The Painter’s Work from Ashland to Jewel
June 12 – ASHLAND – Just a glimpse, and you may recognize Jerry Johnson’s art.
The 72-year-old Ashland native’s painting style has been honed over a career that spans more than 50 years.
Those unfamiliar with his work can discover it at his solo show at the Jewel Art Gallery at 323 15th St. from June 14-18.
He said he worked with oil but preferred acrylic paint.
“I love it because it’s quick and clean and you don’t make a mess, where with oil you have to let it sit for weeks, sometimes months, at a time to dry,” said he explained.
The subject for Johnson means people. Although he painted many members of his family, the faces also extend to historical figures.
“Most historical paintings depict black people in different positions,” he said, noting that African art, including combat imagery, is popular. “They have different poses, not just faces. They look really good and are selling like hot cakes.”
Gallery owner Bri Reynolds can attest to the popularity of her work.
“He’s one of the most popular artists in the gallery,” she said. “One of his pieces sold to an anonymous buyer who bought it for the Black History Museum.” The museum is expected to open in Ashland next year.
Reynolds said she wanted the exhibit to coincide with Juneteenth, June 19.
“It’s his goal in his art 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 painting African culture. Why don’t we do something to honor Juneteenth?”
The autodidact was a cartoonist for Walt Disney and a cartoonist for the Navy Times. He also taught art at Ohio University.
He painted and did lettering on the windows of many area businesses, including the Paramount Arts Center when Gladys Knight performed.
Johnson said many of those closest to him were musically inclined, but he apparently inherited such a talent, as he took 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 when he worked 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 played. “It was a full house and I almost fell on stage. There were ropes everywhere and I was nervous.”
But the impromptu show went off without a hitch.
“I sang with the church choir, anyway, and I just pretended to be in church and started singing,” he laughed.
There is no doubt that visual art is where his devotion lies.
“I come home at night and dream of what I’m going to paint next,” he said.
Johnson will be at the Jewel Art Gallery from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 18. A book about Johnson, titled “The Art of Jerry Johnson,” is in the works and will be on sale at Conquest Books, which has space inside the gallery.
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