Dreaming of art: Ashland painter's work at Jewel

·3 min read

Jun. 12—ASHLAND — Just a glimpse, and you can recognize the art of Jerry Johnson.

The 72-year-old Ashland native's style of painting has been refined over a career that spans more than 50 years.

Those unfamiliar with his work can check it out during his solo show at The Jewel Art Gallery at 323 15th St. from June 14 through 18.

He said he works with oil some but prefers acrylic paint.

"I love it because it's fast and clean and you're not making a mess, where with oil you have to leave it sit for weeks, sometimes months, at a time to dry," he explained.

Subject matter for Johnson means people. While he has painted many family members, the faces extend to historical figures, too.

"Most of the historical paintings are of Blacks holding different positions," he said, noting African art, including combat images, are popular. "They are of different poses, not just faces. They really look 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 sold to an anonymous buyer who bought it for the Black History Museum." The museum is set to open in Ashland next year.

Reynolds said she wanted the exhibit to coincide with Juneteenth, which is June 19.

"It's his goal in his art to honor Black lives and African lives, and it's something he's really passionate about," she said. "We have this amazing Black artist who likes to paint African culture. Why wouldn't we do something to honor Juneteenth?"

The self-taught has been a cartoonist for Walt Disney and a cartoonist for the Navy Times. He also has taught art at Ohio University.

He has painted and done lettering on the windows of many businesses in the area, including the Paramount Arts Center when Gladys Knight performed.

Johnson said many of his relatives are musically inclined, but he apparently inherited some such talent, too, as he took the stage with the 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 working 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 packed house and I almost fell gonig on stage. There were cords 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 I was in church and started singing," he said with a laugh.

There's no doubt visual art is where his devotion lies.

"I get home at night and dream about 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. June 18. A book about Johnson, titled "The Art of Jerry Johnson," is in the works and will be for sale at Conquest Books, which has a space inside the gallery.

(606) 326-2661 — lward@dailyindependent.com