Are you at a point in your life where you can think back to past dreams, goals, or desires that may have slipped away or were put on the back burner for so long you may have forgotten they were even there? If so, what were some of those passions? What stopped you from pursuing them? What’s keeping you from bringing them back in your life? This is all just a little thinking exercise for ourselves as we prepare to welcome today’s guest. This person is someone who knows what it’s like to let a joy go for a little while, but he’s welcomed it back into his life and is finding much success in doing so!
Today we’re joined by the recent winner of the Elko Daily Free Press’ People’s Choice Gold Award for Elko’s best artist, Brent Johnson. When Brent isn’t busy spending time with loved ones or working his nine-to-five at the Elko Water Department, you can find him, his murals and artwork all over town! Currently, Brent is working on several projects such as pieces for local businesses and even a few of the famed Elko Centennial Boots through his brand, Artistik Kaos!
Brent, thank you for joining us this week. Let’s talk about art! From where did this love for creating beauty come?
“I was born in Wyoming, and we moved here when I was four-years-old for the mines. I always just felt like there was something different out there for me; I always felt like I was just a bit off. I wasn’t really into a lot of the cultural things found around here, and I had something in the back of my mind telling me there was more out there. My dad really had me heavy into motorcycles, four wheelers, and dune buggies, so we’d get those kinds of magazines all the time. All the different shapes and angles on the vehicles were intriguing to me. So, one of the first things I started doing as a kid was stenciling; I would sit with a piece of wood and a razor knife for hours cutting out images to make stencils out of them. My dad let me paint the woodshed and then our garage floor; it’s still there and was a lot of fun. I just kept going from there! After high school, I went to Salt Lake City without ever even hearing the word “graffiti” before; I didn’t know what it was. One of the friends I met there started showing me some of it, and I knew I could do it; I just never know what to call it! In the two years, I lived in Salt Lake, another friend of mine invited me to start a graffiti crew with him, and that’s where the name, Artistik Kaos came.”
“We started painting different things and got a gig painting a nightclub; it was fun and exciting, but I wanted to paint more and keep going! So, I went down and bought sheetrock from Home Depot, laid it out on the front lawn and started painting! After I moved back to Elko, I kept that habit going. However, eventually, it was time to get back to “being an adult.” I became a plumber; I’ve been doing that work for twenty-three years, now. It became more of a necessity to focus on that, and the “art” part of me just started fading out. However, as I was working, I noticed I was doing everything with a bit of an artistic flare. I would run wouldn’t just run plumbing pipes into a fixture; I would think through what the most efficient and best-looking ways to do the job. I would even leave messages and art pictures inside of a wall to where if the pipes failed, the plumber would open things up and see them in there!”
Interesting. You transitioned from graffiti crew member to plumber; that’s great, but what happened with your art while you were in your career? How did you go from bathroom pipes to people’s choice?
“I wanted to do something artistic, as I hadn’t been doing anything for a long time; I needed some sort of outlet as I had a lot of time but not many opportunities. So, I started going to different openings around town just to check things out. I went into FIIZ Drinks when they had their grand opening, and I was sitting on one of the bar stools talking to the guy next to me about the car hood decoration they had on their wall. I mentioned to him that the hood would look cool with something painted on it; he agreed and showed me pictures of another hood with some art on it from Fiiz’ Salt Lake City location as the man turned out to be the franchise owner! He introduced me to the store manager, and that’s how I got kicked off with them! I knew what I wanted to do for their project, but I needed help from machines like printers and cutters to do it. I went into Print N’Copy Center and explained the plan to their designer for help. Fiiz wanted to publicize the project, so I worked on it as part of a Facebook event during their second opening as a live art show. Afterward, the opener of Print N’Copy (Tami Keener) approached me about an art project she had been wanting to do and was looking for an artist. It was the Cedar St. retaining wall project with Cathy McAdoo for PACE Coalition, “Family Traditions.” It worked out that the style of painting I was doing would fit for that wall, perfectly. In between the Fiiz and wall projects, I also did the cash register for Coffee Mug. I was just a yes man at the time doing three or four months of painting, every day! I was excited to grab the bull by the horns when the opportunity came; I wouldn’t trade it for anything!”
Brent, what’s one thing people should know when working with an artist, such as yourself? What’s the process like for a creative?
“You have to go through the channels of seeing what the client actually wants. Sometimes, a lot of times, they say they don’t really know; they have an idea, but they’re not exactly sure what it is. So, I have to step back and get to know that person; I have to get to know their personality so I can figure out exactly what they do want. That takes time. It’s not an instant thing where I just go home and draw something up; I’ve drawn something ten or fifteen times in my head before I’ll ever put it on paper of the computer. The boot I did for A+ Total Care, for example, took eighty hours of work. There’s a lot of moving parts and things I still need to learn.”
What are your plans for the future as you continue to grow Artistik Kaos and yourself in this community, Brent?
“I think I have an ability and an eye for doing more than what I’m doing now; I have the ability to look at something, take it apart, and see how everything works together. This is all part of the first step for me to build recognition and a reputation to where I can help people in a much broader way as this could all expand, beyond just murals, and into a business in advertising and/or commercial development. I want to work my way up to where this can be substantial enough for me where I could quit my day job because right now, the biggest thing that kicks my butt is time! There’s a lot of stuff I’d like to see change and grow for the better, but none of it it’s going to get changed or fixed unless I do it. Growing up in this town, for me, was hard, but now I appreciate Elko for what it is. I’d like to see the community go into the future with its small-town values at heart and not deviate from them because of the big eyes of what might be. I’m raising my twelve-year-old son here, and I think this is the best place I could raise him.”
Well, I’m sure many people are thankful for individuals like you, Brent, who can think outside of the box and see things from a unique perspective; thank you for what you are doing! What kind of advice would you put out there to those also looking at engaging their passions in some way, as you have done?
“Do what you can when you can; if you have an opportunity, take it! If it doesn’t work out, dust yourself off and try again. There’s a small percentage of people who are at the place where they are in life for a passion-driven reason; usually, it’s for a money-driven reason. We need to have a balance between the two. Your sanity is just as important as your security. If you’re going to do something, be all in! Own it, love it, be the best you can possibly be at it; make it apart of your world and enjoy it! For me, there are no more excuses; it’s now or never! I already waited too long.”
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See you around, Elko!