Ben Johnston: Words For The World

Ben Johnston is making words speak volumes with his impressive wordplay and mind-bending works of art.

Ben Johnston is a multidisciplinary artist specializing in the field of typographic designs and murals. Known best for his bold textbased murals and fine art pieces, the Toronto-based artist’s work can be found worldwide, sprawled across the walls of buildings in many local communities and neighbourhoods. Johnston consciously integrates his work to complement and adapt to each environment surrounding the mural. To spread messages of love and positivity, he makes use of creative phrases and affirmations that easily connect with and inspire those who pass by.

Growing up, Johnston experienced a unique cultural upbringing, having moved from Canada to South Africa when he was just three years old. The supply of good weather in a country where life is mostly lived outdoors inspired his decision to shape his career in arts with a modern twist, taking unassuming city walls and transforming them into his canvases.

I see the world as a place to create new and engaging artwork

Reflecting on his experience, he shared what his early adulthood was like. “Growing up in Africa is pretty fun. There is a big push to have a very creative culture, whether it’s in fashion, arts or design.” Johnston tells City Life about his admiration for the amazing people he met while living there, and his early steps toward becoming a street artist, adding, “Working as a freelancer was not that rare. A lot of friends would work together and get studios to share. It was a nice way we could grow and learn from each other as we were getting into the industry.”

While experimenting with his interests in the arts, Johnston worked for multiple advertising agencies until he decided to embark on a change. The young artist sold all his possessions and moved back to his hometown of Toronto. During his early years back in the city, he maintained a number of full-time jobs in design as he took on freelance work, which ultimately landed him success and garnered him the reputation as a street artist he holds today. Fast-forward to the present day, and it has been 10 years since he has been back living in Canada.

Johnston answers the question of how he found his calling and what it took to solidify his image in the field: “It has been a natural progression of change — believing that everything will come together and finding a rhythm of sorts has helped back my efforts.”

His main goal is to find innovative ways to spread messages that will relate to people in the community in which his art resides.

Through the use of ambiguous word choices, like “forever” or “together,” phrases that are open-ended and up for interpretation, Johnston easily forms personal connections with locals and visitors that, in turn, leave lasting impressions. The result is a poetic experience that produces a cathartic release through his works. Johnston explains, “I paint for the people in the community. I’ll never really see it again; it’s about the locals loving that piece.”

With the continued support of local community members and his latest residency on the streets of Yorkville at Taglialatella Galleries, Johnston has expressed his utmost gratitude for the admiration and appreciation his work receives. As the artist told us, “It’s been fun to have a supportive gallery like Taglialatella and to have a city that embraces street art like Toronto.” He shares the impact that the city’s openness and free expression have on his creativity: “People embrace it here; they make me want to paint murals in the street.”

Johnston is constantly reinventing himself through his works. His latest feat, a 20-piece body of work, titled “Wordplay,” recently showcased at Taglialatella Galleries. Through this series, Johnston expands on his signature motifs previously established in his street art, now bringing the emotive potential of typography to new heights with a mix of 14 paintings and six sculptural pieces. His sculptures carry thought-provoking attributes that challenge viewers to observe the pieces through a different lens and decode the messages hidden within the warping cylindrical twists of his resin casts. His paintings carry the same signature DNA with an array of vibrant hues and pastel tones to create jumbled-up words and phrases that challenge the viewer to find the message being conveyed.

With his continued efforts to consistently challenge what can be reimagined and interpreted by audiences, Johnston has captivated the masses both visually and intellectually. His keen eye for detail and poetic takeaway has firmly established his name in the art world and undoubtedly given him a platform to leave his mark.

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