Dishing up a colorful canvas


"Somehow, in looking over Mitchell's paintings I find myself thinking that he thinks a bit like a chef. His paintings consistently fuse their ingredients -- colors, tones, and places -- in challenging and unexpected ways." -- John Seed, arts writer and professor.

Professor Seed's comment is an excerpt from an essay in Menlo Park artist Mitchell Johnson's latest large-format art book, "Color as Content," a striking collection of images, critiques and interviews. The book -- which also includes paintings by artists who have influenced the 50-year-old Johnson, such as Giorgo Morandi and Josef Albers, Matisse, Bonnard and Chardin -- complements several exhibitions, including "Color as Content: A Twenty-five Year Survey" at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, which runs from May through August.

The professor's comparison of the artist to a chef is particularly apt: Mr. Johnson is married to the highly regarded chef Donia Bijan, whose L'Amie Donia restaurant in Palo Alto was a revered institution among food-lovers until closing in 2004.

In addition to the essay by Mr. Seed, the book also includes commentary by artist and writer John Goodrich, Stanford art professor Alexander Nemerov, and Jennifer Samet, a New York-based art historian, curator and writer. Lively interviews conducted by poet Peter Campion and former UC Berkeley professor and art museum director Peter Selz are also included.

Known for his energetic and vital use of color and his bold geometric forms, Mr. Johnson will speak Friday, May 1, in Woodside about his work and the artists who have influenced his ideas about color in a presentation that's also called "Color as Content." The free event, sponsored by the Woodside Arts & Culture Committee, begins at 7 p.m. in Woodside Town Hall.

Artist in action

A prominent painter whose work has been exhibited widely in the Bay Area, across the country and in Europe, Mr. Johnson typically has a number of projects that keep him on the go. But this year has been particularly eventful.

For four weeks in February and March, he was a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome, where he painted and did research on one of his favorite painters, Camille Corot, he said in an email.

He became interested in the visiting artist program last year when he was installing some of his paintings at the American ambassador's residence, Villa Taverna. A friend set up a tour of the American Academy, and Mr. Johnson was then urged to apply for the residency program, he explained.

Several of the Rome paintings are now on view at Flea Street Cafe in Menlo Park, where he has an ongoing exhibit that rotates every four months, he said.

Flea Street comes into play in another recently completed collaborative project: Mr. Johnson is the subject of a short documentary, "The Artist of Silicon Valley" by filmmaker Meg Smaker. The film captures the artist in action in his warehouse studio in Redwood City, and includes other glimpses of him and his work including shots of his paintings gracing the walls at Flea Street.

Click here to view the documentary.

Woodside presentation

Mr. Johnson's presentation entitled "Color as Content" is set for 7 p.m. Friday, May 1, at Woodside Town Hall, 2955 Woodside Road in Woodside. Admission is free, and light refreshments will be served.

Autographed copies of the book "Color as Content" will be available for sale at the event, which is sponsored by the Woodside Arts & Culture Committee. The book is also available at Kepler's bookstore in Menlo Park.

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