In order to understand the roots of the expressive essence of Johnnene Maddison’s new, abstract work, one must appreciate the manifold influences of her life. When Johnnene Maddison was born in Detroit, her father, John Pegousky, was in the U.S. Army during World War II. By the time she was two years old, he was dead. She never met her father. He was killed in Bari, Italy. In early life, she was raised in her grandmother’s home by her mother, grandmother and three young aunts, all of whom worked in military/defence industries. After the war, her mother, Delphine, met and married Earl Themean who adopted Johnnene as his own and the small family moved to suburban Royal Oak, Michigan.
Showing an early interest in art, Johnnene took art classes in school and took supplementary Saturday classes at the Detroit Institute of Arts. She continued to develop her abilities through all of her undergraduate schooling, attending New York City’s renowned Pratt Institute on a war orphan’s grant. Job-seeking and commercial art opportunities landed her in Los Angeles for a time where she worked in poster art and animation. A life-threatening, violent incident caused her to leave the west coast and return closer to home. She attained a Master’s Degree in Art Education at the University of Michigan and thereafter taught in the Detroit public school system.
Marriage to Michael Maddison, changed her name again, and brought her to Canada where she gave birth to a son, also named Michael. The birth was a life-threatening ordeal to both mother and child. The marriage didn’t last. Johnnene raised her son, on her own, as best she could, often struggling with poverty.
Her art work at the time consisted of works in watercolours because she was adept at that demanding medium and because watercolours sold well, supplementing her small salary at the Art Gallery of Windsor. While she was working at the art gallery, she met David Falls. They married eight years later. She and Dave eventually moved to London, Ontario, where he became the Installations Officer and Registrar for The McIntosh Gallery, UWO. Johnnene earned a teaching certificate at Althouse College. She then became a supply art teacher in London schools as well as being a painting instructor for Fanshawe College’s Adult Education Program.
Johnnene’s work has always been content based, so her choice of media has depended on the best way to express her topic, which is often personal. She became curious about the things that women did in Canada during World War Two II. She interviewed 32 women about those years and took notes on the women’s experiences. Then she created a massive body of art work in response to her research. In that show, which toured the major museums of Canada, she used a combination of sewing, embroidery, quilting, collage, and photo-transfer printing. Each work was based on fabric construction, in traditionally feminine media, to express the heroic work of women who took on men’s jobs in order to help the war effort, even as the women were often opposed by men. In conjunction with that show, she wrote and published a book, Over Here: Women, Work and World War II. Much of that show was purchased by the National War Museum in Ottawa.
In 2001, David and Johnnene received the ominous diagnosis that Dave had cancer. That news began a seven-year ordeal that ended with Dave’s death in 2009. During those long seven years, Johnnene kept a journal in which she wrote her thoughts and feelings and made drawings and watercolour sketches as Dave’s treatments alternately offered times of hope and times of despair.
After his death, her work began to explore images in fabric, embroidery, encaustic and acrylics. Johnenne lamented that she knew what death was but not where it was. Running and standing figures, doorways, stairs, contained spaces, sculptural angels, ethereal and dark imagery, dream imagery, dead birds, disembodied feathers, empty or abandoned nests predominate in this series of works. She was working through her grief.
In 2011, she began to emerge from the shadows of grief and launched into a bold, new direction, expressing herself in an explosion of colour and almost riotous line in abstractions of energy and the abandonment of limitation. She said she felt like she was returning to her Abstract Expressionist roots at Pratt Institute. While pursuing this new direction, she also made sure that her previously started endeavours were seen through to completion.
Johnnene was awarded the 2014 CARFAC National Arts Advocacy Award in Toronto for her life’s work in promoting art and artists.
In 2015, she published, Losing Dave: An Artist’s Journey Through Loss, a journal in sketchbook form about her experience of coping with Dave’s cancer. Though it is a tragic tale, it does offer guidance and hope to those who either have experienced such a loss or are experiencing a similar event. Of her own experience with journal keeping, she has written, “You can escape into it each day. When we create we are totally in the moment. Thoughts and worries vanish and we float away on colours, lines, shapes. Making art will hold you up when you feel like falling down.” In 2016, Johnnene had a major show of her art work from her grieving period. That show was exhibited at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum in Almonte, Ontario in conjunction with the publication of this, her second book.
Still in 2016, she continues to paint abstract works in acrylics, giving expression to the richness, the fullness, the energy of her life. Her paintings offer compositions that are only suggestive of identifiable configuration. Shapes are boldly coloured, sometimes bound by constraining lines, other shapes are soft-edged, some shapes emerge from layers below, or they are overlapped by brush strokes that do not care to observe a stated boundary. Often mimicking calligraphy, other parts of her work are peppered with spicy, small, detailed brush strokes that visually declare themselves in unexpected ways. Like Johnnene herself, her mature work shows a vision that is expressive of the fullness of life’s joys and sorrows, challenges and triumphs, impoverishment and abundance, promise and completion. It is whole-hearted work that befits the expression of a whole-hearted artist. http://johnnenemaddison.com
Johnnene is an accomplished artist of merit, exquisitely feminine, yet bolder than most men might ever care to be. She is bright, caring, wise and talented, and to top it off, she’s a good cook!