It all started with a knee injury. In 2006, things for the now-24-year-old Jenna Johnson came to a screeching halt when the soccer enthusiast was subjected to multiple surgeries to repair her ACL. While she healed, the Sioux City, Iowa, native discovered her passion for painting.
“It was the making of something from nothing that grabbed me,” she explains.
In 2001, Johnson and her family moved to Elkhorn for a job opportunity. She says that, although she received a quality education and played a multitude of sports, she always felt like something was missing.
“It was exactly what you’d imagine it to be like,” Johnson says. “I had numerous friends. I felt safe, but in a way I also felt boxed in, possibly due to the lack of diversity.”
When Johnson graduated from Elkhorn South High School in 2012, the self-taught artist moved east and got a studio at Hot Shops downtown, a goal she’d had since she was a teenager.
“I participated in a high school show that is held there once a year,” she explains. “During our tour, I’d get lost in the building and imagine what it would be like to be an artist there. Now that I have been a resident for almost six years, Hot Shops has given me much wisdom about the art community. With the knowledge of my fellow artists, I’ve gained the skills necessary to keep my business going.”
Over the years, those fellow artists have taught her how to build and stretch a canvas, and explain, sell, and critique her work. She’s also learned imperative lessons about success and failure, so it’s not surprising Johnson’s current focus is people, done in an unconventional mustardy yellow and shades of violet.
She initially chose that shade of yellow because she wanted to make an ugly painting to “get it out of her system.” But once she saw it next to the violet, her imagination exploded. The result was a new experience for her.
“People are my favorite right now,” she says. “I hate painting faces, but I love how the two colors simplify the subject. I am infatuated with these two colored portraits [in particular]. All [of them] are large so it is fun to step up to one and stare into the subject’s soul.”
“Ask me this again in a year, I’m sure it will change,” she adds.
Although she has other hobbies like traveling, hiking, and yoga, Johnson can’t picture her life without working as an artist.
“I ask myself this question at least once a week and the answer is always the same—I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe cut hair? It terrifies me to imagine doing anything but painting.”
Johnson’s permanent installations can be found throughout Omaha at businesses such as TD Ameritrade (commissioned while she was still in high school) and LinkedIn. Living paycheck to paycheck, she appreciates each and every time someone buys her work.
“It feels wonderful,” she says. “Since this is my only job, any sale is a good sale.”
Down the line, Johnson envisions her art breaking out of the Omaha scene, but she insists, “If I am still happily painting in the future, I have succeeded.”
Visit jennajart.com for more information about the artist.
This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter.