Monday, June 01, 2009

My Friend, Rose

...until I heard the sudden word
that a friend of mine was dead.

--Jackson Browne
"Song for Adam"

Sudden doesn't begin to describe my shock at the news of Rose Johnson's death but it's the word that comes most readily to mind. This weekend I pulled one of her paintings out of a shipping carton and still haven't figured out where it will hang. Last night Maggie calls to tell me that something happened to Rose and she's probably dead or will be when they disconnect life support. Today I learned that she probably drank alcohol mixed with methanol in Bali and became the 23rd victim of overdone mixture. Someone concocted a lethal batch and Rose happened be in its trajectory.

Rose was one of the premier artists in Phoenix during the 90's, just as I was becoming active in Phoenix arts. She was so well established--certainly compared to my largely ignored work--that I thought of her as living in a whole other dimension. As events turned out, I came to know Rose well enough to know that she was not only an exceptional painter but also a fine person and definitely living in the same dimension as the rest of us. Within a few years, I was showing in some juried shows with Rose and she had become a part of the House Studios, where I had a space. Rose never had a studio in the House but her studio was not far away and she certainly spent her share of time there. She was part of the Grand Adventure in Phoenix, Arizona that I posted here a couple years ago.

As a photographer, Rose's work didn't influence me directly, except that she was one of several painters I knew who were very good and whose work expanded my horizons. That quality drew me into her work and I marveled at both the imagination and skill that she brought to it. In 1999 she moved to Bisbee, Arizona, a mining town reborn as a quirky,not-exactly-counterculture-but-close, collection of people and places. She painted four large scale murals in town and continued to show and sell her work. When I saw her there in 2004, she was painting the Jonquil Motel mural. She looked happy and in her element. I saw her one more time at the House, maybe at the final party or not long before. Our paths had diverged but I consider myself much the richer for having known Rose.

Like many of Phoenix artists, Rose lived in an un-air conditioned studio--hers was on East Taylor Street in central Phoenix. She had a swamp cooler, which anyone who has lived through Phoenix "monsoon" season will tell you, isn't much but it's better than nothing at all. Maggie and I were at her place on a sweltering evening just talking. When it got to the subject of the summer heat, Rose observed that the Phoenix summer was the perfect excuse for doing absolutely nothing at all. I guess she decided she needed to something, though, she moved to Bisbee.

I didn't know Rose very well; we were not confidantes. I saw her art which told me a lot. And I enjoyed her company and friendship. Even though I hadn't seen Rose much in the past decade, I find myself feeling a great sense of loss. She was more a part of me than I had imagined.

Godspeed, Rose.

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Anonymous maggie said...

Rose was a light in the world. This is horrible.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Cynfully Luscious said...

My husband Eric just came home from school early after picking up the New Times with Rose on the cover. He had been thinking about her this morning and found her on facebook. He was excited to find her and did not know about what had happened to her. He lived next door to her in the 90's and she used to come and use his shower. He also helped do the lighting and set up for some of her performance art. I didn't know her myself, but when I read the story and saw the sadness in his face that she will be missed in the art community.

3:07 PM  

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