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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Perry Johnson continues to teach and exhibit

"Sam" (above)and "Chris" (below) are part of a series. "An abusively alliterative appellation for these works could be "the tenuous tether of taut twine and tin cans.' It's a reference to an early technology most of us used as kids, struggling to hear the person on the other end of the line. Whether it's a tin can or Skype, we're still frustrated when the line drops in slack silence.
Additional photos below »

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | December 27, 2017

Perry Johnson is an assistant professor of painting at Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, Tennessee.

"Initially, I came to Virginia Intermont as a student. I had been checking out art books from J.F. Hicks Library for years before I met Tedd Blevins at a portfolio review in 1995. He spoke of art with the adamant confidence of an evangelist. I was already a convert, but I joined the choir, so to speak. I earned a B.F.A. from VI, and she and Bristol became my family and my home. Ten years later, I was invited to interview for a teaching position," Johnson says.

Marvin Tadlock says, "When Tedd Blevins died, our search committee were all in favor of hiring my choice, Perry Johnson. He was a very outstanding painting, history and graphic design and printmaking professor."

Jay Phyfer says, "Perry was a gift. He came at a time when we really needed some energy, and he was a mover in the program."

Johnson considers VI and the people there his family. "I doubt Marvin Tadlock knew when I came to campus as a student that he'd have to finish raising me.

"I don't want to romanticize things too much. It was hard, sometimes impossibly hard to do the work we were there to do. I'm not the only professor who painted floors, patched walls and quite literally bailed water from the ship as it went down. I stretched to teach courses beyond my areas of expertise. I stretched to reach every student because it's what a teacher is supposed to do, but also because we couldn't afford to let anyone go elsewhere with their tuition money. We pulled together — faculty, staff, students, all of us. In this pulling and stretching, we sometimes broke.

"Whenever I meet up with someone from Intermont, we talk about what we lost. It's not just the paychecks we didn't get. We miss the community we had, and we lament that our campus rots like a lifeless corpse on the street.

"When you're simply apart from someone, there's a comfort in knowing the person continues on, being who they are, touching lives, contributing their energy to the world. When there's a death, the responsibility falls to the living to carry the torch that once burned in the loved one. Long may Virginia Intermont College live in and through those who love her," he says.

While still teaching, Johnson continues to paint. He describes his work this way on his website.

"From sketches and photographs, I compose an image that is real but quite untrue in the documentary sense. Paintings demand to be read and not consumed. My paintings are mediated images not incidental, but intentional. The space within the work is active. Charged images and text call in and call out like hyperlinked threads. I use titles as literary hooks and loaded images are symbolic links to other contextual readings.

"I can't say that I'm driven by inspiration so much as by conviction. For most, work has efficiently been reduced to uninvested labor. The individual is brought to the level of a machine. We're drugged to numbness and to elation, the threat of real passion being too great. Bureaucratized social interactions mimic the machine. Data is now the lens and proxy for reality. All this is background and prologue. My paintings do just what I do tell stories, crack jokes, ask questions and prompt people to think hopefully.

"MoMa isn't exactly ringing my phone off the hook, but I do exhibit my work nationally. I had paintings juried into 10 shows just in 2017," he says.

To see more of Johnson's work, visit

Sam Morrow teaches in Connecticut

Topics: Achievements, Art

Jay Phyfer, Billie Wheeler, Perry Johnson and Josh Weilepp at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion 2017.