Artist returns to Michigan to attend reception

Photo courtesy of Julienne Johnson
Julienne Johnson’s painting “AuSable” will be on display at the Arab American National Museum through Aug. 25 as part of an exhibition of works from Arab-American artists.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – It was a bit of a homecoming for Julienne Johnson this weekend. The multidisciplinary artist returned to Michigan to attend the DIWAN5: A Forum For the Arts reception at the Arab American National Museum on Friday and Saturday.

Her painting “AuSable” is included in the current exhibition at the AANM and is featured along with works from 11 other Arab-American artists. The reception brought together artists and museum guests to view and discuss the new show DIWAN5: The Exhibition which is running through Aug. 25.

Johnson was born in Sandusky but lived in Alpena, Detroit and Downriver until she moved to California in 1978. After leaving, she came back as often as possible to visit her parents while they were still alive.

Her return to Michigan allowed her to see her work exhibited for the first time at the AANM since it was accepted into the museum’s permanent collection in 2011.

“When I first talked with the museum they looked at my portfolio and picked out five pieces,” Johnson said. “They left the decision of which piece I wanted to donate to me. I chose to donate ‘AuSable’ because I wanted them to have something in memory of my parents.”

The name “AuSable” came from the Au Sable River, which flows through Grayling in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. It is an area known for camping and rafting to many, but to Johnson it is the place where her mother spent the last years of her life.

Though the name had significance, it wasn’t something that was planned or decided upon beforehand, she said. It came as she was writing about the works she was sending to the AANM.

Johnson said she doesn’t like to give titles that set a specific image of what the art is to the audience, instead allowing the viewer to form their own opinion as to the meaning of the work. But the word “AuSable” came as she wrote about the piece.

“I started this piece when my parents were at their end,” Johnson said. “My work is usually about what is going on in the world, but ‘AuSable’ is more about my parents.”

She also recollects seeing signs of the river and her youth in the coloring of the drying paints on the canvas.

“Flying back to Michigan and driving up to see my mother, I would see all the colors in my rearview mirror,” she said. “I recognized the colors in the painting after they dried. They were the reds of the barns and silos, toasty tans of dried wheat and golden corn ready for harvest.”

Having the work displayed in its first exhibition was also something that made Johnson proud, she said, and she is happy that it has a permanent home in that state that inspired its creation.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at