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Local bronze sculptor chooses road less taken
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"Centennial" by Gregory Johnson

‘Everyone is a Work of Art’
Bronze sculptures by Gregory Johnson

When: Through Feb. 15; hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Quinlan Visual Arts Center, 514 Green St. NE, Gainesville

How much: Free; pieces available for purchase

More info: www.quinlanartscenter.org or 770-536-2575

Also showing:

  • “Painting Inside Out” featuring works by the Plein Air Painters of Georgia
  • “Still Life Revisited” with still life artist Bert Beirne
  • The Georgia Art League Invitational, featuring artwork by previous Georgia Art League winners

Where some artists might see more work, Gregory Johnson saw a challenge.

Trained in the traditional art of putting paint on canvas, Johnson once had a professor who asked him what more he could do with his art -- how can he use his talents for drawing people and really make it personal, for him.

So, he took it to a third dimension.

Johnson’s collection of bronze sculptures is now on display at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville, and represents years of work in clay and bronze.

“I got into it because, a, I loved it and I felt very comfortable at home with it -- originally I was a painter,” said Johnson, who is based in Cumming. “And the second reason is, the market forces drove me that way. People commissioned me, and the more work I got out there the more people wanted bronze.”

Johnson’s work can be seen many places around Georgia and the world. He created the Gen. James Longstreet Memorial in downtown Gainesville, as well as pieces at Brenau University, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens and in corporate and private collections. His most recent work will be installed Jan. 8 at Challenged Child and Friends in Gainesville, in remembrance of student Jenny Kern.

Each piece can take at least six months to complete, many taking more than a year.

But it’s the chance to portray someone from multiple angles all at once that drives his passion, Johnson said.

“From an artistic standpoint, if I was to paint your portrait, and let’s say I chose to do a three-quarter view of your face. And then I thought, ‘You know, I think this girl’s really got a pretty profile,” I would literally have to start over on another canvas to do that,” he said. “But with sculpture, with clay, you just give it a twist and clean up the neck lines and you go.

“You know, I really like that.”

And while he said the chance to explore a subject in a third dimension is more freeing, it does add layers of work, too.

“For example, a hand,” he said. “When you paint you’re just painting one side of it. But then you sculpt, you’re sculpting each finger -- the palm, the knuckles. If you have a wedding ring on that’s 360 (degrees) on the ring, on the watch, the fingernails.

“So, all of a sudden your work tripled or quadrupled in terms of the things you need to address.”

Johnson said he considers himself a figurative sculptor, getting influences from faces and people he sees in everyday life. A child he saw at a recent fall festival, holding a balloon twisted into a dog shape, gave him an idea for a sculpture, he said.

His pieces range from children playing on a bench to young women dressed for the debutante ball to war heroes.

Growing up, Johnson said, he felt he was lucky to have been able to receive the training he did. By the time he was a senior in high school, he said, he could paint or draw whatever he wanted thanks to a couple very talented teachers he had as a teenager.

Then, it took a college professor to set him down his chosen path in the art world.

“When I got to college I met a professor who taught me about the other side of the coin, which is now that you have all this technical skill, what are you going to do with it?” Johnson said.

And as a result, now Johnson sees even more in his subjects -- whether it’s the backside or an ear or the underside of an arm.

“And I’m OK with that,” he said. “It’s just more opportunities for me to be expressive.”

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