My Story: Why I'm a Catholic Artist

My Story: Why I'm a Catholic Artist


Why I'm a Catholic Artist Hi. I'm Sue Kouma Johnson, and I want to share a little bit about my faith today and how it informs my art. As you've probably noticed, I really do paint Jesus, Mary, and all things Catholic. There's a really good reason for that. It is that strong Catholic faith that underlies everything I do. I really feel like God has given me a mission in this life and that's to share my faith through my talents, one of which is the ability to paint and draw and produce art. So ever since I was a kid, I've had everyone around me -- my diocese, my parish, my parents, my aunts and uncles, cousins -- everybody supported me and my relationship with Christ and through the Catholic faith.

So I can't really say there's any one moment when I suddenly had a conversion experience. It's been my whole life, ups and downs, peaks and valleys, like probably a lot of Catholics.

But anyway I... I've always had a strong desire to share my faith with others. Because I believe in it very strongly, and I have that relationship with Christ that I want everyone else to have. And for everyone else to get to heaven. So it's just, the beauty of the Catholic faith is so easy to express in art. We know from cathedrals and great paintings and mosaics and sculpture, art history is just full of the beauty of the Catholic faith. I learned a lot about art history when I was in art school at the University of Nebraska.

The greatest art is art that has the faith underlying it. Modern art, yeah, there's some nice things about it. Expressive things, decorative things. But without that meaning behind it, that richness of truth, it's kind of shallow and fleeting. Whereas you see these pieces from the first 2000 years after the life and death of Christ, those pieces endure in their value and glory.

I love icons, Christian icons, but I also in my art school studies I really enjoyed abstract expressionism, which is very colorful and like the name says, expressive of, well, what I use it for is in combination with the idea of icons, and I like to express movement in my paintings. And abstract expressionism helps me to do that. So I'm not tied to "natural law" so to speak in my art. I'm not a realist; I am very much trying to express something otherworldly.

So a few things about my Catholic faith: I was raised very strong Catholic, and then I went to Catholic schools. The nuns always were taking me to their Mother Houses and trying to recruit me into being a nun, which I never really felt the calling, but then in college a priest vocation director convinced me to give it a try for a year. And I did, and I learned a lot there. I was there for almost two years, but I learned a lot about my faith and how to pray and all kinds of things that I couldn't have learned otherwise I don't think. So it was a wonderful experience for me.

And then when I was almost 30, I got married and sort of forgot about art for a while while I was raising five babies. Just doing a little here and there. I was asked to do some holy cards, a little holy card series for Catholic Social Services and that lasted about five years. Once a month I'd do a little drawing of a saint of the month. And that really kind of got me started on painting the saints.

I just love the saints. I love their lives, as examples and inspiration. There's an endless supply of subject matter in the saints because there's so many of them that are canonized by the church, let alone living in heaven, but there's probably thousands that have been canonized by the church.

I always have something to paint. Whereas before, it was kind of like you're going, okay, what do I paint today? I have real inspiration for what to paint. And, raising a Catholic family also has deepened my faith and now everyone's young adults. So I have more time to devote to Catholic art and jewelry. That's my story.

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