My First Solo Show

Posted by Gregory Johnson on

I'm having the time of my life. At the tender age of 68, I am a full time working artist. Those of you who know me and are familiar with my work may be saying, "It's about time!", but I'm here to tell you that it could not have happened before now. For many reasons that are too numerous to mention here, I just wasn't ready. I had to grow up. I had to shed several skins over the years, gain a certain confidence and wisdom that I simply didn't possess early on. It's been a long, tangled journey, one which we all must travel, with thousands of opportunities along the way for learning. I'm still traveling, and still learning. My work has evolved into a visual journal of what I have learned, and what I'm continually learning. The education never stops. It's like science: the more you discover, the more questions you have. My work is full of questions.

Nearing retirement in 2021, I decided, along with my son and business partner AJ, to not only create, but actually share my art with the world. I was finally able to show what amounts to an exploration of my inner self. Not an easy decision. But I was ready. What the hell, why not? I called this effort, "The Drive to 2022", and we began the process of creating a business. AJ, with no experience, was able to build a website, we acquired an "LLC" designation, and created social media presence on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We started a business bank account, invested a little money, and upon retirement in January of 2022, I began to crank out art at a rate I had never done before. It was almost as if an inner dam burst that had been holding back the muse for over forty years.

Having worked primarily with felt-tip markers over the years, I not only increased ten-fold the number of markers I had, but also began to branch out into acrylic paint, which I never thought would happen. I bought 2 easels, and began to explore other mediums and larger sizes and types of surface media. I found a piece of foam core and decided to try working with it. It worked so well that I bought thirty of them at 24x36. I purchased 30x40 illustration board, and branched out with paint and liquid markers. I gotta tell ya folks, it was and is, as they used to say, a gas. We started to reach out to publications and exhibitions with submissions of my work. Now here lies the rub, all you hopeful creators out there: I got a lot of rejections. This is why it was in my best interest to do this at this stage of my life. I'm now okay with being rejected. As a matter of fact, I find rejections to be critically important as an indispensable part of the creative process. And I have thicker skin these days. I'm still inwardly sensitive, being an artist, but now I'm a little wiser and more confident. What can I learn?

But some good things happened, and pretty quickly. One of my pieces was accepted in a gallery show. It didn't sell, but that wasn't really the point then. I wanted the experience of a show, to see all these people show up to view art, of which mine was one. There is something about a gallery show that's special. All these people trying to reach out to their fellow humans on terms other than the usual. And those moments when the viewer gets sort of lost in a piece of art, nakedly showing a kind of quiet awe. Living in another place for a few seconds.

An online lit mag called Neon Door published three of my marker-on-foam core pieces, with a special section for each creator, in which I was asked to describe and explain each one. They even paid. In addition, the editor asked me to create a logo for them based on one of my works that appeared on Twitter. They were absolutely delighted with the result. And they paid. In the meantime, I continued to create. With each piece my work changed and evolved. In a little over a year, I produced around seventy five works. Some good, some not so good, some really really good. (In my opinion, anyway.) All the while, some of my prints, t-shirts, and phone covers on my website were sold. Not a king's ransom, but selling a lot of merchandise isn't the point. The very idea that someone would part with their hard earned money to own my artwork is a dear privilege. I have one customer that is devoted to my work, which I count as an untold blessing. It's a kind of communication that you won't encounter in everyday circumstances.

One of my creations entitled, "My Grandmother at the Sanatorium ca. 1930", was accepted for the Ohio Art League's Fall exhibition. It was really well received by viewers and other artists. To have your peers admire your work is a special thing. I began to contemplate having my own solo show.

Which brings me to Stella's Art Gallery. I have mentioned this gallery in previous blogs, so I won't belabor it too much. Suffice it to say that Stella's was perfect for my first show. I had had 2 pieces accepted for their annual "Oddball" show, which, if you're familiar with my work, was absolutely appropriate. It turns out that one of these pieces sold. As a matter of fact, it was the only one that sold in the show. (It was an "oddball" show after all). This marked the first time one of my originals was bought, and by a total stranger. I considered this to be a success, and still do. To me, it's a very intimate thing to sell an original. It's that communication I talked about. It also proved to me that there was a market for my work, for those of like mind. It turns out that the gallery had a space for rent. Now, even if galleries rent space, they won't just rent it out to anybody. An artist's show represents the gallery and its reputation. So I asked the owner, Dani, to check my work on my Instagram page to see if it would fit in with the overall feel of her business. She was good with it, so I selected the next available slot, which was the month of February, 2023.

As of this writing it is February 3rd, and the show has been installed. What is it they say about when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life? That's where I am now. A little over a year since I struck out into the art world with my son AJ, and here we are. Let me take you through the process.

In the course of the last few years I have created around 200 works of art. AJ lives in Columbus and is my connection with the art scene there and has been instrumental in getting my work into shows in the area. He also has a setup for digital photos of my work, complete with a light box, since most shows now accept digital entries only. So he was in possession of most of my pieces, which required that I drive down there to initially select what would be included in my show. Good grief. There was enough room in the gallery space for 30-35 pieces, so I selected around 60 for the final cut. I took them back up to my Cleveland studio, to begin the selection process. Mind you, this was a labor of love, so not really labor at all. In the meantime, I was still creating works that would eventually end up in the show.

After a few weeks I had narrowed the field down to 32 pieces, the majority of which had to be framed. That's an expensive undertaking. The best way for me to approach this was to buy the frames from stores and on-line, always with an eye for a bargain. I may approach self-framing at some point, but I'm not certain that it would be cheaper, would certainly be labor intensive, and get in the way of actually creating. Any way you cut it, framing 32 works of art ain't cheap, but the best way to look at it is as the cost of doing business. In the end, the artist is foolish who believes that art shouldn't be treated as such. Each one had to have a wire installed for hanging, and many pieces had to be drilled to install it. But it got done, lovingly. I bet most artists can understand that.

Finally the day came for me to hang my art. Any gallery owner will tell you that hanging and presenting artwork is an art unto itself. I decided that I didn't want to have each piece to be perfectly in line with the others. I wanted the work to present a moving line, so I didn't worry about the exact height of each one. I can say that hanging this show was about as pleasurable an activity as I've ever experienced. Maybe over time it gets blase, but I really don't think so. The end result is shown above, at least partially.

So exactly 13 months after embarking on this new phase of my life, I'm having my first solo show. And to boot, one of the pieces in it sold the very next day. I don't know how many people in this world before during or after have had the privilege of feeling their lives are validated. I write to you now to tell you that I am one of those.

If you can, come to my show. It will run the entire month of February, with an artist's reception on Friday February 10th from 7-9pm. Stella's Art Gallery in Willoughby, Ohio.

This is only the beginning.



Leave a comment