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Artist with Park Rapids connection featured at Nemeth

Sculptor Ryan Johnson lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., but spent his childhood summers in the Park Rapids area. His display is at the Nemeth in Park Rapids through Oct. 1.

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Ryan Johnson
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“My parents, Bruce and Linda Johnson, live on Long Lake,” he said. “They took a year off from teaching to build their cabin on the lake in 1980, so I’ve spent summers there since I was 2 years old. They retired in 1996. My mom worked at Aunt Belle’s candy store for a little bit and my dad helped build houses and did a lot of work for the North Country Trail. He’s still heavily involved with that. ”

Before that, the Johnsons taught in international schools. Johnson was born in Karachi, Pakistan and also lived in Djakarta, Indonesia where he graduated from high school.

“They had a really good art program there,” he said. “I was influenced by Oceanic art, Southeast Asian art. There was a lot of art in the culture including wood carving. I also had a really good art teacher in high school.”

Creative summers on Long LakeDuring their summers off from teaching, the family stayed at their place on Long Lake.

“Fishing, swimming, building tree forts, making stuff,” he said. “We were there for four months every summer. I nailed scrap 2x4s together to make space ships.

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“I always liked making things and the garage was full of tools, because my dad was into making things too. He’s a pretty good woodworker and I was always interested in building, so it was nice having that available. It was a great place to escape and a nice contrast to the life we had in the city.”

Pursuing his dreamJohnson said he wanted to be an artist since he was in high school. During his first day of college at the University of Minnesota Morris, he decided to make the move to New York and pursue his dream.

“I knew they had excellent museums, and if you want to be an artist it’s one of the places to be,” he said. “There are a lot of galleries here. I loved it right away. I grew up in a big metropolis and Brooklyn is a diverse metropolis so it felt comfortable. My parents supported my dream. I was so definitive when I told them, so they could see I was serious.”

He graduated from the Pratt Institute in 2000 and earned a graduate degree from Columbia University in 2003.

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Johnson said his sculpture “Watchman” was created to represent the concept of time. "Time is ambient, a dream-like space” he said. “The last couple of years I feel like I don’t know what time things happened. It feels like once the pandemic started time became untethered a bit. I will think I just saw my friend a month ago and he’ll tell me it has been a year and a half since we hung out.”
Contributed / Ryan Johnson

“I did both painting and sculpture and then after graduate school is when I realized sculpture was my thing, '' he said.

After graduation he started showing his art in group shows. “I also did some odd jobs like carpentry and art handling for different galleries for a few years.”

The first piece he sold was “Rendezvous,” a sculpture of a figure holding flowers behind his back. “It was a simple figure made of paper and wire of someone who was maybe waiting for his date,” he said.

Johnson describes his art as “surreal.” He creates sculptures from a variety of materials including wood, sheet metal and even medical casting tape.

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He earns a living through selling his art at places like the Marinaro Gallery in New York and Nina Johnson Gallery in Miami, Fla.

Art at the Nemeth“Dog chasing tail” is one of Johnson’s sculptures on display at the Nemeth. “I don’t have a dog, but my friend said it looked like the dog from the Simpsons,” he said. “A lot of my sculptures have to do with movement or the potential for movement. I like to take simple ideas. You don’t know how they will turn out until you start making them.”

The first step in creating a sculpture is to jot down the idea. “With the dog one it was just a simple sketch, and then I started making it with wire and cardboard,” he said. “Then I put epoxy clay on the wire to make a mold and brought it to the foundry to make it bronze. That was the first piece I’ve ever conceived that from the beginning I wanted it to be bronze, because it is a very beautiful and strong material for fluid movement. It’s perfect for sculpture.”

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Johnson's sculpture "Another Thought" is one of the pieces on display at the Nemeth in Park Rapids through Oct. 1.
Contributed / Ryan Johnson

Other sculptures by Johnson in the exhibit at the Nemeth are “Another Thought,” of a head with a frog sitting on top of it, “Large Wounded Bird” and “Adolescent,” featuring a naked boy without a head holding a baseball bat.

His wife, Dana Schutz, is also exhibiting sculpture and paintings at the show. The couple has three children ages 3, 5 and 8. They all came for a week to the Park Rapids area over the Fourth of July to visit and install the exhibit prior to the opening, and plan to return to the Park Rapids Area this fall to de-install and pack up everything after the show closes Oct. 1.

“The Nemeth has such a fantastic space, and they’re doing an excellent job with their programming,” he said. “We’re excited to be part of the show.”

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RELATED COVERAGE:
From electrified wood to Scandinavian folk art, guest artists displayed multiple talents on Saturday, Sept. 24.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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