Erik Johnson (he/him) is a painter, sculptor, and storyteller with a BFA from the University of Alberta. He grew up in the car-dependent suburbs of Sherwood Park AB, and is interested in depicting human-made environments in which humans feel unwelcome. In his paintings, he uses dystopian sci-fi worldbuilding to tackle real-world issues like car dependency, pollution, labour, automation, AI, invasion of digital privacy, and the use of technology as a bandaid for larger issues. He uses his fictional worlds to tell stories through painting, drawing inspiration from various visual storytelling mediums. In his sculpture practice, Johnson creates representational likenesses through his clay portrait busts. He is interested in the use of musicians as portraiture subjects, drawing from the expressive nature of their music as a source for expressive potential in clay.
I’ve used my most recent series of acrylic paintings to create a fictional dystopian sci-fi world piece by piece, and to tell a story revolving around our relationship with machines, technology and automation. The details and lore of this fictional world are based on various real-world issues that concern me, but warped and exaggerated to be more clearly recognizable and distinct. It can be difficult to recognize something as an issue to be solved when you have been deeply immersed in it since birth. This has been the case for me, especially with the issue of North American car dependency. Underfunded public transit and a lack of walkability robs agency from those unable or unwilling to drive, and creates a sense of isolation and loneliness that many try to alleviate with online virtual interactions. My paintings reflect on how a world built for machines rather than people denies our lives of fulfillment, belonging and meaning. My clay portrait busts are the opposite of my paintings. They’re my chance to be optimistic, to indulge in something that gives my own life fulfillment. While my paintings are concerned with technology and machines, my sculptures respond to life as a human being. There are few things more human than molding a piece of the earth with your hands and unashamedly creating whatever you feel compelled to create. Personally, I’m compelled to create a likeness in clay, to study and understand others’ faces. I especially enjoy creating portraits of musicians, since I can tap from their own creative medium as a source of expression outside the purely visual. I’m not interested in conveying deeper meaning in my sculptures. I simply enjoy making them, and hope others enjoy encountering them.
Mirage: Luddite, 16”x24”, acrylic on masonite, 2023
Joni Mitchell, 8”x10”x5”, clay, 2022
Mirage: Stairway to Oinky’s, 16”x24”, acrylic on masonite, 2023
Cory Henry, 10”x17.5”x10, clay, 2022
Mirage: Slop, 12”x12”, acrylic on masonite, 2023