Confronting Addiction with Soccer and Art

Corey Johnson
Corey Johnson ’12. Photo by Riley Shirey.

Corey Johnson ’12

Through his love of soccer and art, family and friends, Corey Johnson ’12 of Longview, Wash., learned to create beauty out of despair.

This showed in his agility and skill as a forward and leading scorer for the Geoducks’ men’s soccer team, whose coach, John Purtteman ’85, describes him as “an artist” on the field.

And it was apparent in the body of work he developed for his final project at Evergreen, which was selected for the Expressive Arts Senior Thesis exhibition last May.

The artwork, a series of large-scale watercolors, expresses Johnson’s experience growing up as the only child of a single mother (and former kindergarten teacher) who became addicted to prescription painkillers—and the knowledge he gained from trying to understand substance abuse.

Because of his mother’s struggle and the despair it caused in his life, Johnson moved in with his grandparents when he was a teenager. They supported him through high school, where he excelled in academics and was an all-state soccer player. His longtime friends and their families—especially their dads—pitched in to help him, too. “They always included me,” he says.

He earned the nickname “Sunshine” for his upbeat attitude and was awarded an athletics scholarship to attend Evergreen, where he continued to play soccer and study art—an interest he developed at a young age. He explored different mediums, from animation and printmaking to painting with oils and acrylics, and earned all-conference honors in soccer for four straight seasons. In his senior year he won a Geoduck Achievement Award for his virtuosity as a student athlete.

By the time Johnson was picked as one of six students to participate in Evergreen’s competitive Expressive Arts Senior Thesis program, he had developed the skills and resiliency to delve into his difficult past, research the problem of prescription-drug addiction and create advanced work that is at once deeply personal and socially meaningful.

In the end, Johnson says his project allowed him to “confront the issue rather than downplay it. Being honest about what’s going on is key to helping it or solving it.”

Last May, his whole family came to see his paintings at the Evergreen Gallery and to celebrate his graduation. Evergreen, Johnson says, was “the best-fit school for me because I could pursue soccer and art. The faculty is great. They’re so willing to help you achieve. They let you pursue whatever you want to pursue.”