In 1993, Tim Burton found a way to marry—or at least have fun with—America’s two favorite times of year in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” It’s a classic tale of Halloweentown’s Jack Skellington discovering Christmas and wanting to share it with his scary world … in all the wrong ways.
Originally a poem written by Burton in ‘82 while he was working as an animator at Disney, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” didn’t get any traction until 1990. Local artist Bahola “B” Johnson (of Chic By Boop) has long been inspired by the film’s origins and leading man … err … skeleton. Disney deemed Skellington “too scary,” so they released the movie under another distribution label, Touchstone Pictures.
“Jack’s character is about finding and accepting your true purpose in life,” Johnson says. “Even if you get knocked down, keep going; they’ll buy the rights later.”
Johnson has fun with some of Burton’s beloved characters in many of her whimsical coffee paintings. She’s brewed enough works for a series to feature in downtown’s Port City Java. It opens on Friday, November 22, 6 p.m., with an artist’s reception.
Though appropriately timed between the two holidays, the exhibition goes beyond nightmares and Christmas. In fact, Friday’s display will mostly comprise coffee-centric art. Johnson’s paintings generally range from 8-inches-by-12-inches to 16-inches-by-20-inches, priced between $20 and $100. A self-described Latinx woman, a mother and a wife, Johnson says family helped her discover the artist inside.
“Painting started as a means for me to help my daughter get through her depression in 2017,” she divulges. “It opened up a new hunger to find the artist within me after numerous people were stunned over how good my paintings came out. It allowed me to have more confidence in what I painted.”
Johnson’s first medium of choice was “forgiving” acrylics, with which she would create landscapes or fantasy pieces. A muralist now, too, she has used acrylic to paint six 6- to 9-foot-tall superheroes at Rise Fitness Studio on Oleander Drive in Wilmington. Though they’re technically more fantasy characters, such projects have allowed her to paint more realistic, human figures.
“I’m completely self-taught,” she admits, “which allows me an open mind to the paint world. I don’t know the rules, I just paint, with acyclic or a cup of coffee. Who knows where the world may take me next.”
In a short 2-and-a-half years Johnson has moved on to oil, watercolors, and now her new favorite medium: coffee. She starts off by making a smooth, thick “roux’’ using coffee and water. Her palette of dark mahogany can deepen into black holes for Jack Skellington’s eyes, or bleed away into lighter browns to form clouds above the branches of a reaching tree. Dark roast is her bean of choice; however, the jury’s out on whether it matters or not for the quality of “paint.”
“It’s all an experiment and process,” Johnson notes. “There is a noticeable difference in thickness that does directly correlate to the light and dark hues on the paintings. We have a proprietary method we have developed that keeps the coffee the proper shades.”
Johnson’s “original roast” coffee piece went to her brother, who loves coffee. She and her brother are considered a CODA (Child Of Deaf Adult), and her brother is deaf as well. It was December 11, 2018 that their special bond helped her create a new medium of inspiration and passion.
“I wanted to paint him a cup of coffee in acrylic paint,” she remembers, “but then thought, What if I painted him a cup of coffee with coffee? Boom! Inspiration was born! . . . He was ‘wowed.’ The new concept of a cup of coffee painted with coffee—that still smelled like coffee—was mind boggling to him. Even after one year, he claims it still smells like coffee!”