Let These Paintings Remind You Not To Dismiss The Beauty Of Everyday Objects


Tucson painter

In his studio, artist Benjamin Johnson mulls over his oil painting Eight Stones: Jupiter. Hanging on the wall are (clockwise from left) Aviation in Ochre, Brush, Adjustable, Calipers, 18, a work in progress, and Sixteen Stones: Gran Desierto

You’ll likely do a double-take when viewing one of Tucson-based artist Ben Johnson’s oil-on-canvas paintings. The photorealist’s still lifes, which frequently depict single objects–a vintage radio, a piece of fruit, weathered binoculars–on a white background, take root in the idea that every object has a story to tell. “My process starts with being in the world and finding objects that somehow hint that our lives are much larger than any one narrative,” Johnson says. “There’s always this transformative moment I’m looking for when I’m painting, and I kind of feel it in my body. The paint starts to feel like something else. It feels like an alchemical moment where these strange materials–these rough materials–all of a sudden start to become some precious material that they couldn’t be on their own.”

Most recently, Johnson has been working on a series of photorealistic works depicting stone circles, using stones he has collected over the years during his travels. “There’s something about the ancient human desire to arrange objects and to understand the world through that arrangement,” he says. “That’s always been so interesting to me.”

On a wall hangs (opposite, clockwise from top left) Scout, Velocity, Thought and Durga.




The artist Ben Johnson at work in his studio.

The artist Ben Johnson at work in his studio.

In Johnson's studio are collections of various objects and sketches for inspiration.

In Johnson's studio are collections of various objects and sketches for inspiration.

The artist has always felt at home in nature. He spent his childhood exploring the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and that connection to the wild became a dominant inspirational thread as he began his artistic career. In fact, it was his passion for painting birds that lured him from the Northeast to set down roots in Tucson 10 years ago. Johnson embarked on a two-week Southern Arizona road trip, camping and living out of his rental car so that he could dedicate every second of daylight to birdwatching. “I fell in love with the desert,” he recalls. “It was an instant connection–there was something about that landscape that spoke to me.”

In his heart, he knew that it was where he belonged, personally and professionally. “There’s something about the open air, and the light. And the pace of life there is a little bit different–psychologically, a little slower–and there’s a real collaborative spirit, artistically, in that community.” That slow pace is the perfect fit for Johnson’s artistic process, which he says is dictated by patience. A single stone might take him up to two days to paint to satisfaction. “There’s something about that that I find kind of humbling and refreshing. It slows down my sense of what life really is about.”

He hopes that his work impacts people in a similar way, encouraging them to slow down and notice the more granular pleasures of life. “I think a lot about the word ‘awe,’” he says, pointing to how people use it for grand moments. “But ‘awe’ can happen in small moments. I would love for my work to be a reminder that life is just an ongoing cascade of awe-inspiring moments that we lose sight of. And to offer people some room to breathe and take a moment.”