Day one of JohnnyInParis’s solo exhibition “North” started with a cool turnout. For me, it all started back in February when I saw an Instagram post on Johnny’s page referencing his show “North” coming to New Jersey. Noticing the show wasn’t far from me (about an hour and thirty minutes), I immediately decided it would be well worth the drive. So, I sent Ria a DM on Instagram and secured an invite.
I arrived about thirty minutes early and joined the line of about 26 people waiting to get in. As I waited, I stood in line, both conversing and hearing other patrons talk excitedly about what to see, what merch they were excited about, and other shows they couldn’t wait to attend. Suddenly it was about three minutes until showtime, and things quickly got together outside. A table was set up with hand sanitizer, and a member of the staff meticulously took everyone’s temperature. Everyone was cleared, and we began filing inside ten at a time. It didn’t take long, maybe an additional five minutes before we were all inside. Once inside, I noticed everyone was making a b line out a side door. I quickly put together that it could only mean one thing – this was where the merch was! So, I followed suit out the door and into a courtyard to an adjoining building, and joined another line of patrons eagerly discussing what was supposed to be inside; some just came for sweatshirts, some for the prints. Finally, inside the shop area, the merch was simply laid out on a table. Immediately my eyes were drawn to the pizza box shirts that Johnny displayed on Instagram in the weeks leading up to the show. I was almost disappointed to find out that they didn’t have my size, but just then, the staff member checked the table, and low and behold, the last XL sat right there; I quickly snatched it. Moving on to the prints, there were a few super limited prints available. The Ren & Stimpy print aptly titled “As long as we have each other” were available in two variants.’ The main edition: an edition of 10 and the Strawberry washout, which was even more limited at just an edition of 8. Retailing for $625 each, I grabbed the main edition. My favorite of what was available, “Rory,” came in three variants, the main edition, Bartman variant, and the Nicholson variant. These retailed for $175 each; I grabbed all three – in that instant, the entire process was visualized in my head I knew which fame I would pick, who would frame it, and exactly where they would go in my home. The last grab I made was the main edition and variant of a print featuring Chief Wiggums and Friends (unfortunately, I didn’t catch the title). Finalizing my selection, I was assisted by Johnny’s wife, and once we settled up, I ventured back into the gallery.
Back inside, I scanned the room, I immediately noticed Johnny in the corner discussing a piece, so I floated around the room looking at all the works on view, snapping pictures, and chatting it up with patrons. I was befriended by Katie (Hey Katie, if you’re reading this, we are definitely friends now! Lol) and her mom Caroline both of whom insisted I visit the bar and try a Paloma. Caroline then said, “You know what, I’ll get it for you,” and went off to order the drink. While Caroline was gone, we discussed the works on view, Johnny, and other things. Caroline returned with the praised Paloma, and you know what, it was really good. Seriously, if you view the show, the drink is a must. Another patron came equipped with a box of Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries Texas-Sized (3 times bigger than the normal box advertised). He took the opportunity and pulled out his sketchbook and asked Johnny if he would mind doing a quick sketch, and Johnny agreed. As I stood watching, I regretted not having a sketchbook on hand to ask for my own sketch but watching Johnny work the Sharpie marker was oddly satisfying. Every stroke was careful and well thought. Between strokes, he paused in thought, and in that moment, I thought back to some of the works on view. Mainly “Choices you made sitting on a hotel bathroom floor,” which featured Garfield in various states of disarray. Standing there watching Johnny sketch a piece for that fan gave purpose to that work for me – even if it was all in my head. It’s always a privilege to be able to watch an artist work, and this time was no different. The glimpse into their process, even in something so small as a sketch on a pad, gives insight into the thought process that goes into larger works. Seeing how careful he was with those lines forced me to think about his process when he created “Choices you made sitting on a hotel bathroom floor.” The work is full of epithets, scattered lines, and playful drawings. With new insight, I figured as unorganized as this piece may seem, for someone as meticulous as Jonny, it was meant to appear this way. Again this is all in my head, and just my point of view, but I have made it make sense –even if only to myself. The piece he chose to draw in that sketchbook was simple but thought out, his signature Cap’n Crunch holding a rattlesnake with cacti in the background. As he finished, he signed Johnny with a smiley face; that’s a good trade if you ask me.
Finally getting my chance to meet Johnny, I introduced myself. We spoke about some of his work, what was on view, his journey to get where he is now, and where he plans on going. The conversation was wide-ranged, to say the least, but insightful more than anything. Growing up in California and moving to Boston around ten years old, we spoke about his upbringing. I referenced an article I read from 2018 in the Boston Voyager, and he confirmed some of the things he said back then. The similarities in our upbringing weren’t lost on me. One line from the article stuck out to me, so we started there, and the conversation built on that: always having the passion for art and wanting to pursue that, navigating around the roadblock’s life throws at you. Interestingly enough, the article mentioned a time in his life when he had never painted before, and his mom buying him a canvas, a paintbrush, and four colors of paint. I referenced that to my childhood where it wasn’t paint – my mom wouldn’t allow it, more so because she didn’t want it to end up on her walls, but for me, it was a pack of color pencils and a coloring book/sketchbook. This one canvas he had, he painted over and over with the same four colors. Money was not readily available to entertain the idea of fostering an art career, in my mind, I can’t fathom Johnny at that point in his life even thinking he’d have an art career. Not to say that the work wasn’t good, it just wasn’t a thought. Imagining a canvas in various stages of production is a powerful thought in itself; when blended with personality, feelings, and just what life throws at you in general, it becomes sort of a journal. It’s the ultimate form of expression. My only regret is not asking him whatever happened to that canvas? For me, if I were in his shoes, I would never get rid of it. I ask myself – If I was Johnny and I still had that canvas would I continue to work on it? Would I leave it how it is? It’s a hard question to answer.
A major part of the conversation was when I said to him: “you and I are not of this world; we just kind of wandered in it.” We don’t have any major backgrounds in art. It was all just a hobby, something to do to keep you out of trouble. In my life, the people entrusted to help foster creativity, growth and thought often bashed the idea of me becoming anything other than a convict. It wasn’t uncommon for this to be the norm, especially if you were a “bad” kid. Johnny only had one thing to say “Mamba Mentality bro.” You have to rise above all of that, and you have to prove things only to yourself; you don’t owe anyone anything. And that’s just it. We only owe ourselves. Multiple times throughout the conversation, Ria came over and handed Johnny red circular stickers to be placed on works that sold. The proverbial arrow to hit the mark – the piece that sold. In deep conversation for ten minutes, an impressive three pieces had sold. Of the multifaceted, multi-talented Ria, Johnny mentioned always wanting to collaborate with her. The show brought this dream to life with the piece “Your lies, They Comfort Me,” with Ria putting her signature touch on a bespoke white frame, painting the edges and beyond to match the canvas, extending the scenery by almost an inch on all sides. Before I left, I noticed that many of the arrows fired from Johnny’s bow hit the mark and would soon find a new home with a collector that saw value in Johnny’s work. It was bittersweet because the painting that I wanted, “Rory,” was shot with an arrow while I was in line for merch. A happy Johnny expressed his many thanks for the love and support while inviting me to a show coming up in Brooklyn. I promised to be there and to stay in touch.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, check it out. “North” By JohnnyInParis (One word) is on view from March 20th until April 3rd at
4 Flavors Art Gallery & Framing
204 Bellevue Ave, Montclair, NJ 07043
Follow Johnny on Instagram and show him some love @johnnyinparis