Ben Johnson (born 24 August 1946) is a British painter, best known for his series of large, detailed cityscapes.
Ben Johnson was born in Llandudno, North Wales. He left school at the age of 14 and attended Chester and Wrexham Art Schools. From there he went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London. His first solo exhibition was held in New York in 1969. In 1973, Johnson had the first show to open the new gallery at the ICA. He is the only painter to have been made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for his contribution to the public's understanding of contemporary architecture, having been elected in 1990. Numerous commissions include the Pompidou Centre, British Museum and National Museums Liverpool and many from private collectors.
In 1994, Johnson embarked on depicting cityscapes. The output from his London studio changed from five paintings a year to one every two years in spite of now employing three full-time assistants. His paintings became evermore complex and computer technology became essential to assist his growing ambition for detail. His cityscapes have so far included Hong Kong, Jerusalem, Zurich, and Liverpool. The last was painted when Liverpool was European City of Culture in 2008. It took the artist three years to complete, working with up to eleven assistants, and was finished in public during a residency at the Walker Art Gallery. The cityscapes are painted from aerial viewpoints, sometimes using models to achieve the correct composition. Artistic license is employed to create "ideal" views of the subject cities.
In November 2010, he had a solo exhibition of his paintings at Alan Cristea Gallery, London. He also recently exhibited at the National Gallery, London, where he set up his studio in Gallery I to complete a special work representing the view from the roof of the National Gallery and showing the strong compositional relationship with Canaletto's "The Stonemason's Yard." During a six week period over 73,000 visitors came to watch the artwork take shape.
As of 2014, Johnson is exploring the ageing and scarring of architecture and, in tandem, investigating geometry and the sacred embodied in Islamic architecture. A second solo exhibition at Alan Cristea Gallery was planned to open in May 2014.
The Liverpool Cityscape comprises 170 hectares of the city, a near bird’s-eye perspective. It encompasses several thousand individual buildings and took Johnson and up to 11 assistants 24,000 person hours to complete it. In making The Liverpool Cityscape, Johnson explored the city, (taking over 3000 reference photographs) considered alternative viewpoints, consulted with architects and historians, as well as the people of Liverpool, and absorbed the city’s distinctive atmosphere. Thousands of detailed drawings were produced before the execution of the painting in minute detail.
During February and March 2008 over 51,000 people came to see Ben work on the painting at the Walker Art Gallery in a specially created studio. A live web-cam showing his residency in the Walker was set up to enable the World to watch the creation of the painting online. The resulting exhibition had over 160,000 visits.
The Liverpool Cityscape is permanently on display in the Skylight Gallery of the new Museum of Liverpool.