The unassuming talent of Chuck Johnson

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by Eric Ginsburg

Plenty of people who might not recognize Chuck Johnson — often donning a combination of flannel, black and Carolina Panthers gear — are familiar with his art. Johnson, 29, is one of those local artists whose work is relatively ubiquitous, but who doesn’t enjoy particularly widespread name recognition.

There are a few reasons for that, even though he’s lived in Greensboro for a decade and grew up in Kernersville. Johnson is often a behind-the-scenes guy. He works in partnerships. He’s also somewhat reserved. But there may be something else more telling.

Johnson’s work often appears to be influenced by the aesthetics of skating and punk rock, teetering between clean and mildly rushed imperfection. But despite his somewhat identifiable styles, Johnson’s foray across mediums means that he has developed a trove of material that isn’t easily lumped together.

There’s all the band merchandise he’s designed for local groups like Torch Runner and Between the Buried and Me, or material for marquee events including a poster for Greensboro Fest or shirts for Free Comic Book Day. Some people would be more familiar with his work on display at a booth at Design Archives, including a poster reading “Only posers move to New York” or Greensboro T-shirts.

DSC09841Johnson does studio photography too, including a gig that kept him in Chapel Hill taking pictures of basketball memorabilia for three days last week. And don’t forget his more personal shots, often in black and white and taken while adventuring with friends in places as disparate as Russia and the American West.

More recently, Johnson’s mural and sign work with friend and roommate Anthony Keever has taken a more prominent chunk of his time. The duo, under the name Better Days w/ Company, is responsible for some of the sharpest company signs in the Triad.

Much of it is in Winston-Salem, including the piece for Sutler’s Spirit,

Johnson and Keever have completed several other eye-catchers including a sign for Modern Vintage in High Point. One for Red Collection in Greensboro is in the works.

“[Sign-making] definitely a dying form that we both are into,” Johnson said. “We both have just a love for letters. We want to give people another option besides vinyl graphic signs, something lasting.”

Mural and sign-making requires more precision and patience than he is used to. Even for his graphic design work, Johnson often relies on handwritten text because he is drawn to the subtle imperfections that make it unique.

Johnson graduated from GTCC with a graphic-design degree and photography certificate. Skateboarding magazines were his gateway to photography.

DSC09834“I wouldn’t even read the stories, I would just study the pictures and would try and figure out if I was there in the same place if I could recreate it,” Johnson said.

In addition to his Better Days partnership with Keever, Johnson also collaborates with his friend Josh Platt under the name Death by Ink. Platt’s large screen-printing machine looms a few paces from Johnson’s desk in a shared studio space in downtown Greensboro, where Johnson also created space to shoot and develop photos. To the right of Johnson’s desk, a green blanket that functions as a green screen when necessary is bundled up, while the long PVC pipes that act as a makeshift stand for the screen lay against the wall behind his chair.

It’s fitting how packed the studio space is, considering the breadth of Johnson’s work. It’s also not surprising that when this behind-the-scenes artist isn’t out painting signs, he’s plugging away at something in a secluded basement corner of an unassuming office building.

That’s the Triad for you: talent dwelling like marine life, just beneath the surface.

View Chuck Johnson’s work at charleswilliamjohnson.com. He may have the best email address ever: [email protected]