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Woman solo rides 38,000 miles for art

Artist Heather L. Johnson took to the road on her Yamaha XT250 motorcycle in pursuit of her quest In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful (ISFB), and rode through the United States, Mexico, Central and South America for ten months. Embroideries, watercolors, drawings, and photographs created both during and in response to her journey will be on view at Cherryhurst House in Houston from Sept. 24 to Feb. 19.

A petite woman, Johnson encounters concern more often than encouragement when she reveals her plans for solo motorcycle travel into territories unknown. When she stops along the road she sometimes leaves behind hand-embroidered works of motorcycle parts, accompanied by Spanish phrases. She places the embroideries in select locations in the landscape with the hope they will be encountered, taken, and kept. Since the start of her project in 2013, Johnson has traveled over 38,000 miles and left 47 artworks in her wake.

While the embroideries, painstakingly made, serve as conversation starters and map markers, her photographs and watercolors unravel stories from the journey itself. Cinematic images depict uncanny subjects ranging from a roadside brush fire to a family battling torrents of rain with a picnic umbrella. “This project is all about embracing random interactions and occurrences that testify to the ‘frightening and beautiful’: the coincidences, contradictions, and struggles that reveal the essence of human experience.”

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As artist-in-residence at Cherryhurst House, Johnson has returned to Houston to distill her experiences into this latest body of work. “Heather spent part of her youth in Houston and has a unique independent spirit. Her motorcycle journey and art project challenges prevailing apprehensions about women in the traditionally male arena of solo exploration,” explains Barbara Levine, curator of the exhibition. Cherryhurst House, the brainchild and private home of Dallas McNamara, is a new art space that cultivates site-specific experiences and exhibitions, and encourages artistic process and exchange. The house will be open on Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 5pm and by appointment, and Johnson will be available to give tours through mid-December.

“By then it will be time to go,” Johnson says. “I grew up moving frequently. In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful has taught me to embrace a nomadic existence, living simply, experiencing as much as possible, and sharing with others through art. In this spirit I am committed to continuing this project around the world.

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