Arthur Johnsen

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Arthur Johnsen
Born(1952-08-27)August 27, 1952
DiedNovember 15, 2015(2015-11-15) (aged 63)
ResidenceKehena, Lower Puna, Hawaii
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Known forHawaiiana
Hawaiian landscapes
Paintings of the Red Road
Notable work
The Goddess Pele
WebsiteRemembering Arthur Johnsen

Arthur Johnsen (August 27, 1952 – November 15, 2015)[1][2] was an American artist. Born and raised on Oahu and living most of his post-university life on the Big Island of Hawaii, he is known for his impressionistic paintings and murals of Hawaiiana.

He is best-known internationally for his 2003 painting of the volcano goddess Pele, which was chosen from more than 140 entries to represent the goddess at the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, and is on display at the main visitor center there. He is also known for his Hawaiian landscape paintings, including those of the rural tree-lined coastal Red Road in Lower Puna.

Life and career[edit]

Johnsen was born in Hawaii on the island of Oahu,[3][1][4][5] and attended Punahou High School, graduating in 1970.[6][7] He studied graphic design at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1974.[8][9][7] He returned to Oahu for work and further study,[9][8][7] lived for a while in Volcano Village on the Big Island beginning in the late 1970s,[5][4] and later spent five years in Los Angeles doing freelance design work in the garment and costume industry.[9][7][8]

He moved to Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1989.[4][5] He was artist-in-residence at Kalani Oceanside Retreat from 1989–1998, and also did fabric design for Kona Village Resort.[3][9][7] In 1992 he moved to his own house in the Lower Puna area.[4]

His paintings were sold at the Ohana o Hawaii gallery in Hilo,[3] and when owner Randy Farias retired in 2005, it was renamed the Arthur Johnsen Gallery under the ownership of Johnsen and a business partner.[7] In 2012, Johnsen closed the gallery and moved his paintings to the newly formed One Gallery in Hilo.[10]

Johnsen also created murals commissioned by a number of resorts, restaurants, public buildings, and cruise ships throughout the Hawaiian islands.[3][10][8][11][12][13]

His works were exhibited at venues including the Volcano Art Center,[14] Honolulu Hale,[15] and the East Hawaii Cultural Center.[16][7] In 2013 he was exhibited at the Andrew Rose Gallery in Honolulu, among eleven artists collectively considered the "leading landscape painters from the Islands".[17][18]

A retrospective of his work, in particular his plein air impressionistic paintings of vistas of the Red Road in Lower Puna, was presented by the East Hawaii Cultural Center at the Hawaii Museum of Contemporary Art from January 3–29, 2014.[19][20] The museum and cultural center published a book of the exhibited works, entitled Paintings of the Red Road by Arthur Johnsen.[21][20]

Some of Johnsen's paintings have been held by Cedar Street Gallery in Honolulu.[22] Some of his paintings are currently held at Third Dimension Gallery in Kamuela.[23]

The Goddess Pele[edit]

In early 2003, the group of Native Hawaiian elders, or kupuna, advising the superintendent of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on cultural matters were concerned that the painting of the volcano goddess Pele in the main visitor center did not portray the goddess in a culturally appropriate manner.[24] The portrayal which had been on display at the center since 1966,[4] a 1927 painting by D. Howard Hitchcock, pictured Pele as a blonde Caucasian woman.[24][25][26][27][28] The Kupuna Committee and the park staff worked with the Sacred Mountains Program of The Mountain Institute, which had funds from the Ford Foundation, to put out a state-wide call in March 2003 for paintings of Pele which the elders would select from in August of that year.[24][4][5][28][25] An $8,000 prize for the winning entry was offered.[24][4] More than 140 paintings were submitted for the competition.[24][28][4]

Johnsen's entry, titled The Goddess Pele, was selected in the blind competition as the winner, as best representing Pele's "deepest cultural meanings".[4][5][28] It depicts Pele with a serene, compassionate expression and two objects in her hands representing important stories connected with her, against a background of volcanic activity.[24][3][27] Johnsen used a Native Hawaiian as his model,[28] and lit her face from below; living near Kalapana and having watched many lava flows at night, he knew that lava throws light from below up toward faces.[3]

The portrayal depicts Pele striding through the lava flow in the forest with her digging staff Pã'oa,[29] which she used for excavating while searching for a home that she finally found at Halemaʻumaʻu, in her left hand. Her right hand holds an egg containing her unborn sister goddess Hi'iaka, which she carried on her journey from Tahiti.[27][4]

The painting represents a more native view of Pele, who is regarded by Native Hawaiians not as a wrathful deity but as a benevolent, life-giving goddess who creates new land with her lava.[24][30][31][27] In interviews, Johnsen stated, "I show her with a staff in one hand to represent her as a destroyer, and cradling an egg in the other, representing regeneration and the fact that new life springs up from lava."[5] "It's not all about destruction. The egg is a symbol of regeneration and new life. Lava creates new land as well as it destroys old places."[3][27]

He noted that he had been living in Puna, close to the active lava flows, since 1989, and had seen the destruction of Kalapana and the beach at Kaimu, and had watched lava flows from his home.[4] He added that his proximity to the steady active lava flows made him "feel closely connected [to Pele] on a very personal level".[4]

In 2005, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park finished refurbishing its Visitor Center, and replaced the Hitchcock painting with Johnsen's The Goddess Pele.[32][30] It is on permanent display beside the center's fireplace.[32]

Personal life[edit]

Johnsen lived along the Red Road near Kehena in Lower Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the home he built in 1992.[4] He died in November 2015 following a sudden illness.[33][34]


  1. ^ a b "In Memorium Arthur Johnsen". East Hawaii Cultural Center. November 2015. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  2. ^ Anderson, Bob (November 15, 2017). "Arthur Johnsen August 27, 1952 - November 15, 2015". Remembering Arthur Johnsen. Facebook. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Thompson, Rod (August 15, 2003). "Winning vision of Pele an unusual take". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Fresh face put on volcano park". The Honolulu Advertiser. August 16, 2003. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "New Pele Painting Selected For Kilauea Visitor Center". Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. August 14, 2003. Archived from the original on October 16, 2003.
  6. ^ "Alumni Notes" (PDF). Punahou High School. Summer 2017. p. 76. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "About the artist". ArthurJohnsen.net. Archived from the original on April 4, 2010. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d "Arthur Johnsen, artist". ArtJohnsen.tripod.com. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d "Arthur Johnsen – The Art in Arthur". Punahou Class of 1970. May 14, 2011. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  10. ^ a b "Life in Business: One Gallery". Ke Ola Magazine. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  11. ^ Tunsch, Thomas (March 4, 2016). "Portion of a 9' tall mural in the lobby/parking garage of the (former) Aston Waikiki Beach Tower, w2000 by Arthur Johnsen". Curiator. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  12. ^ Adams, Wanda A. (July 11, 2004). "Cruising with Pride". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  13. ^ Adams, Wanda A. (March 4, 2007). "Outta here". Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  14. ^ "Art Calendar". Honolulu Advertiser. February 28, 2005. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  15. ^ "Art Calendar". Honolulu Advertiser. March 6, 2005. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  16. ^ "July–August 2011 Happenings". Ke Ola Magazine. July–August 2011. p. 71. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  17. ^ "Andrew Rose Gallery - Presents 'Contemporary Hawaiian Landscape Painting'". First Friday Hawaii. April 2013. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  18. ^ Kanai, Maria (May 8–14, 2013). "Canvas Travels" (PDF). Honolulu Weekly. p. 8. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  19. ^ "Arthur Johnsen Retrospective". Hawaii Museum of Contemporary Art. January 28, 2014. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  20. ^ a b "Paintings of the Red Road by Arthur Johnsen" (PDF). EHCC/Hawaii Museum of Contemporary Art Publishers. 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 31, 2018.
  21. ^ "Book sales benefit Hilo art museum". Hawaii Tribune-Herald. November 12, 2015. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  22. ^ "Arthur Johnsen". Cedar Street Galleries. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  23. ^ "Arthur Johnsen". Third Dimension Gallery. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g Bernbaum, Edwin (2017). "The Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in the Management and Governance of Protected Areas" (PDF). The George Wright Forum. 34 (2): 171–174. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  25. ^ a b Thompson, Rod (July 13, 2003). "Rendering Pele". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  26. ^ "Hawaii Volcanoes". Sutori.com. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  27. ^ a b c d e Nimmo, H. Arlo (2011). Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai‘i: A History. McFarland. pp. 169–170.
  28. ^ a b c d e Spoon, Jeremy (2007). "The 'Visions of Pele' Competition and Exhibit at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park". CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship. 4 (1): 72–74. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  29. ^ Koda, Katalin (March 19, 2014). "Pele's Pa'oa: The Power of the Fire Stick". Fire of the Goddess. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  30. ^ a b Wild, Robert; McLeod, Christopher; Valentine, Peter (2008). Sacred Natural Sites: Guidelines for Protected Area Managers. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Plate 5.
  31. ^ Verschuuren, Bas (August 23, 2016). "CSVPA Promotes Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii". Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas. IUCN World Conservation Congress. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  32. ^ a b Mitchell, Julie (February 1, 2005). "Exhibit Eruption". Honolulu. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  33. ^ Anderson, Bob (November 14, 2015). "Friends of Arthur Johnsen". Remembering Arthur Johnsen. Facebook. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  34. ^ Johnsen, Carl (November 15, 2015). "We just heard from Bob". Remembering Arthur Johnsen. Facebook. Retrieved August 28, 2018.

External links[edit]