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March 15, 2020

J. Seward Johnson, sculptor of the hyper-real


From the New York Times:

J. Seward Johnson Jr., a sculptor who may be responsible for more double takes than anyone in history thanks to his countless lifelike creations in public places — a businessman in downtown Manhattan, surfers at a Florida beach, a student eating a sandwich on a curb in Princeton, N.J. — died on Tuesday at his home in Key West, Florida, at 89.


The sculptures often caught passers-by unawares; many would pause for a closer look and, in the cellphone age, a picture.

In 1964, Mr. Johnson married Cecelia Joyce Horton, who got him interested in art.

Sometimes they would paint together, although he wasn't very good at it.

Unconditional_Surrender _Saratosa

"I didn’t like what I could do with paint," he told The Times, "so my wife suggested sculpture because I had some mechanical ability."

He took some classes and made his first piece, in stainless steel.

It won a contest sponsored by U.S. Steel.


"I thought, oh gee, this is great, maybe sculpture isn't so bad after all," Mr. Johnson told a newspaper in 2002. "I never won anything after that."

In 1974 Mr. Johnson established the Johnson Atelier in Hamilton, New Jersey, a sculpture school and foundry where artisans helped fabricate his sculptures as well as those of other artists, including George Segal and Joel Shapiro.


In 1984 Mr. Johnson created Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre sculpture park on a former fairground in Hamilton.

Some of Mr. Johnson’s trompe l'oeil works are there, surprising visitors as they wander the property, but much of the work is by others, with abstract and other genres well represented.


"Seward is the artist that everybody loves to hate," David Levy, director of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, said in 2005, a reference to those who dismiss his work as kitsch. "But quietly and selflessly, he is an enormously important citizen of art."

Not all of Mr. Johnson’s sculptures are as realistic as “Double Check” or “Out to Lunch,” the sandwich eater on the curb in Princeton.


Mr. Johnson seemed unbothered that the art world sometimes dismissed his work.

"Most people who like my work are timid about their own sense of art," he told The Times. "I love to draw it out of them, because they have strong inner feelings. They've been intimidated by the art world."

March 15, 2020 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


These looked familiar. We have them about 10 miles north in the US Roundaboutut Capital, Carmel Indiana.


Posted by: Clif Marsiglio | Mar 16, 2020 11:21:24 AM

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