Nature revealed in reality and the abstract during Rosemount art exhibit

Two artists offer different views of the natural world

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Life is filled with indelible images.

The Rev. Paul Kammen and his dog, Kirby. Photo submitted
Erica Johnson

For the Rev. Paul Kammen and Erica Johnson, their artistic expression leaves viewers with a lens into their own lives in vivid color.

Kammen and Johnson are part of a combined Rosemount Area Arts Council art exhibit through June at the Steeple Center in Rosemount, as they offer viewers two sides of a coin.

While Kammen’s photography depicts the natural world in sharp detail, Johnson’s bold brush strokes paint flowers in abstract.

The photos and paintings evoke some of the same emotions — wonder, awe and solitude — while they also lead viewers in different directions.

Johnson, a 1990 Apple Valley High School graduate and current Eagan resident, is an interior designer who says she creates fantastic kitchens in her day job.

In her free time though, Johnson turns the heat up on her painter’s palette using bright colors to create magnified views of flowers.

It didn’t take long for Johnson to find this style. In her first painting class, she says she randomly selected Georgia O’Keefe from a teacher’s list of artists to emulate.

The selection turned out to be perfect.

Johnson said she was inspired by O’Keefe’s style and blending of colors.

“To take a macro view of something as seemingly simple as a flower, or a leaf, and express its natural beauty in paint is fascinating to me,” Johnson said.

The 1995 University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate is primarily self-taught, as she is working to establish herself as an artist.

In her free time, Johnson works mainly in acrylic paint on a canvas substrate, preferring to mix the colors directly on the canvas.

Her work consists of bold, happy colors, reflective of natural phenomena, she said.

Kammen depicts the natural world through photography — a hobby the pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Rosemount picked up when he got his first camera while a seventh-grader.

He refined his skill more when digital photography took hold while he was a seminary student at St. Thomas University starting in 2001.

Kammen now takes his Canon digital SLR cameras on his walks and travels throughout the Twin Cities, Minnesota and beyond.

“When one is in nature, even if it’s just for a few hours, it’s nice to be away from the ringing phones, the email, the texts and running around and just take in the sounds of birds, frogs, crickets, a waterfall,” he said.

Nature photography is his most frequent focus.

A lot goes into capturing a great photo in Kammen’s mind. He’s looking for the right light, composition, background and action.

Wildlife is one of the trickiest, since birds and animals often don’t cooperate.

“I kind of obsess on sharpness, too, and want detail in the feathers and the eyes,” Kammen said. “The bird or animal doesn’t have to be doing something necessarily other than looking good in its natural habitat, but sometimes it’s nice when they are hunting for food or singing.”

Some of his favorites are taken during the morning and evening sun or when the clouds create their own artwork in the sky.

While people from all walks of life gravitate to photography, Kammen’s role as a Catholic priest offers a different dimension.

“Many saints spent time alone or in nature and grew closer to God; to this day it’s a common practice for some who go on a retreat to have a few days in solitude in nature,” he said. “In nature I’m reminded of God’s handiwork.”

Kammen shares his photos through his website, and he’s happy to participate in the exhibit.

“By sharing the photos with a larger audience, I hope people get out of it that there is so much to see in the world, but even right around us. My hope is they might see my work and say, ‘Hey, I should go there, too,’ or think, ‘Really, I can see this stuff just up the street at the park?’ ”

He said photography is a great outlet, since it offers a retreat, as “many people are so preoccupied or enslaved to a schedule and being a busybody.”

Kammen said: “To quote Ferris Bueller: ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you just might miss it.’ ”

Johnson’s artwork is at www.ejohnsonartworks.com.

To view Kammen’s photos, visit www.fatherpaul.smugmug.com.

Contact Tad Johnson at [email protected] or at twitter.com/editorTJ.