At the Heart of Art: Studio 74

by Sarah A. Peterson-Camacho

Diane Johnson-Mendes knows talent when she sees it; being an art teacher, she always had an eye for what makes a piece just pop. The potential she saw in her students’ work planted an idea in her mind, and hence Studio 74 was born. Located in the heart of Fresno’s Tower District, Johnson-Mendes’s dream took root thirteen years ago, and the art gallery has been a Tower mainstay ever since. Kings River Life talked with the gallery owner about Studio 74’s origins, its evolution, and the inspiration behind it all.

KRL: How long has Studio 74 been open?
Diane: Studio 74 opened in February 2006; the gallery has been open six days a week and has participated in every Art Hop since.
KRL: What inspired you to open the gallery?
Diane: I opened Studio 74 as a gallery for my art students’ work. In talking with students, I found that the junior-high-aged students were disillusioned at the value of their art since parents have to like it, and it is only shown on the refrigerator at home, or on school walls during open house. So I began Studio 74, a gallery for emerging artists.
art gallery
Diane Johnson-Mendes with some of her own art
KRL: What is the meaning behind the gallery's name?
Diane: Studio 74 is derived from the address, 1274 N. Van Ness Ave. I did not want my name used since the gallery was initially for student work, and I didn’t want to use the school’s name because it wasn’t part of the school. So I took to the address for inspiration.
Studio 74 exhibit of Artwork by Elizabeth Castro
KRL: What led to your interest in art?
Diane: My degree from UC Davis is in Art Studio. I work in many mediums, and my interests and inspirations are varied.
KRL: What types of artwork do you exhibit (medium, subject matter, etc.)?
Diane: The gallery welcomes all genres of art, and I welcome most subjects. I have shown local graffiti, neo-expressionistic, pop, representational, abstract, plein aire painting, fiber art, sculpture, wire/iron work, assemblages, paintings on metal ceramic, drawings, watercolor, acrylic, oil, and mixed media, as well as photography.

I prefer to keep a “G” rating for the gallery since it has had many younger visitors over the years, so if you are interested in nudes, political statements, or graffiti art with “colorful” language, this is not the place for you.
KRL: Who are your favorite artists, both living and deceased?
Diane: O’Keefe, Van Gogh, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec are the first influencing artists that come to mind, then the simplicity statements of Mondrian pops in with Peter Max, and his in design and color, and Klimt with his patterns, then the whole world of art starts to open, and I can’t determine who are favorites!
Fine art by Jeri McDonald
KRL: Which artists have you featured, and why?
Diane: In the past thirteen years, I have featured at least one artist a month, sometimes more, and a variety of local and international artists. I have had student shows from elementary school, junior high and college-level, and professional-level work by the California Fiber Artists, Alliance of California Artists, and various painting groups. Individuals are too numerous to name, and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.

One international show featured artists from Japan, Italy, and Australia because they are Facebook friends with one of my artists, and we thought it would be fun and it was. I have another artist from India who has shown, and will be showing again this August.
KRL: How has the community responded to Studio 74?
Diane: The community has been very supportive of the gallery in both attendance and sales. Attendance varies each month with the different shows, weather, and with other competing activities.
"Reflections", artwork by Cathy Varvis-Griffin and Diane Johnson-Mendes 

I am pleased to be open during the week for the many students who have art appreciation assignments to complete. This affords me the opportunity to talk with students and get their input about the art.
Artwork by Madhubanti Chowdhury
KRL: What upcoming events/exhibits/openings do you have planned for this year?
Diane: DJM: Each month is a new show with the opening reception taking place during Art Hop on the first Thursday of the month, from 1-8 p.m.
KRL: Where is Studio 74 located, and what are its hours?
Diane: Studio 74 is located at 1274 N. Van Ness Avenue, in the Tower District, just north of Olive Avenue. The gallery is open Monday – Friday 1-6 p.m, and Saturdays 1-4 p.m. I welcome visitors, groups, and will open for special visits upon request! I want people to be able to see the wonderful art!
KRL: Anything else you'd like our readers to know?
Diane: In addition to “wall art,” Studio 74 also features various artisans and their crafts. Jewelry, note cards, and all season knit/crochet wear. Items in the gallery vary from time to time, but there is always a little something for everyone!

For more information about Studio 74 and its upcoming events, please visit or check out their Facebook page.

Sarah A. Peterson-Camacho is a library assistant with Fresno County Library, with a Bachelor’s in English and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from California State University, Fresno. In her free time, she makes soap and jewelry that she sells at Fresno-area craft fairs. She has written for The Clovis Roundup and the Central California Paranormal Investigators (CCPI) Newsletter.