By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — As the coronavirus continues to spread its devastation across the country, Los Angeles-based artist Buena Johnson is utilizing her pencil and paint brush to inspire and heal.
Johnson, a photographer, art instructor at UCLA and owner of the Buena Vision Art Studio, was recently selected to showcase one of her paintings, titled “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You” in Protect All Workers Project, which honors the frontline workers currently battling the coronavirus throughout the country.
“I felt this inspired image was inclusive to show our thanks to people of all races, nationalities, ages and beliefs because we are all in this pandemic together,” Johnson said.
“Protect All Workers Project curator Wyatt Closs saw one of my works and asked me if I wanted to participate in the project,” Johnson said.
Visitors to the website www.DearFrontline.com. can download the art of their choice onto a digital postcard and type a supportive message to a frontline worker or an organization.
Like many people still grappling with COVID-19, Johnson said she remains sympathetic to those who have lost friends and family to the deadly disease.
“The pandemic has affected everyone everywhere and my heart and prayers go out to the frontline workers who have lost loved ones in California as well as those who are now suffering throughout the world,” Johnson said.
“I do not know the reasons why this pandemic has permeated mankind but I believe that if we all move in the direction of loving, helping and praying for one another, our lives will be made easier.”
Johnson, a graduate of Pratt Institute in New York whose work has been showcased at the Smithsonian, the Getty Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art as well as at numerous national and international galleries, uses pencil, acrylics, oils, watercolor, pen and ink and photography to create her pieces. She has created thousands of artworks and has been commissioned by churches, nonprofits and institutions around the country to share her eye-catching creations.
“I also donate my work at auction for important causes such as the African American Alumni Association,” said Johnson, who. is internationally known for her colorful jazz, blues and gospel portratures.
The West Angeles Community Development Corporation, the Pearls of Hope organization, which awards money and scholarships to children who have lost their parents to cancer, and Crystal Stairs, an organization that helps foster children, have all commissioned her artwork.
“I also started a campaign to raise funds to teach art to children because they have taken art out of the schools,” said Johnson, who added that she has taught art to children at the Hyde Park Library in South Los Angeles.
She also has taught art classes to veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The artist is the recipient of the 2019 Lifetime Achievement in Art Award from the Black Women in Jazz and the Arts Awards Association in Atlanta.
During her 30-year career, Johnson has been inspired to paint portraits of Jimi Hendrix, Tina Turner, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahalia Jackson, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Rosa Parks and other notable figures.
She is currently working on a number of paintings that include a slave series based on Negro spiritruals, an ode to the black woman and a series based on angels.
“My inspiration derives from the fact that I want to tell a story to inspire, uplift, educate, heal and motivate people to do inspiring things in their own lives,” she said.
Many celebrities have approached Johnson to admire and purchase her work.
“Actor Dick Van Dyke bought two of my Frank Sinatra paintings at the Malibu Arts Festival, which he gifted to Sinatra’s widow Barbara,” Johnson said. “Mrs. Sinatra told me that she loved the Frank Sinatra painting so much because it was so lifelike and showed Sinatra’s full portrait.”
“I also painted a portrait of Sammy Davis Jr. that I showcased at the Malibu Arts Festival and Van Dyke kept returning to the picture and staring at it. Finally, his companion decided to buy it for him. She said, ‘Dick, you keep staring at this painting, so I am going to buy it for you so you can stare at it at home.’”
“Queen Latifah visited the Beverly Hills Art Show and she bought my piece titled ‘Rat Pack,’” Johnson recalled. “The portrait featured Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.
“She just loved the painting and she bought it quickly because she didn’t want anyone else to purchase it,” Johnson said.
Johnson also was commissioned to paint a portrait of Ariana Huffington, founder of the online news website the Huffington Post, and the Jenesse Center, an organization founded to help victims of domestic violence, commissioned her to paint a portrait of actress Halle Berry.
“I unveiled it to Halle at a black tie event in Beverly Hills,” she said.
Like many creative people, Johnson said she never knows when or where inspiration for a drawing or painting will happen next.
She said that inspiration often occurs while she is sleeping.
“Before I go to bed at night, I place a tablet and a pen near my bed,” Johnson said. “When I awake, ideas are already forming in my head. It’s like I get spiritually enlightened. Suddenly I can envision events that have happened in life or in history.”
Johnson said that she is always surprised by the people who approach her who have been emotionally affected by her work.
“I was at an art show in Laguna Beach and this woman walked up to me with tears streaming down her face,” she said. “She was extremely moved by my drawing ‘Mount Up with Wings as Eagles’ which features a man rising up towards heaven surrounded by angels. She said, ‘I’m not a Christian, but your work touched me so deeply that I just had to meet you.’
“The woman said, ‘I wanted to ask you if you would pray for me. I have cancer and they’re saying they don’t know how much longer I have to live but your work has given me hope and made me feel that I have a new life.’
“I prayed with her and embraced her in my arms and hugged her,” Johnson added.
“I presented my work at an art show at the Culver City Anat Ebgi Gallery and two collectors walked in,” she said. “Tears were streaming down the woman’s face while she was viewing my painting ‘Land of the Free.’ It was a painting of a slave girl featured on the American flag holding cotton in her hands and there was sugar cane below her feet. Slave workers with bales of cotton on their heads were featured as well.
“She said, ‘When any piece touches me this much, I know in my spirit that I have to have it.’ She and her husband immediately sat down and wrote out a check for the painting and then they invited me to their home in Sunland to witness the installation of the painting.”
About her painting talent that has touched so many lives, Johnson added, “I am grateful to God to have the gift of art and to be able to share and bless others.”
Johnson’s artwork is currently online on her Instagram account @buenavisionart and at www.facebook.com/buena.johnson.