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Ben Johnston’s Wordplay Now Showing At Taglialatella Galleries

Wordplay, by Ben Johnston

The new exhibit scales the artist’s street art style and debuts his venture into sculpture

By Joseph Cicerone

By way of graffiti and graphic design, multidisciplinary artist Ben Johnston has honed a distinct typographic style. Emerging into the world of fine art, the Toronto-based creative’s love for letterforms has taken a new shape in a solo exhibition at Taglialatella Galleries. Comprising 16 paintings on canvas and visually innovative sculptures, Wordplay is Johnston’s expansion on a signature motif established through his acclaimed street art practice.

Wordplay, Ben Johnston
Hope, 2023. Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 in.

Compositionally complex, these artworks challenge traditional notions of legibility beyond their bright, gradient palettes. Instead, they use text as a visual element in its own right and require a long observation of each piece to reveal the words intertwined. The result is a game of decoding (wordplay) between the artist and the viewer. “I consider this puzzle approach to be part of the fun,” says Johnston. “Words can carry different meanings for different people, so, beyond the unscrambling of the letterforms, I also like to use a lot of ambiguous language where I can.”

Much like Johnston’s towering murals in cities like Huston, Novi Sad, Vancouver and, of course, Toronto, Wordplay augments the captivating quality of each piece through the use of vibrant colour hues. “I think I’ve played it safe in the past by using a lot of greyscale,” admits Johnston. “With this exhibit, I wanted to go a little crazy and bold with colours that refuse to blend in and, instead, make a refreshing statement.”

Ben Johnston artist, Designlines
Look on the Bright Side, 2023. Solid resin sculpture in custom mixed colour White, 36 x 4 in.

Wordplay also marks a new chapter for Johnston’s artistic practice as he explores the craft of sculpture. Six 3D-printed objects made of solid resin are designed to engage the viewer in a new and tangible way. Some of which, for example, may present different words entirely depending on the way the object is positioned on a shelf or pedestal. It’s a small step toward the artist’s long-term goal to create large-scale public sculptures. “Making these pieces has been an exciting and interesting process,” says Johnston. “It’s pushed me to explore new ways to display my art and connect with an audience.”

Wordplay, Taglialatella Galleries
Wordplay is on display at Taglialatella Galleries on Yorkville Avenue from March 23 through April 10

As an artist who primarily creates outdoor murals, Johnston embraced the quiet streets of a Canadian winter to set his sights on the Yorkville Avenue gallery space, where he’s shown two times before. “I worked on this show mostly through December and January,” he says. “It was a perfectly quiet time in the city to focus all my attention on Wordplay.” A new entrant into the world of fine art, Johnston says creating for gallery spaces is something he can get used to. “Sharing a space with so many well-known artists makes me feel thankful for the opportunity and motivated to keep going.” Distinct from the murals where Johnston’s work merges with its surroundings, Wordplay presents itself as both an expansion of the artist’s craft and a retreat to a more personal relationship between him and his viewers.

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