Toronto-based artist Johanna Reynolds has spent her entire life turning ideas into creative businesses, investing two and a half decades playing music, curating her gallery, and building an artisanal cookie brand before finally recommitting to her first love: Painting.
This road has been long and winding. Because of one particularly discouraging experience, it took Johanna years to regain the confidence she needed to follow her true path. Now in her late 40s, she’s returned to that passion, creating abstract paintings with surprising colour schemes that exude emotional resonance. “I feel lucky to do what I love from my home studio, where my kids can witness it. And I’m lucky to have a community of creatives around me. Their work inspires me and their response to my work drives me forward,” she says.
Like so many working moms, Johanna is juggling life and kids — and everything in between. When it was clear that there was a real chance to step into her role as a painter, she seized the opportunity. Here’s her journey that led to career joy.
GUEST POST: BY JOHANNA REYNOLDS
“I loved making art from an early age, but it was time spent with my wildly creative uncle that was the turning point. He lived in New York and one Christmas when I was ten, he brought me a set of professional grade art supplies — Grumbacher oil paints, brushes, linseed oil, easel, canvas boards — basically everything that I would need. Then, he gave me lessons, which encouraged me greatly. I even feel his energy today when I paint.
When I didn’t get accepted into the painting program at Concordia University — the program I wanted the most — I was crushed. I let that undermine my confidence in ways I wasn’t even conscious of. The sting of rejection was a splinter that got under my skin for years. That was a huge lesson. I let my need for external validation get in the way of my art practice. I’m highly aware of it now, and work at reminding myself not to linger in that headspace. This is central to my practice in general inside and outside of the studio.
I majored in Art History at Concordia and continued to make art in my spare time. As well, I played in a band with my now-husband, Zach. For five years we toured and recorded music. Eventually we moved back to Toronto and in time, opened a small marketing agency called The Department. In 2008, we bought a building on Dundas St. West to expand our vision.
We got the keys the same week our first daughter, Lily was born, and at the start of the recession – what a crazy year! There were only a handful of things happening on that stretch of Dundas, and we wanted to help bring more creatives to the neighbourhood. We turned the whole building into a mini cultural centre: artist’s studios were on the second and third floor, a gallery at street level, and a rehearsal space in the basement where bands could practice. I was the curator and Zach ran the cultural marketing agency. The Department became known for supporting and cross-pollinating contemporary art, music, and culinary scenes in dynamic ways.
When Jules, our second daughter was born, I naturally had to take a pause. Programming the space was taking a lot of my energy, and I really just wanted to be with my kids.
This desire to nest only lasted until Jules was a toddler. I was aching to do something creative and business-oriented, and I’m really good at making cookies, so I started an artisanal baking company called Good & Best. I was so proud of those cookies! They were delicious, and the branding and packaging was gorgeous. But like any start up, it needed upkeep and I felt torn between family obligations and being depleted, so I decided to close it after three years.
My turning point came one night after my husband and I put the kids to bed. He said to me, ‘You know, one day you’re going to be dead and you won’t have done your paintings, and you’re going to be really sad about that.’ It was an intense thing to say, but he was right. I needed to paint, and he encouraged me. I couldn’t ignore it or hide from it any longer. I’d be a fool to throw away an opportunity to do what I really love.
Later that month, I signed up for a small group show at the Earl Selkirk Gallery in Toronto’s west end. It was a small show, but it was a huge step. Taking that action and making that commitment to my practice was an important part of making everything else come to life, even if I didn’t sell anything!
It’s been over two years and I’ve participated in The Artist Project Contemporary Art Fair twice, earned a solo show, Suspension, in Sweden, and won a commission of four large pieces for the newly renovated Air Canada Maple Leaf Member’s Lounge at New York’s LaGuardia terminal. I will also be exhibiting new work at Samara Contemporary from May 11-June 2, 2019
I’ve realized that it’s never too late to do what you love. I’ve had this gift inside of me all along, and it needed it to come to the fore. I feel like I’m a better person when I’m painting. I’m more connected, more alive. It encourages generosity, compassion and caring in me.
Sharing my work with the world is joyful, and when it comes right down to it, that’s really why I paint.”
Fjords 2018 (acrylic and oil on wood, 48 x 48″)
“Frida (my studio mate and part time painting model) sits on one of two identical chairs made by John and Arounna at Bookhou. These pieces and their accompanying pillows are gorgeous and I love how meticulously they have been crafted. The painting is Mind/Instrument, 2017
Two paintings from Johanna’s summer 2018 show in Sweden entitled Suspension. From left: On Second Thought, Maybe I Will 2018 (oil over acrylic, 16 x 20″) and The Interpreter 2018 (oil over acrylic, 16 x 20″). To view more, visit Nordic Stories Contemporary Art.
The studio is where all the magic happens!
“The Summer Room — the best room in the house… The french doors lead back to the studio space and the kitchen is to the right. Coffee, snacks, art and family hangs are all within a 100 square foot radius. This is about the most perfect combination in my mind. On the wall is a collection of vintage tennis and squash racquets I found with a “Free” sign on someone’s lawn. Also shown are two older paintings: Compass IIIX (bottom) and Borderlines (top). Both are oil on panel and 10 x 8”.”
“These are the excellent women in my Goals Group (unofficial name of it)…We’re going on six years of this binding goodness. We meet four times a year and talk very honestly about where we are in our life map, what we want for ourselves and what we don’t. We’re beholden to each other in this non-judgemental way and we get through a lot in these sessions. There’s structure but also the softest landing. When I think about what we’ve all accomplished in these years together — lifting each other up and giving space to be heard — I can honestly say it’s as important to me as my family and my marriage. This is a pillar of my well-being and one of the reasons I’ve been able to get back into my art-making life and career with such a wind in my sail. My friend Kara started our group and now, she’s working on facilitating it for others.” www.thegoldengoals.com
“I LOVE this vintage 50s silk and hand-beaded/raffia dress from Caravan on Queen West. I’ve had it altered twice to accommodate an early days post partum body and then again for whatever that next stage was in life…It’s a spectacular dress and whenever I wear it I always feel like Joan Holloway from Mad Men.”
On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/johanna_reynolds/
On her website: http://www.johannareynolds.ca/
Or by appointment at her studio