Visual Art 10-29-2007

ZOOM IN: Photographer and Collage Artist Richard C. Johnson

Richard C. Johnson's surprising juxtapositions and unflinching artistic candor pack a visceral punch. As a bonus, click through to the collection of collage and photography that accompanies this article, with wry annotations by the artist himself.

Voyage of Discovery 3/14/43-5/5/04
Still Life
Storefront Shrine
Fall of Man
Rebel Cause and Effect
Self portrait

RICHARD JOHNSON’S PHOTOS OF WEATHERED storefronts, thrift store castoffs, and tattered religious iconography throughout rural Northern Minnesota serves as an astute chronicle of the erosion of small Midwestern towns.

“My childhood was spent in Cloquet, Minnesota,” Johnson remembers. “A factory town of about 10,000 folks, with just about everyone tied in some fashion to the manufacture of paper, or insulation and ceiling tiles, matches, or cardboard boxes. It was a place with a slightly higher than average number of churches as well as per capita consumption of distilled spirits. Cloquet has the distinction of lending its name to a really big forest fire… it was an okay place really.”

When asked about himself Johnson is endearingly squirmy: “I have earned money as a farm laborer, a floor sweeper, a retail merchant, a groundskeeper, a shelf stocker, a census taker, a black and white photographic printer, a cutter and rewind operator at N W Paper company, a sales clerk, a portrait photographer, an independent video producer. I’ve also been lucky enough to earn some small amount through my art, but that has always been more by accident, than by design.” He adds, “I’ve always thought that I would like to try my hand at mail fraud, but now that so much correspondence is done electronically, I’m afraid I would stick out like a sore thumb.”

Johnson’s eye for imagery, whether in mixed media assemblage or photograph, packs a visceral punch, offering a compassionate gaze with no hint of maudlin excess. His artistic sense for unexpected juxtapositions delivered with unflinching candor is reflective of the same wry humor and thoughtful eloquence you’d see evidenced in his written correspondence. In fact, I can’t improve upon Johnson’s own storytelling, so you’re in for something a bit different with this issue’s Zoom In.

Treat this as an illustrated profile, told through a series of images drawn from Richard Johnson’s rich portfolio and with the artist’s own words. To get Johnson’s tale mostly in order and in his own voice, be sure to view the artwork in sequence.

About the artist: Richard C. (a.k.a. R.C.) Johnson is an artist living in Duluth. He served for a number of years on the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, and his recent work includes a series of collaborative pieces with poet Louis Jenkins, Words and Pictures.

CLICK HERE to browse through a related collection of photographs and collages with engaging image-by-image annotations by the artist on