Mesa artist

Veralyn E. Johnson of Mesa creates Afrocentric art that can now be purchased at The Store at Mesa Arts Center. Johnson’s "Black Lives Matter" themed piece was in the Out of the Blue art show at Chandler Center for the Arts last year. (Courtesy of Veralyn E. Johnson)

Veralyn E. Johnson’s bold color pencil drawing titled “African Motherhood” depicts an expectant mother sitting on a Ghanaian chieftain stool.

In another portrait, the Mesa fine artist depicts a proud and strong African American woman in a purple head wrap with gold geometric accents in the background. The acrylic work on canvas is named “Naima” after jazz legend John Coltrane’s piece.

“Oshun African Warrior Queen” represents power with an image of peacock feathers symbolizing her confidence. The acrylic painting and mixed media collage incorporate beads, fabric and paper.

These and other works are for sale at The Store at Mesa Arts Center and Johnson’s website, 

Johnson, an educator and professional artist, primarily creates paintings, collages, 3D and digital art based on Afrocentric mixed media themes.

She also creates stained glass art and turns gourds into painted African-themed ornaments. 

Her pieces range in price from $40 to over $2,000.

“Drawing and painting have always been a form of expression that came naturally to me,” said Johnson, who recalls watching her seamstress mother design clothing with African print textiles. 

Stories of her family’s migration from Oklahoma to Arizona in the 1940s inspired her and her work often incorporates those histories. 

Born in Casa Grande and raised in Phoenix and the East Valley, Johnson has lived in Mesa for 33 years. She and her husband have raised four children; daughter Lathenia is also a visual and film artist.

Johnson turned professional over 30 years ago.

“As an African American woman of color growing up in the 70s, I have strived to create art that shows the importance of having an unambiguous self-identity,” she explained. 

Her art, she said, “allows me to create with my hands without any inhibitions, pulling on sparks of connection from my surroundings and past roots.”

When she was in her early 20s, she began participating in local art events.

Her first solo show was at the Chandler Center for the Arts, after which the city purchased several pieces of her work. A collage titled “Jubilation” is on display at the Sunset Library in Chandler.

Johnson also has earned. bachelor’s degree in agricultural science from Arizona State University and a master’s in education from Grand Canyon University. 

She keeps herself plugged into the local arts scene and arts related educational programs. 

In recent months, she and daughter Lathenia produced a month-long show titled “Afrofuturist Art Reflections” at ASU Gammage; participated in “UPCyle Recycle” and “Still Life” shows at the Found:Re Phoenix Hotel; and concluded a youth sculpture art residency at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Often, Johnson’s work shows her evolving style, which she said is more “risk-taking as it combines abstract images with reality. She also incorporates unique zentagles, a tangle of lines filled with repetitive patterns.

“I might have a very realistic image

and have a lot of abstract figures around it and into it. The media of my art style has evolved more where I use a combination of clay and fabric and painting,” she said.

After a panel interview, Johnson was juried into the MAC Store last year, which functions as an artists’ cooperative gallery. 

The store carries the work of about 50 artists and Johnson has dedicated wall space for her vibrant collages and masks. One day each month, she volunteers there, demonstrating her techniques and visiting with customers.

She said art has enabled her to express who she is and tell the story of her family history and background. 

“I have tried to exemplify my strength and pride in my culture and history,” she said. “I am grateful to be able to create art. It gives me life, and I want to share these visual experiences with the audience by using many colorful Afrocentric motifs.”

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