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The Gallery: Meet Johnnene Maddison, the Artist behind the Just A Thought Exhibition

Updated: Jul 9

The Gallery

In response to demand from local artists for exhibition space and to promote and celebrate our talented local artists, the London Arts Council and the City of London Culture Services have collaborated with RBC Place London to pilot The Gallery program at RBC Place London as part of our London Arts Live (LAL) program offerings.

The purpose of The Gallery is to promote the work of artists and creators residing in London and surrounding First Nations to display original artworks for exhibition, with sales opportunities, on highly prominent and specially designated wall space within this municipally owned building.

For the third exhibition, The Gallery featured artworks created by Johnnene Maddison, a local visual artist. Johnnene earned a Bachelor of Arts from the Pratt Institute in New York City and soon after worked in Los Angeles for an animation studio, while also making posters for Bell Telephone Company. She received a Master of Arts from the University of Michigan. After moving to Ontario, Johnnene attended Brescia College, where she earned a teaching certificate.

Johnnene has been a professional exhibiting artist in Canada and the U.S. for over 40 years. She is the recipient of the Canadian National Award from CARFAC, 2014. She has worked in oils, watercolours, and textile art, and is currently working in acrylic. Her recent work is about her thoughts and her imagination. She draws her most recent thoughts on canvas and then paints using bright, original colours. These paintings are intensely personal and immediate.

An Interview with Johnnene Maddison

Just A Thought by Johnnene Maddison

(on exhibition May 2024 – August 2024)

Q: Tell us the story behind the Just A Thought exhibition. How did it start? What was it inspired by?

A: My paintings are about things that I happen to be thinking at the time. They're personal, but I find they appeal to people because every person has thoughts going through their heads at all times - even if you don't want them to. I'll get a thought and I immediately start drawing on the canvas.

Q: Have your thoughts always been the inspiration behind your artwork?

A: I don’t think so. Since I’ve started working with acrylic. Before this I was working with water colour for many years and I was doing textile art, and I had a subject. With the abstract, I didn’t have a subject so I thought “well, whatever pops into my mind I’m just going to do it.”

When I’m finished, sometimes it looks exactly like what popped into my mind and other times it doesn’t resemble it at all. People ask “why would you call it that? It doesn’t look like that” and I say “well, that’s what was on my mind.” I can’t explain why it looks the way it does.

Q: Right. It’s your personal thought, and maybe sometimes people catch it right away when they look at it and it resonates, but it won’t resonate with everyone all the time.

A: Yeah, and I never remember the titles. A week later someone might ask “oh, what do you call that one?” and I have to look on the back to figure it out.

Q: What else inspires you as an artist?

A: Colour. I’m really in love with colour. But also, everything! I walk outside and I’m inspired by everything – the clouds, the sky, the grass, everything is beautiful.

Q: So a lot of nature?

A: Yes, but also people. People just talking to me. They’ll say something that reminds me of something, and then something else, and then something else, and then that grows into a thought which grows into a painting.

Q: The process you’re describing is very similar to how I approach writing. I’m curious if you’ve experimented with other forms of art before. Have you done any creative writing?

A: I’m embarrassed to say I have. I’ve written a song once, and poetry that’s not very good, and I don’t show it to anybody! I like to write though, and I like to write letters to people and have them go through the mail.

Q: Yes, I love that! Receiving a handwritten letter is such a rare thing now, it’s so special!

A: Yeah! Every time I get a letter, I don’t open it right away. I make a cup of tea and I savour the experience.

Q: I love that. I have all these postcards that were my grandparents and they’re just everyday correspondence but it’s amazing to think of the entire process of picking out a postcard, taking the time to write a message and then going to the mailbox to send it. It's so personalized.

A: Exactly. I have a letter that my father wrote to my mother while he was in the service in Italy at the time – that’s where he was killed. My mother was pregnant with me at the time, and he wrote “I want you to call her Emily,” and I wish he got his way because this name has given me so much trouble. Emily is an easy name.

Q: Oh wow. Your name is very different than Emily and it’s a good name, I’ve never heard of anyone else with the name Johnnene before!

A: No, my father’s name was John so my mother but a “nene” on the end of it.

Q: Oh I see! That’s really nice.

A: People have a hard time pronouncing it. Sometimes I get the pronunciation “Joe-hini.”

Q: Hahah that must be your alter ego.

A: I guess so!

Q: What does your creative process look like? How do you approach starting a painting?

A: I gesso the canvas first and when that’s dry, I put the painting on the floor. I have a dowel that’s about 36 inches long and I tape a brush to the end of it. I have a jar of paint on the floor. I think about my thought and then I start to draw with the brush. At first, I start with a line drawing on the canvas, but it’s done with the brush and not a pencil. When that dries, I start to paint. I start with the biggest shapes and work down from there. As I’m going along, I adjust the depth of the colours. That’s the wonderful thing about abstract art, you have no idea how it’s going to turn out.

Q: Is it like a stream of consciousness process where you’re just getting out what’s in your head without planning anything?

A: Yeah, but there is stopping and starting over days. Some might take a few days, while smaller paintings I can do in a day.

Q: Oh, I see. What has your experience been as an artist in London? What gaps do you see that currently exist when it comes to supporting the Arts?

A: Well, supporting female artists is different than supporting male artists. There are certain galleries that I’ve noticed seem to prefer male artists. I’ve been at these galleries during openings, and I see the male artists being introduced to people, while the female artists are standing there not being introduced to anyone. When you look at public art gallery collections, if you get a list of everything they own, it is very heavily on the male side. I do see more women getting shows, as when I was young it was nearly impossible for a woman to get a solo show. I was part of many group shows, but it was much, much harder to get a solo show as a woman.

Q: That was your experience when you were attending the Pratt Institute?

A: Oh yeah. When I was in university in art college, there were many more art students that were male than female. That seems to be changing now. I wonder if it starts with the family – back in those days if there were families with many children, it seemed that the male was the one to go on to academic studies versus the females. Thank goodness that’s changing.

Q: What kind of support do you think is needed?

A: Well, one thing is that the newspaper needs to report on the arts. Many newspapers have 2-3 pages on sports, but nothing on arts. Once and a while you’ll read about large commercial exhibitions like Banksy, but nothing on local arts. I know artists and galleries often send in exhibition information to newspapers, yet nothing is published.

Q: That’s a great point. Promotion goes a long way. Where can people go to see more of your work?

A: I always have work showing at The Westland Gallery. That’s really the main place, aside from my home studio.

Q:  That’s great that Westland Gallery has been a good home for your work. How do you feel about having your work on display at RBC Place London?

A: I think any opportunity is a good one when it comes to getting your art out there. And it will be on display here until August which is a good chunk of time.

Q: I hope lots of people will come downtown to check out your exhibition. Your work is great and thank you for sharing the process behind it with me!

A: Thank you!

View the Just A Thought Exhibition at RBC Place London on the following dates: Wednesday July 24, 2024    (11:00am – 2:00pm

Monday July 29, 2024 (9:00am – 4:00pm)

Wednesday August 7, 2024     (9:00am – 2:00pm)

Wednesday August 24, 2024   (11:00am – 2:00pm)

Tuesday August 27, 2024         (8:00am – 2:00pm)

Friday August 30, 2024             (8:00am – 10:00am) **enter via the main doors on York St.**

The objectives of the Gallery program are: to create a beautiful, unique, and cultured atmosphere; provide compelling experiences for local, national, and international visitors; educate the public by presenting a series of diverse artworks created by local professional artists; and provide professional opportunities for local artists, including increased promotion, sales, and career enhancement.

For more information about this project or inquiries regarding purchasing artworks, please contact the London Arts Council at


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