Eafrica Johnson is the featured artist for Black History Month at Thomas Nelson Community College.
Many artists draw inspiration from fellow artists, others from everyday items. Eafrica Johnson’s paintings are the product of both, starting with Duane Keiser, called by many the “Father of Daily Painting,” and resulting in a lot of fruits and still-lifes.
“This particular artist actually inspired me to paint small every day,” she said of Keiser. “This is what led to the common objects, things that are accessible. I could just pick something up or set it up on a table and paint it.”
As part of Black History Month at Thomas Nelson, nearly two dozen pieces of her work are on display through Feb. 29 at the Hampton campus in Templin Hall's Visual Arts Gallery. Those works of art feature lemons, limes, oranges, grapes, bananas, apples, peppermint and a bell pepper, as well as a chair and a Coca-Cola bottle. All but one is an oil painting, the other was done in acrylic. She usually shows from three to seven pieces at a time, so this is the largest number of works she’s had on display at one time.
While the exhibit features common objects, she wants audiences to view them in a different light.
“I’m hoping that they’ll say, ‘Oh wow, I’ve never seen that look like that before,’” Johnson said.
Johnson, a self-taught artist who lives in Chesapeake, teaches elementary art in Portsmouth Public Schools. She’s been painting seriously for about five years, but got started about 15 years ago because she enjoyed it. She first displayed her work in school craft shows, which led to outdoor shows and local exhibits, including the Neptune Festival. She currently has work also showing at The Main in Norfolk.
“I didn’t expect it to be so popular,” she said.
That popularity is evident at her school. At the urging of her principal, she started an after-school art club. She has about nine fifth- and sixth-graders who meet for an hour every Thursday after school. She said she learns as much from the students as they learn from her. And they find it neat when they see their teacher’s work on display.
“They can’t believe it,” she said. “I’ve had some students see me at a show … one was like, ‘Hey, that’s my teacher.’ They think it’s a big deal (being able to say) ‘My teacher’s an artist.’”
Through Keiser, Johnson learned the importance of painting on a daily basis, even if those works of art were small.
“Some of my first paintings are so bad,” she said. “But every day I painted. And I’m where I am now.”
She’s also influenced by British painter Julian Merrow-Smith, Russian Elena Katsyura, and American Amy Sherald.
“Mainly, it’s small still-life daily painters that I’m inspired by,” Johnson said.
That has seemed to work out well for her, resulting in bigger and bigger shows.
Meet the artist on Feb. 14 at 4 p.m. in the Dr. Mary T. Christian Auditorium when she gives a presentation about her work.