Artist Eric A. Johnson, photo courtesy J. Earl Miller
Artist Eric A. Johnson, photo courtesy J. Earl Miller

Printmaker Eric A. Johnson hails from just outside Fargo, North Dakota. One of the region’s most prolific artists, Johnson has created well over 150 prints in the last several years and has exhibited extensively in over fifty regional and national exhibitions. He holds a B.S. in Fine Art with a minor in Art History from North Dakota State University and a M.F.A. in Printmaking from the University of North Dakota.

The youngest of six children, Eric A. Johnson was raised on a farm near Embden, North Dakota. He graduated from Chaffee High School in 1991 with a class of eight students. Taking an introductory art class at North Dakota State University sparked an interest in art he had always had; however, up to that point he had had no formal art training. Johnson dove in, taking all the art classes he could. 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. Also known as the subtractive method, the reductive relief process was pioneered by Pablo Picasso in the 1950’s. The process is an involved one, using just one block to print a multicolored image instead of several blocks for each individual color. The first color is printed from the largest area of the block. After printing that single color, the area of the print that is meant to stay that color must be cut from the block. The uncut surface of the block is then used to print the next color. As the image develops, the block is reduced with each cutting until the desired image is created. Johnson used this technique to complete a series of sixteen reduction relief prints in his last semester at NDSU, earning his degree in art in 1997.

In 1998 he began his studies at the University of North Dakota’s Master of Fine Arts program, studying under Brian Paulson, Patrick Luber, and printmaker Kim Fink. During his studies at UND he began his ongoing series of Cityscapes, inspired by recollections of his first visits to Chicago and New York City. By the time Johnson completed the program in 2001, it was clear that he had found his forte with printmaking, creating another stunning series of reduction relief prints.

One of the region’s most prolific artists, Johnson has created well over 150 prints and has exhibited extensively in over fifty regional and national exhibitions. His award-winning work is sought after by art collectors and corporate collections around the region. Art enthusiasts often recognize Johnson’s prints and comment on the brilliantly hued landscapes, a result of Johnson’s unique use of color in the reductive relief process. In an article in Professional Artist magazine, Louise Buyo described Johnson’s prints as “[b]right and emotionally expressive, with loose lines that turn buildings and streets into more organic forms, Johnson’s prints portray the city as a channel of changing mood.”

Johnson’s work often draws from his active imagination, with images that run the gamut between slight abstraction and non-objective work. Recently, he has re-embraced realism, working from photos he has taken as his starting image and reimagining the reality in his hallmark bold and colorful style. Johnson draws inspiration from his kids, music, and his supportive and honest wife. His kids keep him young at heart, while his wife manages to push him outside is creative comfort zone. Music has always been an interest of Johnson, and he has in the past used song lyrics as inspiration for his work.

Currently, Johnson is an adjunct instructor of art at Minnesota State Community and Technical College and at Mayville State University. Johnson served as coordinator for the Visual Arts Program for the North Dakota Governor’s School from 2011-2013 and is a current member and former board member of Fargo-Moorhead Visual Artists (FMVA). He also has served as Master Printer with the PEARS program on editions by Canadian painter Ken Delgarno and artist Star Wallowing Bull. He continues to create and exhibit new work and his own press, called Big Oak Press, is in the works.

Read an interview with Eric A. Johnson