On view 16 April - 6 June 2021 in the Main and East Galleries
Eric A. Johnson, reduction relief print, 2/12, 17.75 x 23.5 in.,
Cut Away: A real allegory summing up 13 years of my artistic Life.
"All but one of the reduction relief prints for “Cut Away” were created in four years (2017-2021). A lot happened in this time, but in general the work I have made is not about any specific events. I found myself continuing to work on a few different 'paths' and returning to another, all of which you will see in this body of work. I am honored to be exhibiting my second solo exhibition of work at The Rourke Art Gallery + Museum."
—Eric A. Johnson, 2021
Eric A. Johnson, reduction relief print, 2/7, 6 x 4 in., Self (Destructor).
Eric A. Johnson, reduction relief print, 1/13, 23 x 17.5 in., Current.
Eric A. Johnson, reduction relief print, 1/19, 24 x 18 in., Pentimento.
The youngest of six children, Eric A. Johnson was raised on a farm near Embden, North Dakota. Johnson’s father Alton M. Johnson was a cattle and grain farmer. His mother Edel, who had immigrated to the United States from Norway at age 16, worked for many years in a nursing home in Enderlin, ND. The family raised cattle, sheep, goats, one milk cow, and a large array of pet animals including horses, dogs, and cats. The farm was an active place year round and each of the children had an active part in doing the farm work. Bailing hay in the summer and straw in the fall were particularly busy times, and Alton would bail only square bails that weren’t too heavy for the children to handle. In 1990 Mr. Johnson became ill and passed away the following year in August, 1991.
Having little interest in taking on the family’s small cattle operation, Eric moved to Fargo and enrolled at North Dakota State University. After several years of study Johnson decided to focus on sculpture, but ultimately found that printmaking was his true passion. He especially took to the reduction relief print technique, which was made famous by Pablo Picasso in the 1950s and 60s. That process uses one block to create a multicolored print instead of using one for each color. The printing matrix is “reduced” down by carving away where the artist wants the last color to stay. Johnson used this technique to complete a series of sixteen reduction relief prints in his last semester at NDSU. The imagery focused, among other things, on his feelings about his father’s death. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Visual Art from NDSU with a minor in Art History from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 1997.
In 1998 he began his studies at the University of North Dakota’s Master of Fine Arts program in Grand Forks, ND. During his time at UND he began his ongoing series of cityscapes, inspired by recollections of his first visits to Chicago and New York City. He longed to escape to those places, which seemed to be worlds that were both exciting and filled with opportunities for young artists, contrasted to what at the time was a pretty bleak reality for most young people staying in North Dakota, especially for artists. Johnson persevered with his studies and despite some turmoil in his personal life, by the time Johnson completed the program in 2001, it was clear that he had found his forte with printmaking.
From 1999-2018 Johnson served various positions at NDSU, teaching in both the Visual Arts Department and Interior Design program. In the Visual Arts Department’s P.E.A.R.S (Printmaking Education And Research Studio) program, under the direction of his former professor and mentor Kent Kapplinger, he served as Master Printer for editions by artists Ken Dalgarno, Star Wallowing Bull, Carrie Lee Kinslow, and Dennis Krull. Johnson also worked intensively on his own practice, creating a large body of new work using the reduction relief process, as well as other printmaking techniques including screen-print, intaglio, monotype, and lithography.
It was during this time that people began to take notice of Johnson’s work, eventually being recognized for his daring use of color and emotionally expressive line work. An exhibition of 58 of Johnson’s prints traveled through North Dakota and Montana in 2010-2012 through a North Dakota Art Galleries Association exhibit. In 2016 he helped organize “PRINTOBER” a celebration of printmaking at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, ND.
In 2017, a solo exhibition of recent work entitled “The Nature of Things” was held at the renowned Rourke Art Museum and Gallery in Moorhead, MN. In 2018 Eric purchased his own etching press, a Griffin Press Co. “Series IV” and became the first resident artist specializing in printmaking at West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo, ND. Johnson shared his passion for art and printmaking at the mall from June to October 2018. In January 2019, he opened “Big Oak Press”, his printmaking studio at his home in Hillsboro, ND. In April 2021 he will exhibit his newest body of work “Cut Away” in his second solo exhibition at the Rourke Art Museum. Johnson also has plans to expand his studio to be able to offer workshops and classes, and will begin working with artists to create editions of their own work in the fall of 2021.