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“Girlfriends Beach,” on the pedestal, shows two girls talking and gesturing. The paintings at left were made by Bruce “B.T.” Johnson using wooden shipping pallets instead of canvas.

Cambridge Center for the Arts,

'LEARN TO BE WRONG'

What: Sculpture exhibit, Bruce "B.T." Johnson

Where: Cambridge Center for the Arts, 144 2nd Av. SE., Cambridge

When: A reception is scheduled for Saturday from 4-6 p.m. The exhibit runs through Dec. 15; gallery is open Tues., Thurs. and Sat. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. plus Thurs. 4-8 p.m.

More info: www.cambridgecenterforthearts.org or 763-691-9679.

A lesson for art and life in Cambridge exhibit

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 27, 2012 - 10:34 AM

One has to "learn to be wrong."

A recurring theme for sculptor Bruce "B.T." Johnson of Isanti County, it's also the title of his solo exhibit at the recently opened Cambridge Center for the Arts.

Johnson says he has found that "you can't have all of the information." Sometimes this means "being wrong, goofing it all up," to discover new things.

Often, in the studio, this philosophy produces unexpected results. "Some of the best things I've made are pieces I was ready to throw in the garbage," he said.

"Learn to be Wrong" features nearly 40 mixed-media paintings, graphite drawings, sculptures and assemblages, including some that go as far back as 1988.

The show is the second at the arts center, which opened in late August in a vintage downtown building that once was a firehouse.

The center started in late 2010, with its first programs presented in various locations in early 2011, said Executive Director Susan Jacobus.

A retired music teacher in the area, Arne Everson, raised the idea for such a center a couple of years ago. It struck a chord and since then, "this has gone from a dream over a coffee conversation to the real deal," Jacobus said.

She hopes the center will become a one-stop shop for people looking to get involved in the arts.

Already, exhibits, art classes, a writers group, music lessons and theater are underway. "We're trying to offer a lot of variety, to give people the opportunity to participate in a way that they're comfortable with," she said.

Judith Kissner, who owns Scout & Morgan Books in downtown Cambridge, often steers her customers to the center. "We're asked a lot in our business about resources for independent artists looking for support or a place to show their work," she said, adding that many of her customers are interested in its offerings for writers.

In general, "I see it as a real community-builder," she said, calling it "a small key indicator for a good quality of life."

The current exhibit

Johnson, creator of the current exhibit, recently retired from a job with the U.S. Postal Service. The way he sees his art work, he says, "I'm tracking a consciousness," adding, "I want to know who I am or where I came from."

To do so, he often draws from his daily life.

For example, among his earliest pieces is a triptych, a group of three landscape paintings, devoted to Elizaville, N.Y., where he once lived. In producing the colorful paintings, for which he used shipping pallets instead of a canvas, and he worked outside on a windy day, dancing to music along the way.

The energy comes through in the pieces. "It was a real joy when I made them, catching that movement in light and color," he said, reflecting on the pieces he did in the 1980s.

At other times, the elements play another role. On a Minnesota winter day, for example, a space heater comes in handy to melt down certain color mediums, he explained.

Connected to the world

Although Johnson, whose favorite tools are the chisels he bought 40 years ago, is primarily a sculptor, the works show a wide range of materials and techniques. His subjects also run the gamut, from the whimsical to the political.

For example, "Girlfriends Beach" is a gestural sculpture of two female friends laughing and talking on the beach.

A more conceptual piece involving binoculars mounted on the wall, which viewers can look through, reveals tiny figures that he posed on a high-up shelf. "It's a fun piece," he said, adding, "There's nothing too deep going on there."

But in several other works, Johnson, a Vietnam veteran, makes a statement against war and he ponders the "American Dream" and race relations. Some of these pieces are physically heavy, he said.

For Johnson, who started making things with odds and ends at an early age, each of these types of artwork "keeps me connected to the world at large," he said.

Sharon Howell, the exhibition coordinator, had high praise for Johnson's work.

Although some pieces are deceptively simple looking, "He's a real strong draftsman but very abstract," she said.

All in all, the show reveals, "He's quite a thinker. Besides being a doer, he's a wonderful artist."

Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.

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