Graffiti does not normally lead to creation of an arts-related business, but in Patrick Johnson’s case it did. But it was not the type of business one would expect such as a tagger-turned-fine artist.
“I painted the side of my studio (which was located at Jefferson and Buckingham). It was olive green, and some guy–a graffiti artist–came out and spray painted the word ‘blade.’ He used orange and did it in four-foot letters on the side of the building,” explained Johnson, who was initially angry about the vandalism. “I asked for wisdom in how to handle it because I wanted the building to stay beautiful.”
How he handled it was to get a can of spray paint and write a note on the side of the building: “If you would like to take an art class, I will give you art classes. Call me at this number, and this is my door,” said the Los Angeles painter.
A couple weeks passed by with no response so Johnson painted out everything.
“He came back and wrote it again. I wrote back, ‘The offer still stands,’ and left it up for another week.”
When that elicited no response, Johnson painted out the graffiti and replaced it with a painting of a galaxy, stars and the solar system on the side of the wall.
Then the neighbors started to drop by.
“They really appreciated how I handled the situation, and asked had I ever thought about teaching art classes. I said no not really,” Johnson recalled saying to the six people who had dropped by. That impromptu community committee convinced the former mural painter that he needed to begin teaching art classes, a rather rare occurrence in the inner city.
He did just that.
Then in November 2005, a fire in the building forced the artist to move.
After staying in a hotel a short while, he relocated not far from where his original studio was, and continued to give lessons.
“My wife suggested I open my own studio. But I didn’t have the money,” remembered Johnson, who found a location on Washington Boulevard just a few doors down from the Nate Holden
Performing Arts Center.
While he did not have money, Johnson, who has been drawing since age four, did have a mentor–Carlos Ozzimo of Ozzimo and Associates–who was willing to back him.
“I got a six-month lease, and I didn’t have to pay the first and last month rent, just $950 to move in.”
Johnson did that, then took a trip to a nearby Osh Hardware store.
“They donated paint, and I painted the building with the help of all the kids in the neighborhood. I did that so they would feel invested in the project and would not graffiti the building.”
The painting took a month and the studio opened in September of last year.
“I have the most amazing art classes,” said Johnson of his sessions which typically draw people from the immediate neighborhood. “It’s so diverse it’s amazing,” added the Florida native, who said his students include a man who had not drawn for 20 years, and is now drawing like he has done it daily for the last 20 years. There is also a talented 8-year-old Latino boy. There is also the woman who believes art will help with her multiple sclerosis.
The artist currently has about 10 students, and the classes include lessons, as well as visits to other art galleries and museums to critique works. Students’ works are featured in an exhibit at the end of the six-week children’s course and 10-week adult class.
The artist said he hopes to get the Mid City Neighborhood Council to sponsor art classes for youngsters who cannot afford to pay.
And then there is his big-picture goal. In addition to growing his studio business, Johnson, who was so determined to go to art school that he forged his mother’s signature, wants to create a neighborhood art space.
“I canvassed the whole neighborhood and had everyone sign a petition for Councilman Herb Wesson to name Washington Boulevard an arts corridor because there are so many talented people (artists, photographers etc.) living in the area.”