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Library Corner...Another man's treasure

Donald Johnson shows his work to library aide Mary Hagen as he sets up his display. Contributed Photo

The truism that "one man's trash is another man's treasure" turns out to be surprisingly valid in the form of artistic upcycling. The process converts waste or worthless products into new materials of better quality or of a higher environmental value.

Some of the most innovative expressions have originated from some of the most unlikely and most abundant of materials: garbage. Cloquet artist and designer Donald Johnson has produced several inspiring pieces from items he collected during his frequent walks and bicycle trips through the streets of Cloquet. With an artist's eye, he has managed to create intriguing collages from abandoned refuse.

In an effort to exhibit the works of Cloquet artists and creative crafts people, the Cloquet Public Library introduces an exhibit of Johnson's work, hoping it will encourage other local individuals to share their art with the community through similar exhibitions at the library.

Johnson's art is an evocative mosaic of textures and carefully placed scrap, scribbling and decorative splashes, sidewalk plunder and inventive layering that almost screams out. The viewer searches for a term to describe the style but comes up short. The only certainty is the astonishing grasp it has on the viewer.

"Grunge has made its mark on my work," said Johnson.

Grunge, a term generally associated with a genre of music originating in Seattle during the mid 1980s, is described as a "stripped-down aesthetic. Lyrics are typically angst-filled, addressing themes such as social alienation, apathy, frustration, sadness, fear and depression."

Perhaps that is how Johnson perceives his work. Contemporary visual art often reflects contemporary music and literature as if a collective consciousness emerges among artists of diverse media as they interpret their generation. Today's world says "recycle" and so do its artists.

"A tablet of mine, as well as pieces that mix found objects with original art, represents my own visual play with my definition of grunge," said Johnson. "Still I like picking up and starting over again (with my art). It's dangerous to stay with one idea for too long. Dangerous meaning mediocrity tends to set in."

Johnson's enthusiasm also picks up as he explains his work. He is fascinated by current trends or where art will find itself in the future. He tenaciously consumes periodicals and books of all genres and for all ages, examining pop culture and absorbing ideas. Not surprisingly, children's picture books are a frequent source of inspiration and delight, many of which he checks out again and again.

Each age produces its own masters who authenticate their world through their own senses and sensibilities, he believes. "Imitating the past is not art," said Johnson.

"Picasso had a way of leaving his past behind with each new art form he created. He also remarked that good artists copy and great artists steal. I guess picking up garbage is a sort of legalized theft. Warhol did the same thing with soup cans."

Come to the Cloquet Public Library and take a look at what Johnson's art is all about. Unlike many artists who display work from years past, Johnson's display is definitively fresh: The oldest is merely months old; the newest, still moist. One can only predict that he will be on to a new period of work by the time his exhibit at the library comes to a close.

The library welcomes other local artists to share their work in our display. Creations will be kept under glass for their protection. If you have any questions or would like to set up a display, call 879-1531 or drop by and talk to us.