June 12 – ASHLAND – Just one quick look and you can see the art of Jerry Johnson.
The 72-year-old Ashlander native’s painting style has been honed over a career spanning more than 50 years.
Those unfamiliar with his work can check out his solo show at the Jewel Art Gallery at 323 15th St. June 14-18.
He said he works partly in oil but prefers acrylic paint.
“I love it because it’s fast, it’s clean and you don’t make a mess where you have to leave oil to dry for weeks, sometimes months,” he explained.
Topic for Johnson means people. While he painted many family members, the faces also extend to historical figures.
“Most historical paintings show black people occupying different positions,” he said, noting that African art, including combat paintings, is popular. “They have different poses, not just faces. They look really good and are selling like hotcakes.”
Bri Reynolds, owner of the gallery, can attest to the popularity of his work.
“He’s one of the most popular artists in the gallery,” she said. “One of his pieces was sold to an anonymous buyer who bought it for the Black History Museum.” The museum is slated to open in Ashland next year.
Reynolds said she wanted the exhibition to coincide with June 19, June 19.
“His goal in his art is to honor the lives of black people and African people, and that’s something he’s really passionate about,” she said. “We have this amazing black artist who loves to paint African culture. Why shouldn’t we do something to honor June 16?”
Self-taught, he was a cartoonist for Walt Disney and a cartoonist for the Navy Times. He has also taught art at Ohio University.
He painted and lettered the windows of many businesses in the area, including the Paramount Arts Center when Gladys Knight was performing.
Johnson said many of his relatives are musically inclined, but he also appears to have inherited such a talent, taking the stage with 2011 “American’s Got Talent” winner Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. when he performed at the Ro-Na Theater in Ironton last year. Johnson said he knew Murphy, who invited him to join him on stage, from his days as an employee at a car wash in Logan County, West Virginia.
“I asked Landau: ‘Are you serious?’ and he said, ‘I need you to sing with me, and we’re going to sing Motown,'” Johnson said, and after about 15 minutes of practice with the orchestra, they performed. “It was a full house and I would be on the Almost fell on stage. Wires were everywhere and I was nervous.”
But the impromptu show went smoothly.
“I was singing with the church choir anyway, and I just pretended to be in church and started singing,” he said, laughing.
There is no doubt that his devotion is to the fine arts.
“I come home at night and dream about what I’m going to paint next,” he said.
Johnson will be at the Jewel Art Gallery on June 18 from 10am to 6pm. A book about Johnson called The Art of Jerry Johnson is in the works and will be available for sale at Conquest Books, which has a slot in the gallery.
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