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Classical 101

Columbus artist paints words of inspiration

Columbus artist Lance Johnson uses spray paint on a round tabletop.
Jennifer Hambrick
/
WOSU
Columbus artist Lance Johnson in his studio.

Columbus mixed media artist Lance Johnson says his motto is “The world is a canvas.” And Johnson finds canvases everywhere.

“I could walk down the street and I could see somebody threw away a window because one of the glasses is broken out. And I’ll grab that and take it and try to create something beautiful out of it,” Johnson said. “I’ll paint shoes. I’ll paint doors. Whatever I can find.”

In Johnson’s hands countless windows, window guards, tabletops, mirrors, clock faces, benches and who knows what else have become Technicolor spray paint fantasies stenciled with filigree and uplifting words, like wisdom, strength and love.

Growing up in one of the world’s biggest cities helped form the distinctive urban style of Johnson’s art. A native of The Bronx, New York, Johnson saw all around him energetic jumbles of graffiti, peeling paint and fragments of torn posters.

“I just love the aesthetics of that,” Johnson said, “the movement and the colors that I saw on the walls, but also the textures of the paint peeling. And I just loved the idea of seeing those walls and knowing the history of that wall.”

Columbus mixed media artist Lance Johnson paints a new work of art:

Not long after moving to Columbus in 2021, Johnson added a new chapter to the history of a wall in his own neighborhood. He received permission to paint one of the exterior walls of a neighbor’s garage. Now that wall is spruced up in dazzling colors, geometric designs and Johnson’s trademark “words of inspiration.”

“Whenever I stare at a blank canvas or wall or piece of wood – anything blank – the foundation is the words,” Johnson said. “And it’s always words of inspiration. Because street art and graffiti have always inspired me, but it’s had this negative connotation. And I always looked at it as inspiration – just the colorfulness of it, the secret language of it. I thought it was beautiful. And I wanted to convey that in my art.”

Lance Johnson's painting on a cinderblock garage wall includes words of inspiration such as hope, peace, and beauty.
Jennifer Hambrick
/
WOSU
Columbus artist Lance Johnson painted his neighbor's garage wall with words of inspiration.

Johnson says he wants to inspire today’s youths by creating artwork full of positive messages.

“I always thought about how a young person – like when I was going to school and walking by these walls – how they would react to the art,” Johnson said. “So I always wanted them to have words of inspiration to look at in my work, you know? Because words have power, obviously.”

Some of Johnson’s favorite words of inspiration are dream, evolve, soul, love and peace. But, for Johnson, the most important word of inspiration might be hope.

“Hope is everything to me,” Johnson said. “I love the diversity that we have in this country, and my hope is that we can embrace it and grow together as a country.  I just hope for a better place.”

Lance Johnson's studio wall with a painted tabletop and clock face.
Jennifer Hambrick
/
WOSU
A round tabletop and clock face painted by Columbus artist Lance Johnson.

Transcript of video

Lance Johnson:

My motto is, the world is a canvas.

Growing up in New York, there’s always this old graffiti covered by new graffiti and the urban decay of the textures of posters being torn. So I just love the aesthetics of that. I would see it on the walls when I would walk to the train station to go to school. I loved the energy, right? The movement and the colors that I saw on the walls, right? But also the textures of the paint peeling. And I just loved the idea of seeing those walls and knowing the history of that wall, right?

When I was 14 years old, my mom showed me a documentary of the Harlem Renaissance. Before that time, being an artist was not even in the cards at all. I grew up in the Bronx, New York, so it wasn’t even a thing, you know? But when she showed me this documentary from PBS called I’ll Make Me a World, and I saw all these young artists that looked like me – musicians, dancers, writers, visual artists. It was just so dynamic to me, so amazing, and I was like, you know what? I wanna be an artist. I wanna do stuff like that.

Whenever I stare at a blank canvas or wall or piece of wood – anything blank – the foundation is the words. And it’s always words of inspiration, right? Street art and graffiti have always inspired me, right? But it’s had this negative connotation. And I always looked at it as inspiration, right? Just the colorfulness of it, the secret language of it. I thought it was beautiful. And I wanted to convey that in my art. But I always thought about how a young person, like when I was going to school and walking by these walls – how they would react to the art. So I always wanted them to have words of inspiration to look at in my work, you know? Because words have power, obviously. And I always like to use words like dream, hope, evolve, love, peace.

Hope is everything to me. I love the diversity that we have in this country, and my hope is that we can embrace it and grow together as a country. I just hope for a better place.