"Describing how difficult it is to speak and communicate with people as a young child before taking speech lessons."
- Johnson Simon
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“On canvas I can run, walk, jump, and I can dance without being bound by physical limitations. In that way, the paint brush is an extension of me.”
Johnson Simon’s art encompasses the beauty of movement and gives him an outlet to move as freely as he desires through his work. Born in Turks and Caicos, Johnson came to the United States as a child and grew up in Florida. Johnson was diagnosed at birth with Cerebral Palsy, a disorder which affects one’s ability to control the body’s movement. He was introduced to art in 1st grade through physical therapy, as a way for him to practice new movements and exercise his creativity. This birthed a love for art that spanned throughout his childhood.
Loving the therapeutic benefits of creating, Johnson leaned into his practice and attended Western Michigan University to study art. There, in the thick of his studies, he became captivated with dance, which has since galvanized much of his work. Johnson explains, “I have always been interested in body movement, but it was a dance recital at Western Michigan University that inspired me to create my first dance-focused expressionistic painting. From then on I became a student of how the body moves and emotes.”
He began studying the body’s movements across all avenues, from walking and running to swimming and skydiving. “I especially enjoy watching dancers and athletes, and make a conscious effort to transfer the graceful display of dance and athleticism into my art,” he shares. He even recorded his own movements and discovered his own rhythms as a part of his research and discovery. Johnson explains, “The human body is both complicated and elegant, and with the extra component of motion added, it is a vessel unlike any other in this world.”
The theme of motion is especially important to Johnson as it is something that impacts him on a daily basis. Living with Cerebral Palsy, Johnson isn’t able to control all of his muscle movements. Though he desires to express himself through dancing, his disability limits him from moving about the way that he would like. “My artwork is a way for me to express how I would move if I could do so freely and uninterrupted,” he exclaims. To sum it up beautifully and succinctly, Johnson states, “Art is my movement.”
When he paints, he chooses bright colors and broad and sweeping motions to transfer that feeling of movement onto the canvas. His work is expressionistic, using splashes of rich color with thick linework to display a sense of motion and flare. Through his practice, Johnson has learned to embrace his disability as part of his process. He shares, “I still cannot control my muscles that spasm and I cannot stop it, so I allow it to be part of the paintings which makes for a lot of interesting brush marks.” Using his oil paint stick and brushes, he unites his intentional and unintentional movements to create works of art.
Johnson is most proud of his education, which has laid the foundation for his art career. After struggling in public school, he received the opportunity to go to college where he thrived. He graduated with honors from WMU and went on to receive his Masters of Fine Arts in Painting from Indiana University. Since then, Johnson has been a teaching artist at a community organization for those with physical and developmental disabilities all while launching his own art career. He hopes exposure through ArtLifting will allow his work to be presented in new spaces and show others how they too can express their movement despite physical limitations.
Johnson dreams of creating a successful career in art while advocating for others with disabilities. He loves doing commissions where he can transform a photo using his signature style and brushstrokes, into a living, moving work of art. He also enjoys speaking engagements where he can share his story. Johnson experienced many hardships in his life, including extreme bullying as a child because of his disability, and being limited to special education classes despite the fact that he did not have a mental disability. Still, Johnson has used this all as motivation and inspiration to spread his story of resilience and perseverance to others. “Life is what you make of it,” says Johnson.
ArtLifting champions artists impacted by homelessness or disabilities through the celebration and sale of their artwork. Learn more here.