Abstract Painter Johanna Regan: Blue and Other Stories

Recently relocated to Benicia from Occidental, Johanna Regan has been in the process of letting go. “I made this decision one day, as I’m trying to simplify my life, what can I let go of? I spend too much time worrying about politics and the state of things. The bottom line is it makes me anxious. I just want to flow with easy spontaneous things that I love.” Her favorite things include lingering over a cup of coffee in the morning, traveling to see her two children or friends, and art.

An abstract painter, Regan is preparing for an exhibition of her artwork titled “Blue and Other Stories,” at the Marilyn Citron O’Rourke Gallery at the Benicia Public Library, which opens on June 25 and runs through August 1. A public reception is planned for June 29, from 3 to 5 pm. The exhibition will include a series of large oil and cold wax paintings, created as part of a series.

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Regan was born in Pasadena, one of six kids, with four artistic sisters.

“We were all hugely influenced by our grandmothers, who were artists in a bohemian way.” She attended an all-girl Catholic school which cemented feelings of self-esteem, trust in female relationships, and the ability to excel. She did not do art as a child. “I was just a social person. I was into my friends.”

She moved to northern California after a year at City College in Pasadena to attend Sonoma State, where she majored in dance. “I didn’t have a major planned, but I had started dance in Pasadena, and had a lot of friends who danced. I just followed my social connections.”

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She left school to move to San Francisco, where she met Peter Ottenweller, and finished her degree at USF. Required to take anatomy and physiology to complete her major, her instructor so influenced her that she shifted her major to Biology. Graduation was followed by degrees in Nursing and Counseling and a career in health practice. She and Peter raised two children, spending the next 29 years in Santa Rosa. He practiced law and later served as a superior court judge in Sonoma County. 

“I’ve always had a love of color,” explained Johanna. “We had moved from Santa Rosa to Jenner, and I took a course in Oakland and started doing and teaching mosaics. I loved the options you could choose with colored tile pieces. I opened a gallery in Guerneville called the Blue Door, pretty much to show my friends,” she laughs. “I had ended my career as a hospice nurse, and I remember the day I cut my nursing license in half and buried it in a flowerpot. That was 11 years ago.” 

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Regan has been painting for about ten years.

“I got frustrated with the limitation of tile colors. I wanted to mix my own colors, and create large, colorful works.” She paints with oil and cold wax. The creamy wax is mixed into the paint with a dab of linseed oil; the mixture allows her to build up a visible texture which she smooths onto the canvas with her palette knives. “My biggest thrill as a painter is to say, ‘I want to mix that color.’ I’ve got a color in my mind’s eye. But it never ends up. Composition never ends up. I draw with an oil pastel crayon on my canvas to create the shapes that I want. But it always changes. Now I’m beginning to trust that the composition creates itself as I paint. I’m just a slave,” she chuckles. Once she gets the shapes she wants, she begins to play around with colors, placing a white sheet of paper over sections of the painting, deciding which colors to keep, and which to change. “I gravitate to blue, and I have to pull myself out.”

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“My goal is to begin to move into large figurative work. I start out each day by drawing silhouettes of faces, before moving into my painting work. I’m in the studio maybe three or four days each week, for two to three hours. I stand when I work, and I’m tired after that length of time,” she smiles. “I will always paint.”

Peter is only a few months into his retirement, no longer commuting from Benicia to his job. “We had lunch on First Street a few years ago with some friends who had moved to Benicia, and that’s all it took.” They live in a condo overlooking the strait.  “I’m so happy it turned out to be Benicia. It couldn’t be a sweeter, more beautiful spot for me.”

For more information about Johanna Regan, visit https://johanna-regan-painting.com/ and https://benicialibrary.org/about/hours