Brendan Johnston, “Artist’s Panel,” 2017, oil on wood, 12 x 16 inches

In an earlier art exhibition called “The Still Life: Contemporary Interpretations,” Eleventh Street Arts brought together “a range of subject matter, from whimsical, everyday objects, to extravagant staples of the still life tradition.” Curated by artists Samuel Hung and Justin Wood, the exhibition featured more than 20 contemporary realist painters, including Brendan Johnston.

In “Artist’s Panel,” Johnston gives us a glimpse into his world of art, as shown in this honest still life that includes objects of inspiration and practicality. Keep reading to learn more about Johnston and his process in this exclusive Q&A.

Fine Art Today: How long does it take you to come up with your final composition or arrangement for a still life?

Brendan Johnston: The process of every still life setup is a little different. With perishable objects, I try to plan as much ahead of time as possible. Once I buy flowers or have a beautiful bird, I have to get to work immediately, because time is so limited. Otherwise, I like to spend several days thinking about a composition. Often I will gather objects together and play around with the arrangement — adding and removing elements until the composition works.

Brendan Johnston, “Artist’s Panel,” (detail) 2017, oil on wood, 12 x 16 inches. “The lower half of my painting consists of objects relating to my creative life: pencils, paints, and sculpture calipers,” says Johnston.

Which of the objects in “Artist’s Panel” have a backstory, or a special significance to you?

My picture “Artist’s Panel” is something of an allegory of my artistic life. All of the objects have a personal significance. The pocket watch was owned by my step-grandfather, who was a fascinating British abstract painter. The opera lens was owned by my grandmother who lived in Paris and had a deep appreciation of the arts. The blue butterfly I caught as a child up in the White Mountains, marking the beginning of my interest in studying nature. The postcard of Ingres’ ‘Comtesse d’Haussonville’ has been in my studio for years and has always been a great inspiration to me. The lower half of my painting consists of objects relating to my creative life: pencils, paints, and sculpture calipers.

Viewers may wonder: Is the wood we’re seeing in the image the actual surface, or a painted rendition of wood?

Trompe l’oeil painting is meant to be something of conjuring trick. I hope that anyone who is curious comes to Eleventh Street Arts to see the painting in person and figure out what is real and what is painted.

“’Diving Northern Gannet” (2017, oil on linen, 40 x 40 inches) is a painting of an incredible bird my dog Theo found washed up on the beach out on Long Island,” Johnston says. “I brought it back to the studio and managed to have four days to complete the piece before the bird was no longer possible to paint. It was exhilarating to make.”

What inspires you to paint still life in particular?

My inspiration for still life painting is usually a remarkably beautiful or poetic object that I happily will spend dozens of hours working to convey in oils. Often, however, it is the work done by other talented still life painters that inspires me to dedicate myself to the wonderful genre.


Learn more about the contemporary realism of Brendan Johnston at

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