Johnson is in the spotlight

MACOMB, IL - "I may be busier in retirement than I was when I was working", said Robert "Bob" Johnson, a 1978 graduate of the Western Illinois University Department of Art and Design. His 37 years as curator for the WIU Museum of Geology came to an end in 2017, but he still has plenty of projects he intends to accomplish. Retirement has not slowed him, or his creativity for that matter, down. He is adamant that in order for it to be enjoyable, retirement requires a plan. He was fortunate enough to have one: creating more art.

Much like his days lately as a retiree, many of his recent works have no particular agenda. Johnson still has some exploring to do and is not tying himself to any particular style or technique. A medium he has become fond of recently are pastels and pastel pencils. This technique is similar to airbrushing, a technique he enjoys and taught in the WIU Department of Art and Design for almost a decade, but is far more efficient. While certain pieces of work he has created have deep, symbolic meaning, "What you see is really what you get with some of these pieces," said Johnson.

Currently, Johnson is in the spotlight with his new exhibit, "Now and Again: Art Works by Robert Johnson," which is displayed at the Macomb Arts Center through Saturday, Feb. 26. The exhibit is a retrospective look into his art throughout the years, featuring pieces from years ago that have never been put on public display. The exhibit contains over 50 works of art. When asked about a general theme or connection between the pieces, Johnson said, "I wouldn't say there is a theme; there's no rhyme or reason to it really, just a collection of pieces that I've been inspired to create."

Johnson has made numerous contributions to the University over the years, including serving as curator to the WIU Museum of Geology, teaching classes in art, serving as the graphic and layout artist for the College of Arts and Sciences' Focus Magazine, as well as the Connections newsletter, and being the faculty coordinator for WIU's Art Camp. He has played an essential role in projects such as the visualization sandbox, which enabled WIU students to use virtual augmented reality to better study topography, and a 13-foot model of an Ichthyosaur that now hangs in Tillman Hall, a feat of innovative thinking and design, due to the model creature's 85 pound weight.

Years later, Johnson still credits much of his success to the faculty in the art department at the WIU, especially to professors like Fred Jones, Bruce Bobick and Dave Kelly. In fact, Kelly was the person who suggested that Johnson should apply for the position as the Geology Museum Curator. "I really owe it all to them," said Johnson.

Johnson has not stopped contributing to the University, even in retirement. His latest effort to help students is through contributing to a scholarship fund established in the name of fellow Western graduate Jim O'Toole, a friend of Johnson's who passed away in 2018. Johnson has done two portraits of O'Toole, and the proceeds from sales of both will benefit WIU students through its scholarship fund. Current and future Leathernecks will benefit from not only his talent and the impact he left on the University, but also his generosity toward their art education.

As a lifelong artist, Johnson has some advice for art students or those interested in pursuing a career in the field.

"You can do everything you want if you just continue to apply yourself," he said. "Things won't happen if you don't work for them."

The MAC Gallery is open 12-3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 4-7 p.m. on Fridays and 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Saturdays. The gallery is located at 25 East Side Square in Macomb. There is no fee for admission. At this time, all visitors are required to wear masks.

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