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River' beauty runs deep on Florida painter's canvas

When Keith Martin Johns paints a Florida scene, he tries to capture the outer beauty that is created by light and shadow, as well as its inner beauty.

Johns, 43, is the featured artist at this year's Homosassa Arts, Crafts and Seafood Festival. He concentrates solely on Florida scenes. He and his wife, Linda, canoed down the Suwannee River in July to come up with inspiration for an exhibit of 21 pieces of river scenes. All of the pieces have been sold.

For the Homosassa festival, Johns painted two Homosassa River scenes. He and his wife went on the river a couple of times for inspiration.

"It's a very significant painting. It's a painting of the Homosassa, and I captured the essence of Homosassa. It's a backwater, lagoon setting. You see the river through an opening. I painted it from back inside a canal," he said. "It's very emotional. It's the darkest, most emotional usage of dark and shadow I've ever painted."

The painting was sold shortly after it was completed. The second painting will be for sale at the festival.

The Homosassa is the fourth of 25 Florida rivers Johns intends to paint.

Johns' passion for painting is focused solely on Florida. He said he wants to paint a collection of Florida scenes that not only would express his vision as a artist but also would capture the state's present and fading natural beauty.

"I'm trying to paint what historically has drawn people to this state. That's objective," he said. "But there's also an inner beauty, and that's subjective."

Although he loves the wilds and rivers, Johns said he doesn't want to be stereotyped as an environmentalist, but wants to be regarded as a serious painter whose calling happens to be Florida.

"A lot of it will be gone, and a lot of it has disappeared since I was a child," he said.

The Suwannee River exhibit turned out works that were vibrant, yet simple and as detailed as photographs. They include Slow Move and Rock Bluff, which show the river and its banks. There are no people, no animals, just the water and giant elm, birch or cypress trees bowing over it, their exposed, gnarled roots clutching the banks.

Inspiration came from the morning light, and from the lush glow left by a rainstorm. Johns realized that rather than search for something dazzling, he should simply capture nature around him.

"It's caused me to see things differently," he said. "There is beauty in insignificance."

"The banks became real significant," said Johns, who chose last month for the trip because he wanted to see the banks as well as the river they flank. "There is nothing in nature that is not beautiful."

At the Homosassa show, Johns will sell prints of his exhibit pieces at reduced prices. He is now working on an Everglades exhibit, and most of the paintings are already sponsored.

"This way, it allows me to paint for an entire year," he said.

Information from Times files was used in this report.