For the month of January, local artist Leif Erik Johansen will be featured in the FW Gallery at Woolworth Walk. Johansen’s low-brow, pop-surrealist style spans a variety of mediums from two-dimensional acrylic paintings to three-dimensional, mixed media paper cut art.
While Johansen has been making art for as long as he can remember, he only came to it as a career somewhat later in life. While traveling in China in his late thirties, he had the realization that he was an artist and needed to pursue his dream full-time. But he wasn’t thrust into the lifestyle until years later, at 44, when he ruptured his Achilles tendon and could no longer work in the restaurant industry. “I moved to Asheville with the goal of becoming a full time artist,” he says.
It took time, but eventually he started attending shows and festivals and having some luck selling his originals. Now, he’s participated in Art Basel and had his work highlighted in Australia’s Beautiful Bizarre Magazine. “I still have this fear of failing as an artist,” he says. “When you start getting traction like this, you feel like you need to live up to people’s expectations.”
Much of Johansen’s work is centered around the relationship between humans and the environment. “Now that’s become even more important with climate change and environmental disasters,” he says. “There is a wonderful opportunity as an artist to get a message across. I always try to have a message in there, and it’s not always necessarily a pessimistic outlook. Sometimes it’s just a reminder to be more connected with the natural world.” Viewers may find darkness or light, tension or playfulness in Johansen’s work—and he says that’s the whole point. “That’s what art is,” he says. “The freedom to express yourself how you want. If I’m concerned about global warming and climate change, it comes out in my work. If I’m feeling humorous one day, that comes out in my work.”