Celebrated artist’s painting to sell for regional Symphony

Evening Under the Stars gets rare piece for auction
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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What: Evening Under the Stars fundraiser for the Folsom Symphony

Where: Saturday, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m.

Where: Palazzo di Migianella in El Dorado Hills (address with tickets)

Cost: Tickets $250

For Information: visit or call (916) 357-6718

A prominent California artist passed away two weeks ago, just after donating one of his final pieces to be auctioned off at an upcoming fundraiser for the Folsom Symphony.

A scrapbook of newspaper clippings recalls the legacy of John “Jack” Johannsen, filled with images of the smiling extrovert painting in Paris, having drinks with Truman Capote in San Francisco and showing off his brushstrokes to photographers from Life Magazine to Vogue. Now, art-lovers from Granite Bay to El Dorado Hills will have a chance to buy one of Johannsen’s last visions, all while raising money for a cause close to the artist’s heart — keeping regional symphony music vibrant 

Prior to his death, Johanssen regularly invited photojournalists from across California to his art studio in Jackson, about 15 miles south of the Shenandoah Wine Country. Photographers were drawn to his cluttered workspace because it was a portal out of The Magical Mystery Tour — a wide, artificial grotto hyper-illuminated by a strange menagerie of painted life. Within its labyrinth of striking brushwork, its vast collection of curious eyes, its tiny statues peeking over pastel tables, is an album full of memories from the two years Johannsen spent taking photographs of the Korean War: Those black-and-white images are the only items in the studio not dramatically pushing the color-envelope.

Johannsen’s path as a painter started in 1952, after he returned from Korea and became a student of the Bay Area’s noted color and design master, Rudolph Schaeffer. Soon Johannsen’s own paintings began appearing in window displays of Saks Fifth Avenue in San Francisco. That same year, his first solo show was accepted by the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, exhibiting his works in the same building as Rubens, Monet, Renior, Picasso and Matisse. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Hammersmith Gallery in New York have since featured his pieces, with additional shows appearing in Dallas, Sacramento, Reno and Lake Tahoe. Several of his pieces also hang in homes in Paris.

Johannsen’s art dealer and executor, Jay Michel, helped facilitate the donation of a painting to the Folsom Symphony just weeks before the artist died at the age of 84. Michel remembers Johannsen as a creative innovator who was always open to new ideas, always learning and always smiling.    

“When I first started dealing John’s art, he would do about 60 or 70 paintings a year,” Michel recalled. “And then in the summer he would have a show in Tahoe, which was kicked off by a huge party near the beach … people who are into John’s art surround themselves with it.”

Thinking of his favorite remark from a patron, Michel added, “I sold a painting to a woman who lived on Nantucket Island. It as vintage John — a whimsical, happy painting called ‘Whole Hog.’ She told me that, now, if she’s meeting someone for the first time, she always invites them over because she can just tell by their reaction to the painting when they come in whether they’re going to be friends or not.”

Johannsen was a longtime supporter of the San Francisco Symphony. The piece he chose to have put up for auction on behalf of the Folsom Symphony was title, appropriately enough, “Symphony Blue.” The Gala event for the Folsom Symphony is Sept. 27 and is called Evening Under the Stars. It will be held at Palazzo di Migianella, a hilltop estate in El Dorado Hills surrounded by rolling vineyards and open vistas. The event includes the regions finest wines, a gourmet meal, dancing to a live band and an auction with 18 rare items, including “Symphony Blue.” It will be emceed by Roger Niello, CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber and Cristina Mendonsa, news anchor for KXTV News 10.      

Throughout his life, Johannsen stove to find meaningful beauty in ordinary things. Fans view his work as nothing less than a collection of illuminated glimpses of the world — gateways to a sacred realm where positive energy is the ultimate aesthetic.

Marie Mitchell of El Dorado Hills, the hostess of Evening Under the Stars, says she couldn’t ask for an art piece more fitting than “Symphony Blue” for the atmosphere she hopes to create. 

“I have (Johannsen’s) painting sitting right in front of me,” she remarked this week, “and it’s absolutely stunning.”