I am Paul Johnston, an artist from Toronto, Canada. At my studio, (The Plant), located in the beautiful arts driven community of Stratford, I create unique assemblage furniture, found object narrative sculpture and fine art photographs.
If you have any questions, comments or would like more information I would be happy to hear from you…. I love to ramble about my work.
I hope you enjoy my art.
The Short of it:
Paul Johnston’s artistic pursuits span over three decades. He currently lives in a modest century home with his quirky family: A wonderful and far too supportive woman, a comic actor with a heart of gold, an accident prone star athlete, a spaced out virtuoso, two dachshunds (just like Warhol), a thirty year old turtle, a sixty year old lizard and Mr. Funke the albino not so gold fish.
The Long of it:
After his parents divorce at the age of two, he and his mother moved into the basement of his Great grandmother’s house in the Riverdale area of Toronto. Great Granny Walton, a self made woman born in the 1880‘s who, despite being illiterate to the point of not being able to sign her own name, ran a twelve room hotel and tavern and slowly acquired a small real estate empire. She had a simple philosophy: “If you waste nothing in your daily life, you will save enough money to buy the very best of what you want”
“As a kid I found it fascinating to look through the drawers and closets of my Great grandmother’s house. The bags of rags, jars of buttons, broken jewellery, door hardware and sewing machine parts, they were my toys and I attached myself to them emotionally. My mother and I used to laugh at what a packrat Granny Walton was…. Now I have a 1000 square foot studio with shelves ten feet high full of the same damn stuff.”
Raised in a home full of antiques and old values, with the paradox of the 1960’s raging outside, he developed an eclectic view of the world and found it difficult to fit in. Being the only male in the household he learned, at a young age, to build or repair almost anything, skills that would become his creative outlet later in life.
When Paul was twelve years old his Great grandmother died and he moved himself upstairs into the vacant house where, in isolation, he began to teach himself to draw and paint. He gained a love and respect for photography from his uncle, David Usher, who worked as a freelance photographer and as a cameraman for CBC. At fifteen Paul bought his first SLR camera.
Through his teen years he worked at several jobs, including one at a downtown pawnshop where he gained an extensive knowledge of cameras, met several professional photographers and was able to slowly acquire used equipment to set up a studio/gallery at King St and Spadina Ave. Here, in addition to photography, he tried his hand at everything artistic and eked out a living doing photographic cataloguing of jewellery, taking promotional shots for local bands and working as a bike courier. Living and working deep in the punk and gothic subcultures of the late 70’s/early 80’s in the Queen West warehouse district (now Toronto’s entertainment district), he found himself surrounded by a collection of musicians and artists who had created a macabre world where reality existed in what felt like a living collection of art and theatre. It was a place where bizarre was the norm and truth is stranger (and more interesting) than fiction. Those late night streets and speakeasies were full of complex characters, derelict rusted machinery and all the darkness, drama and mystery of a modern day Old Masters oil painting. It was from this world that his artistic style and philosophy began to emerge.
By the late 1980’s his ‘waste nothing’ attitude had already amassed a sizeable collection of broken antiques and curiosities that became a sideline business in order to keep the volume in check. Pieces that could be repaired were sold; those that couldn’t were disassembled and used as components in art, as props for photographs or sorted and stored for the future.
In the 1990’s Paul started building folk-art furniture where he refined the distinctive faux aging techniques that he still uses in his art today. As cheaply made, mass produced imports began to flood the market, he began to incorporate antique components into his work in order to set it apart. Although this business failed, it was during this time that he developed the unique set of skills it takes to design and construct sculpture from pre-existing materials.
“ …you can’t buy a book on how to connect a silver plated teapot to the wooden steering wheel of a 1949 MG using only hardware from a 19th century shipping trunk to create art that is designed to be aesthetic, lasting and communicate a poignant narrative to the viewer… I can do that… and I’m oddly proud of those unique skills”
A move to the arts driven town of Stratford and a new studio, ‘The Plant’, has brought him to a fresh place in life and the effects of this are evident in his latest work. The ideas and skills that have shaped his lifelong path are coming together into a cohesive philosophy that radiates from his art on many levels.
During most of his adult life Paul had never pursued art as a career, though he obsessed with it to the point of addiction. Now, this self proclaimed “Aficionado of the Midlife Crisis” has decided it is time to open the doors of his studio and his off kilter mind. Inside is a collection of duplicitous objects, compelling narratives and art that is bound to leave the viewer with curious questions and maybe even some big answers.