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COCA Spotlight: From trucker to painter

By: Amanda Sieradzki, COCA | July 30, 2018

Seven years ago, Steve Johnson fell off a tractor-trailer, shattered his ankle, and unknowingly landed himself into a career as an artist.

Johnson had played guitar since age 9, but not even music could beat his boredom during his post-surgery bed rest. He flipped on the television to PBS and was greeted by none other than the nationally renowned and cheery painter, Bob Ross. Johnson asked his wife to pick up a paint set from the store, then followed Ross through 50 paintings before realizing he might be in for a change of career. 
“There was a silver lining in falling off of that truck,” reflects Johnson. “I know when it happened it was pretty terrible, but if I knew then how my life would change because of it, I would gladly do it again.” 
Today, Johnson is president of the Jefferson Arts Gallery. His main goal is promoting the arts in Monticello, and he is excited to share the gallery’s summer member show “Summer Time,”running through Aug. 29. He didn’t give up trucking right away, however. Prior to this new role, Johnson’s relationship with art was one of self-discovery. 

Though it wasn’t his first path, Johnson was never to a stranger to art. Born in small town Moorseville, North Carolina, his grandmother introduced him to drawing with the purchase of a sketchpad, charcoals and pencils. He quickly developed an aptitude for it and so she got him a set of paints as well.

However, when his friends poked fun at his amateur work Johnson stopped altogether. Later in life, he moved to Florida where he began driving trucks. 
Fast-forward past his recovery and Johnson was back on the road, primarily delivering to the docks in Jacksonville. Working within union hours, he would find pockets of two to three hours during breaks while on the job. In his cab he brought along his guitar, easel, charcoals, and paints to fill the time, drawing what he saw in various ports. Another catalyst came shortly thereafter when he ran into local artist Gary Garrett who introduced him to plein air, or open air painting, and the First Coast Plein Air Painters.
“I went the next day with the group and fell in love,” says Johnson, who became good friends with Garrett and went on to paint outside with them every weekend.

His artistic renaissance had just begun. Driving afforded Johnson time to think candidly about his creative processes. He wondered why his eye gravitated towards the worn, rundown buildings and manmade objects in a landscape and came up with the defining characteristics of his personal style and voice. Playing guitar had taught him to see mathematical patterns in music and Johnson reasoned that it must be the same for when he composed art.

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