photo by Aaron Soto

Artist of the Month: Brian Johnson

Written by Daniel Crumbley Category: Arts Issue: September 2018
Group Free

“I feel I’m a true artist, because everything I make inspires me for my next piece,” says self-taught sculptor and weaver Brian Johnson. He believes mystical and material ties bond him to his unique craft: Johnson constructs 3-D wall hangings by weaving copper, wool, cotton and stones around the skeletons of saguaro cacti. For Johnson, these sculptures have become not only his own spiritual totems, but tangible portrayals of Native American culture.

“Saguaro cactuses… are the warriors of our beautiful desert, and when I use them in my pieces they bring a sense of guardianship and true spirituality wherever they are placed,” Johnson says. He names each piece after a Native American chief to underscore the shamanistic connection.

Johnson, a native of El Paso, grew up steeped in his mother’s Blackfoot Indian culture. He didn’t realize he wanted to be an artist until he visited La Tuna Federal Prison with his neighbors, who purchased Southwestern art from an inmate. “I think this was the beginning of my creative side.”

Johnson began to experiment with weaving and textiles in high school. In 1990, he moved to Arizona, where he worked as a waiter. Regular customers admired his craft, including one who worked for Thunderbird Artists and encouraged Johnson to host his first art show in Carefree in 1995.

His artistic purpose, which Johnson sees as a calling to provide physical connections to spirituality and his people’s history, seems written in the stars. About 30 years ago, he met an astrologist in Sedona. “The first thing he said was that I was a textile designer in my past life,” Johnson says.

“I really feel enjoyment from my work when people put these cactuses in their home and say they feel the same spirit from them that I do,” Johnson, who now lives in Scottsdale, says.

Find his art and its various display locations at brianjohnsonwallsculpture.com.