Ben Johnston | Wordplay, Toronto

Tag x Ben Johnston

March 23 – April 10, 2023

In his latest exhibition, Wordplay, Ben Johnston uncovers the emotive potential of typography. Comprised from visually innovative sculptures of thought-provoking phrases, and rich canvases of single words, this body of work is an evolution of the game of decoding and deciphering that Johnston plays with his viewer. Compositionally complex, a longer observation of each piece is required to reveal the words of significance in the combination of letterforms. These artworks challenge traditional notions of legibility and readability, instead using text as a visual element in its own right. Rendered in soft gradients, hard edges, and playful perspective, these positive affirmations offer a unique meaning to every individual who sets their eyes upon them; what might Hope, Love, or Someday mean to you?

Johnston’s practice is situated at the intersections of fine art, graphic design, and street art. From a background in graphic and industrial design, Johnston transitioned to muralism and has become internationally recognized for large-scale, text-based pieces that engage with the urban environments they are placed within. The throughline that runs between his gallery and street art practice is a union of high art and applied art; a seemingly unorthodox marriage of fine art’s freedom of expression, with graphic design’s hierarchical visual system. The artist merges utility with beauty by way of painterly experimentation of medium. Johnston draws equal reference to the two pillars upholding text-based art, graffiti and typography. Historically, the practice of graffiti has been one of creating a language through illegibility and deconstruction of recognizable symbols. By essence, this is diametrically opposed to the functional vernacular of canonized typography. Johnston is among other artists such as L’ATLAS, Ben Eine, and Pref, occupying the space between these two realms and dissolving the connection between letters and their symbolic meaning.

Wordplay will mark the artist’s third solo show with the gallery and one of his strongest and most innovative series to date. In addition to his history of exhibiting with Taglialatella, Johnston created a mural that was part of the central programming for the 2022 edition of Yorkville Murals. Look on the Bright Side spanned the width of Belair street and was on view for the majority of Summer ’22. This visually dynamic mural was composed of twisting and intertwining typography, suggesting a journey towards positivity. Its message reinforced the importance of maintaining an optimistic outlook in all situations, making it a powerful reminder of the potential for positivity in our lives

Johnston has brought Look on the Bright Side to life in a new form for his upcoming show, translating the mural into a three-dimensional sculptural creation. The mind-bending typographical composition has been transformed, shifting in scale and materiality, resulting in a subtly minimalist corkscrew of letters that bend and mold into each other. This sculptural exploration is emblematic of Johnston’s incredible ability to play with depth, space, perspective, and form – an ability that is evident throughout the entirety of Wordplay.