Using his skills in printmaking to capture the viewer in a state of colorful mysticism, the details that Eric A. Johnson drops into his work are both small and full of meaning.
The passion that flows through his artwork is evident, especially in works like “Cut Away: A real allegory summing up 13 years of my artistic life.”
In the print, there’s a farmhouse that points to his roots, an exploding sky that hints at the days Johnson spent drawing space battles between the U.S. and Soviet Union as a kid, and fun animal figures like an elephant and radioactive bunnies.
“I won’t give everything away that’s in there,” Johnson says reservedly about the whirlwind of details.
The multitalented maker was up against a wall creatively in the spring of 2020 when his expected exhibition at the Rourke Art Gallery + Museum in Moorhead was postponed due to the pandemic.
“I was ready to take a break from printmaking after I had everything ready for that show,” Johnson says.
With the works ready to be exhibited but on hold for a year, Johnson slowly added and subtracted from the prospective body of work, cutting a few here and there while creating new works in the process.
Some of the works harken back to his 2017 Rourke show with works in his classic reductive style — a process Pablo Picasso brought into the limelight in the same technique of cutting away at the imagery while adding colors on top.
“There’s one piece that I meant to put in the last show that I forgot to bring to the Rourke, but besides that one piece from 2015, everything (from the upcoming show) is from 2017 or newer,” Johnson says.
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The show may be on the horizon, set to bloom with vibrant colors beginning on March 26 and stay on display through May 2, but for now, the artist will have to continue to wait it out, just like he’s done for the past nine months.
It hasn’t been just a bunch of sitting around, though. In addition to finding time to experiment with painting, he’s made a couple prints to sneak into the upcoming show.
One such print is from a series of flower prints created by Johnson last spring called “May” for a group of art enthusiasts participating in the Community Supported Art program from The Arts Partnership.
With an eye for the granular details in a setting as epic as a sprawling cityscape, Johnson has a way of adding depth to any image. While his eyes are often fixed to the fine lines he carves away at, he also likes to switch it up, taking on other mediums and incorporating new subject matter.
“I try to keep it interesting, going from the cityscapes where I’m sitting here for hours working on details, to some of the pieces that will be in the show where I have no plan and I just set the block in front of me and almost randomly carve away at the block.”
He’s also pursuing new avenues with his craft online, like shooting videos from his home studio to demonstrate everything from inking up a roller to sending the print through his press.
Johnson will work with PrintAustin next month, an artist-led nonprofit hosting its first ever virtual version of PrintEXPO, an exhibition the Johnson attended in person in 2019 with his young boys.
In addition to talks, demos and lectures, PrintAustin has an online showcase of prints for sale by the artists and will feature traditional, unique and unconventional forms of printmaking during the free, one-day conference on Feb. 6.
As an art teacher at Minnesota State Community and Technical college in Detroit Lakes, Minn., Johnson continually switches up his craft to adapt to the classes he’s teaching, from painting and drawing to introduction ceramics and sculpture classes.
“I was mostly into sculpture up until I took a printmaking class, close to maybe my junior year of college. I’ve always struggled with painting because it seems like I never know when to stop,” Johnson says.
While the delays to his upcoming exhibition and shift to teaching online have pushed Johnson to find new ways to stay present in his artwork, there will always be a call to printmaking.
“It’s the thing I enjoy most, I guess, out of anything, but I do like to kind of mix it up, too,” he says.
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and first appeared online on Monday, January 25, 2021,