BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON
Dean grew up in a working class family in a small Midwestern town. As a child, he was enchanted with “all things visual.” Of course, he didn’t have the words for it then, but as a student at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, Dean’s passion emerged in full bloom. This love affair with what the eye perceives and the heart understands lingered on the sidelines as Dean got on with the business of life. After receiving an MFA from Pratt Institute he went on to teach college art, raise a family, work as an executive in the textile industry, and, more recently, with me by his side, run an award-winning country inn. Fast forward to 2017, and the love affair with art has now, finally, taken center stage, right here in Pfafftown where Dean has taken up the brush again.
To continue the story, I need to first explain that it is one thing to know the husband and the man, and another to explore the mind and heart of the artist. Upon the request of Keela Johnson (no relation) the founder of Forsyth Magazines and current Associate Editor, I took on the challenge and interviewed “Dean the artist” one early winter afternoon.
Me: You often say that there is “an art to seeing.” What do you mean by that?
Dean: Most people go through life “looking” at things without actually “seeing” or understanding them. Consider that 80% of our perception, learning, and cognition is mediated through vision. Our pragmatic culture does not place a high value on visual matters even though we are constantly bombarded visually. We are influenced – and unknowingly manipulated – through the mass media, advertising, fashion and so on to take certain actions. An understanding of what we are presented helps us to make insightful observations. Traditional school programs in the US have downgraded art to after school activities, so we never learn the process of visual discernment.
Me: How has the move to the Winston-Salem area been instrumental in restarting your art career?
Dean: I lived in Winston-Salem many years ago when I was in the textile industry and resolved to return one day. It’s not just about the weather. I was mostly drawn back by the culture of friendliness and appreciation for the arts.
Me: What does it mean to you to paint full time again after so many years?
Dean: At the risk of sounding trite, it has led me back to who I am at my core. After I left teaching, I stopped painting for many years. At that time, I dedicated my energy toward success in business, and while it was financially rewarding, it felt as if I were living a “lie” and betraying my true self. So now I feel whole in that I’m practicing what my “Maker” intended me to do.
Me: In 2019, you were featured in a lengthy article in Seasons magazine. Editor Jim Dodson dubbed you “The man who loves flowers.” What is it that moves you to paint your floral masterpieces?
Dean: Flowers have an innate and immortal beauty that imbue the ordinary with mystery and passion. Floral painting is a tradition that dates back to the 14th century, as in Dutch and Flemish art. I am following in that tradition. I don’t consider my paintings masterpieces. They are works that represent my best efforts to capture the unique beauty of God’s magnificent creations.
Me: What would you like your legacy to be?
Dean: That I have a deep gratitude for all that I have received. That I showed my appreciation by giving back to the world through kindness and beauty.
To view Dean’s work, go to: deanrolandjohnson.com.