get to know him. He was a Scottish sea captain — a lot of white hair, a character,” Johnston said.
Then the family reunited in Long Beach, where Johnston attended high school. Afterward, her mom encouraged her to enroll in Wheaton College in Illinois, where she was introduced to oil painting and plein air trips in Indiana.
Her interest not only in art, but also occupational therapy led her to join the ROTC program and work with veterans from the Korean War in rehabilitation.
“I tried to inspire them about what was around, what’s right there before you, to open your eyes and really see things,” she said. “You would be surprised at how many people just walk by a sidewalk and they don’t see the flowers or beautiful clouds or something, unless you point it out. They are missing out. You’ve got to have goals, but you don’t have to be so focused on them, that you don’t enjoy now.”
For several decades Johnston was busy raising four kids with her jet pilot husband, who was in the Air Force. After several duties in the U.S. and one in Japan, they ended up at Norton Air Force Base.
They permanently settled in Redlands in 1984. In 1988, their youngest went to college, so Johnston was ready to reacquaint herself with painting and took classes at Crafton Hills College.
The artistic inclination for beauty is noticeable in the way she describes light. “You can see the light on that building … and the contrast of light and darkness. I’ve always been fascinated with that. I like to draw toward the light, but you got to have the dark to show it off.”
As much as Johnston grew up connected to the sea, she was even more connected to the skies. Her oldest son works at the Vandenberg AFB, her second oldest is a Southwest captain and her youngest son is an aerial firefighter. Her daughter continued flying small air planes out of Redlands Municipal Airport after her dad died in 2008.
Johnston would often join her husband in the air, “It’s a wonderful way to see the country if you don’t mind a little turbulence.”
She got a lot of material from that time. Traveling the earth from low altitudes has been the joy and inspiration for her land and sea images. Johnston works with watercolor, oils, metallics and just added gouache to her works. Her art work has been displayed at art shows locally as well as around the States and South Africa.
She has won several awards, including second place at the Multi Media Mini Show held at the San Bernardino County Museum, the Blick Awards for Color and more.
“Creating art is like my therapy. It’s a way to lose myself. The news can be so depressing,” Johnston said.