Q & A With Set Design Artist Joe Johnson



joeJOE JOHNSON, ERHS AND LOFT alumnus, artist, and polarizing beard wearer has returned from his studies at Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida to yet again loan his prodigious talents to the Loft Stage.  Joe graciously took time from his Fiddler set design work to answer seven questions.

1.  The Fiddler set is taking its style cues from the paintings of Marc Chagall.  How has that been going for you?

JJ:  It is definitely a challenge because it is such a specific style, or lack thereof, for Chagall really doesn’t fit into any group like impressionism, surrealism, etc.  It really took me a while to get in the spirit of Chagall, but I believe George and I have been able to make it work, and by studying his paintings, come up with a way very similar to how he would have painted.  We are really trying new techniques and embracing this “painterly” set, which will be unique to the Loft.

2.  What is the very first piece of art you remember creating?

JJ: Oh gosh, I have no idea.  I guess I really can’t remember a time not drawing.  I do however remember a rather specific moment when I was very young and drew on one of our walls.  Probably a dragon, haha, and my parents were very upset.  I recall tears. My tears.  But from what they have told me, they realized maybe they shouldn’t get mad and just let me do my thing. But this time, make sure he has paper.

3.  Joe, of all the art controversies in recent history, perhaps the most profound hot-button issue gripping the local art community today pertains to your facial hair.  Given your prime directive to channel the stylistic sensibilities of the clean shaven Chagall, and the very real threat posed by what scientist-artists refer to as the “hirsute interference effect,” how do you justify sporting a beard during Fiddler set design and construction?

JJ:  My beard is refraining me from answering this question.

4.  What artists, living or dead, have most inspired you?

JJ: Oh so many.  Ringling has opened a whole world of artists that I never knew about.  Inspirational, whether or not their style has influenced my own, are artists that make me want to better myself and inspire me to draw and paint.  Quite a list here, but John William Waterhouse, Edwin Austin Abbey, Lawrence Alma Tadema, Lord Frederic Leighton, any number of 19th-century painters, illustrators like Maxfield Parrish, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, N.C. Wyeth, John Howe, Alan Lee, and so, so many more!

5.  Where is your favorite place in the world?

JJ: Disneyworld is a pretty special place—I went there almost every year during my childhood.  Though I regret to say I’ve never been out of the country, but I would probably fall in love with the U.K. or Italy.

6.  Imagine a film of your life story is in the works.  Select from the following movie titles:

A.  The Joe Johnson Trilogy: Paint Hard, Paint Harder, and Paint Hard With a Vengeance
B.  Crabnado IV:  Terror at Joe’s Crab Shack
C.  Are you there, Joe? It’s Me, East Ridge:  Director’s Cut
D.  Joe Johnson:  Before The Dark Times…Before the Empire…
E.  Still Life with a Beard: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

JJ: First, these are all fantastic, so this is a really difficult choice. Now, I would go with “Joe Johnson: Before the Dark Times…Before the Empire…” but that’s too much of an inside joke amongst my friends.  So, I will have to say “Still Life with a Beard: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” It actually sounds like a real documentary title!

7. Joe, you are a Loft legend, major talent, and–lucky for us–a freelance artist.  How can your adoring public get a piece of you?

JJ: Well I think there are many Loft Legends and major talents that have come out of ERHS theater program, but yes I’m more than open to do commissions if anyone was interested.  My preferred genre is Fantasy and Fairytales, but Landscape painting is also something I enjoy doing very much. Shoot me a question or idea at joeytjohnson18@gmail.com or you can ask me in person. I’m definitely open to ideas!  You can also visit my website, though I’m in the midst of trying to rebuild my portfolio, but it is www.jtj-illustration.com

I’d just like to say I’m very grateful for the Loft and I am very glad to be back working on Fiddler and working with such a wonderful program 🙂

Thanks, Joe!  On behalf of the Loft, the newsletter can confidently report the feeling is mutual.