By Stacy Keith
I had the privilege of catching up with one of Lubbock’s most well-known artists – James Johnson. He is not only an incredibly versatile painter, but his work spans gothic, humorous and abstract styles. James can seemingly paint everything – really – from landscapes to portraits to animals. He came to us by way of upstate New York. He was lured to Texas Tech University for graduate school and was recruited by Lynwood Kreneck a printmaking professor at Tech. Lynwood and his wife, Eleanor, were co-winners of the Art on the Llano Estacado’s Legacy Award in 2022.
James landed in Lubbock and has stayed – saying that Lubbock is a great place for artists and to make art. With its low cost of living and supportive arts community – it has been a good choice for him. He didn’t start out as a full time artist though that was his goal. He painted houses part time to make ends meet as he began to establish himself after graduating college. But, the more he painted his art, the more successful he became and the more convinced he became that he could make a life and a living being a full time artist.
James doesn’t currently have a gallery space, he exhibits at different locations in town including Broadway Contemporary Gallery and at unique spots downtown like Rock Paper Shears. I caught up with him in his home studio and got a peak behind the curtain at this incredibly prolific painter and phenomenal talent.
As I entered his home – one thing struck me – the artwork – not just the quality of it but the enormous diversity of his paintings. Diverse in subject, styles, objects and even scale. Certain pieces would call out to me everywhere I looked. His animals struck me the most and James shared that he believes in the power and humanism of animals and pays particular attention to the eyes.
I asked him how he determines his subjects for a series, and he said that at one time he worked linearly in a series, but now paints what he likes and what he’s in the mood to paint. He says it creates a more enjoyable experience for him and it’s less stressful than a planned series. James does some commissions, but only accepts about one in five now. He likes to have the creative ability to create and finds that sometimes commissions can be a little confining. James sometimes will follow a photo to paint, but many times paints what he feels. He uses acrylics and oils – sometimes mixing them together to achieve the right medium.
I asked him about a gallery, he could fill several of them, but James wants to make art and the retail side of a gallery can sometimes disrupt the artistic workflow. He loves the Lubbock arts community and has seen the arts audience grow over the years. He strongly believes that art is for everyone and whatever the venue – a First Friday Art Trail, a private gallery or even a pop-up show that Lubbock audiences love art – and that art matters – it’s an element which enriches our humanity.
He’s in an enviable position – well established and respected in his craft and loves the peacefulness and productivity of his life – producing about a painting a week. James doesn’t leave town with his art as he did in his early days – instead he focuses showing in Lubbock and we’re glad he does.
A lover of art history and voracious reader on the topic, when asked who inspires him he replies an 1546 piece titled “Venus Cupid Folly and Time” by Agnolo Bronzino. Bronzino was an Italian Mannerist painter from Florence and a court painter. He painted portraits and James’ portraits and imaginative works surely could be seen as a nod to this long-ago artist.
To view or acquire his art – visit his website at JamesWJohnson.com or see his works in person at Broadway Contemporary Fine Art Gallery, Grey Edges Gallery (October 2022 show), or Chez Sami (September 2022). You can also find James easily on both Facebook and Instagram in the social media realm.