Rae Johnson

The Serenity of Self-Definition: An Allegory , 2' x 2', Oil, $250

"your name / is not a song you will sing under your breath

your pronouns / haven’t even been invented yet

you’re gonna shave your head and drive through Texas

you’re gonna kill your own god so you can fall in love for the first time

they’re gonna keep telling you your heartbeat is a preexisting condition

they’re gonna keep telling you ‘you are a crime of nature’

and you’re gonna look at all your options

and choose conviction

choose to carve your own heart out of the side of a cliff

choose to spend your whole life telling secrets you owe no one / to everyone

till there isn’t anyone who can insult you by calling you what you are

you holy blinking star / you highway streak of light

falling over and over / for your hard life

your perfect life / your sweet, and beautiful life"

~ excerpt from “Your Life,” by poet Andrea Gibson

Contact the artist



(914) 772-8475

Rae Johnson is a recent resident of New Haven; a Vassar graduate, long-time arts-camp counselor and teacher in New York. Their comic work tackles issues of identity through fantasy, and as a fine art and cartooning instructor they have developed and shared their passion for various media outside the intricate world of their sketchbook.

Artist Statement

For my contribution to the Peace by Peace exhibit, I chose to explore an issue of great importance in my life and in the recent public eye. This painting is a sort of allegory for the life of a transgender American, whose own sense of peace may be influenced by internal and external factors. To me it is both personal and political, though I would never claim to speak for an entire community so much as I am interested in telling my side of a long and complicated story.

I was excited for the challenge posed by this project: to address a social issue that has its roots in conflict and its solution in peace. Like many others I’m sure, I have developed my body of work by confronting various issues through art and fantasy. Envisioning peace- specifically, inner and interpersonal peace- as an outcome, I still felt the need to depict the possible setbacks on the road toward that aim. So the inner circle of the composition- the peace sign- contains and represents the love, protection and beauty that can be found when one decides to embrace their identity and find solidarity in others who do as well. In the specific narrative of this painting, this means reimagining one’s gender and dismantling the boundaries between the assumed binary. These boundaries are enforced by a false understanding of biology, misuse of the law, and the hypocrisy of trusted friends and family whose love may turn to hatred as soon as one decides to change their name or pronouns. These forces are represented by the cartoonishly evil figures that lurk at the barrier of the peaceful circle.

In summary, this is a painting about peace that speaks through images of war and unrest. For those who have been at odds with their own bodies, names or identities, the journey to self-realization is not an easy one regardless of what the outside world sees and says. I hope that this illustration can begin to describe the intensity of that journey, and the colorful, magical light at its end.