The World of Colin Johnson
Written by Gaby Graham / February 3, 2024 / Main Photo: New World Painting in process
I remember when I first saw one of Colin Johnson's images. I was scrolling through Puzzlegram (as one does) and suddenly, my finger froze, suspended in mid swipe.
Stop the presses, who was this? I was absolutely captivated by the image I saw. I immediately went searching for the artists IG page and it was love at first sight. Was his art on any more puzzles? I went to the Google to check, but alas, there were only two and both were out of print. Oh well, I sighed, there’s always Ebay.
When Soonness started launching the PNP puzzle collection, Soon(founder of Soonness) put out a call for artist suggestions. When I say I sprinted into her DMs, I’m not kidding. I gushed about Colin’s work and about how much I loved his paintings. Thankfully, Soon saw that I wasn’t babbling nonsense, because a couple months ago, she DM’d me to say that Colin would be in her next PNP. I was literally OVER THE MOOON! I shamelessly promoted the New World Puzzle and probably would have backed every copy of it if I could. I’m lying. My house is way too small for that many puzzles. Although, I probably could have built a puzzle house and stored all the extra puzzles there. Every day I checked how the pre-order was doing. Would his puzzle be funded? Would people be as drawn to his work as I was? The image Soon chose was intimidating and would definitely be spicy to puzzle. Would people be up for the challenge? I shouldn’t have worried because when pre-orders closed, New World was funded! Then Soon dropped another big surprise. She asked me to interview Colin for Fun Reads. My first artist interview! Courage! I told myself. You can do this! And I did! Only 3 months after I was originally asked. Better late than never, yes?
Colin started out life in suburbia New York. When he wasn’t getting into shenanigans, he was sketching.
On anything and everything. Being close to the city, he would frequently go in to see shows and go to museums. For college, he attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Drawn to painting and collage, Colin decided to major in illustration and as soon as he graduated, Colin went straight to work as a freelance illustrator.
While he was in college, Colin experimented with the mixing of colors and images into a single collage piece. While doing this, he stumbled upon the works of African American quilter Elizabeth Talford Scott. Elizabeth would use a multitude of different mediums in her quilts. She would incorporate varied types of cloth, embroidery, beadwork and natural objects such as stones, buttons, and shells. These extraordinarily complex pieces would inspire Colin to create his own multi-colored, textured, patterned, and mixed media collages.
Photo above: My Dreams by Elizabeth Talford Scott (found on Artsy.net)
Inspiration comes from everywhere.
A self-professed hoarder of ephemera, Colin has amassed a veritable ton of material for his collages. He frequents garage and estate sales looking for older books, magazines, obscure papers, and other random images. Once he finds the image he wants, he cuts it out with an X-acto knife. The process is long and painstaking and can sometimes take weeks on end. Depending on the size, one collage can take a month or more to complete! While it may look like these images are haphazardly placed, there is definitely a method to the madness. Whether they are placed by fit or theme, each is placed with an exactness. There are many different hidden ideas in his pieces; secret words, puzzles, numbers riddles… all done to entertain himself. As Colin likes to say, each piece is his own secret and personal little kingdom. These easter eggs are personal and relate to his life. However, there is so much imagery packed into each collage that viewers often find secrets that relate to their own lives! One collector bought a piece because he saw part of an obscured word that contained his wife’s name.
Photo above: Colin Johnson's cut out pieces
But why puzzles? Well, it’s an amazing way to get these complex and colorful works on a cool product and share it with the world!
Colin feels like his images work well with product design and New World is proof of that. New World was actually his first work that featured his distinct collage style. It represented the first time that he was able to successfully create an a piece that was only an idea in his head. While trying to convey a sense of wonder, he was also trying to see if putting all his ideas in a singular piece would actually work. New World IS a new world. As with most initial ideas, he views it as rough and ragged, but also beautiful and different from any of his other collages. It is raw and abstract and the birth of something that was new to him. It’s one of his favorite collage pieces.
Although mostly known for these intricate collages, Colin actually favors and is more drawn to painting. Even after years of creating, he still feels like he is trying to find his voice as a painter. His collages are actually half collage, half painting. In his own words, spreading colored pigment on a surface and creating something out of nothing is fascinating to him. In fact, he has an entire studio of wood panels waiting to be painted and this coming year he is planning a new collection of painted pieces!
Get to know the Author: Gaby Graham
Gaby is an avid puzzler and domestic goddess. When she isn't puzzling, she's either reading, baking or hiding out in the woods of the PNW.