Printmaker Eric Johnson Opens Solo Exhibit at the Rourke
Printmaker Eric Johnson is not afraid to use bold colors in his work.
As he spread out his most recent prints one evening in the PEARS Studio at Renaissance Hall in downtown Fargo, each piece he laid down was more vibrant than the last.
“A friend of mine says I can’t finish anything without purple,” Johnson joked. Judging from the prints on the table, his friend appears to be right. Many of the imaginative prints contained at least one purple hue.
All of the prints are part of Johnson’s upcoming exhibit of more than 40 reduction relief prints titled “The Nature of Things” at the Rourke Art Museum. The exhibit opens to the public from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 30, with a gallery talk by Johnson at 2 p.m.
Johnson is a prolific local artist known for his colorful, non-objective prints of various subjects, sizes and patterns. He’s created more than 200 prints in the last 11 years and has been in over 50 regional and national exhibitions.
“The main focus in my work, throughout my career, has been conceptualizing my personal experience into pieces the viewer can relate to, regardless of their background or experience,” Johnson said in his exhibition statement.
“As I work, I put myself, if only very briefly, into the feelings of my audience… (The) goal of my work (is) to provide an escape into a feeling of wonder and miracle from a world that is often full of misery, negative happenstance and mundane tasks.”
Johnson has been creating prints for “The Nature of Things,” his first-ever solo show at the Rourke, for almost two years. After watching him in the studio, his timeline is no surprise: The reduction relief process is a lot of work.
Rather than using multiple carved blocks to print individual colors, the reduction relief process involves one block that is carved away after each layer of color until the desired image appears.
Johnson is methodical and patient. Whether he’s carving away at the wooden block, rolling the brayer in sticky paint or cranking the press, his workflow possesses the second-nature fluidity of any experienced artist.
He said he usually doesn’t plan a print design to the very end, which allows him to explore the facets of his active imagination and reflect on his past.
“Sometimes my prints have personal things in them that only I know about,” Johnson said.
His individual print titled “The Nature of Things,” for example, contains his father’s old tractor and a farmhouse from his hometown that belonged to a couple of bachelor farmers who never traveled farther than a few miles from home or drove faster than 20 mph, he said.
Another print, titled “Connection,” is a portrait of his great-great grandfather.
Johnson also draws inspiration from music, his relationships, his children and his supportive wife.
“Artists are everyday people. Their experiences are similar to everyone else’s,” he said. “Even though a lot of my prints aren’t necessarily about me, they’re all still meaningful to me.”
Johnson is an adjunct art professor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College and Mayville (N.D.) State University and a member of Fargo Moorhead Visual Artists (FMVA). He continues to create new work in the PEARS Studio and his own press, “Big Oak Press,” is currently in progress.
If You Go:
What: Opening of “The Nature of Things” print exhibition by Eric Johnson
When: 1:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 30, with a gallery talk at 2 p.m. A preview is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 28, for Rourke members
Where: Rourke Art Museum, 521 Main Ave., Moorhead
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, April 24, 2017.