Ben Johnson: The world is his canvas

In 1999 Ben Johnson painted the mural?that backdrops the patio of the old Red Rose?Cafe; and last fall a handful of his more recent pieces, including my own favorite “Goddamn Duck,” brought color to the walls of everyone’s favorite art and cigar bar, Liquid Smoke.

If you have seen any of his work, you may have noted that it all has great texture. Johnson likes to include many layers in his paintings, mostly layers of acrylic paint, but a couple of his pieces have objects like dead insects thrown in for fun. His piece entitled “I Lost My Lunch Last Tuesday” even has crumpled plastic shopping bags stuck right into the paint, giving it a wrinkled effect.

Ben also excels at shading. He takes special care in making his subject matter look three-dimensional, whether it’s a person or a cross or a building, and he seems to be able to do this with any medium.

I viewed a charcoal drawing of a portion of an old man’s face, and the detail and quality of the shading was so amazing I first thought the drawing was an actual photograph. He has one piece in pastels of a church, and it was so good that I could have been looking out a window at a real church and never known the difference.

Much of his work is more surreal, even impressionistic, which isn’t surprising since his primary?influences are Van Gogh and anything from the anti-structural Da Da Movement of the early 1900s. He says his work is “mistake-driven” in that he begins?a painting with one idea in mind and it may end up as something entirely different.

Despite Ben’s talent as a painter, he may be more widely known for his day job as a tattoo artist at Icon on Lytle Street. He’s?been?at the shop for three years, and though the first was an apprenticeship, he’s simply a great inker. He is the artist behind three of my own tattoos, and I won’t hesitate to mention his name to anyone looking to add?a little?variety to their skin.

Ben has yet another role as?bassist for the band Cease Upon the Capitol with guitarist Matt Strickland and drummer Ryan Lewis. But this is an art column, right? Well, Ryan hosts an art show on the first Saturday of every month.


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