A! Magazine for the Arts

Perry Johnson and Ellie

Perry Johnson and Ellie

University of Perry opens in Bristol

June 25, 2014

After Virginia Intermont College's last graduating class left, Perry Johnson needed something to do. He decided to offer private art lessons, which he humorously and creatively dubbed The University of Perry, or as he describes it on his website, "take advantage of an unemployed art professor."

"I learned to draw and paint as a teenager from a college professor teaching private classes. I've been teaching over 15 years, most recently at Virginia Intermont College. I still love teaching and I don't see VI's closure as a reason to stop," he says.

The University of Perry offers painting, drawing and graphic design. Johnson says that he may add printmaking if there is enough interest.

The painting class covers every facet of painting, from grinding pigments and stretching canvas to composition and color theory. The primary medium is oil, and students at all levels of experience are welcome.

In the drawing classes, students begin with charcoal; other materials, conte crayon pastels and ink may be used.

The graphic design class includes instruction in basic page layout in Illustrator and InDesign and photo correction and manipulation using Photoshop.

Classes are held Saturdays in his Bristol, Virginia, home studio. Johnson says if enrollment increases, he may move to the William King Museum of Art in Abingdon, Virginia.

His students meet as a group, but "with a small class, there is plenty of one-on-one instruction," he says.

"The first thing I do is understand the student. Each person takes a class for a different reason toward an individual goal. Through teaching, I see from a variety of perspectives that broaden and deepen my own understanding. I will gladly teach a student anything I know, but I'll also help the student research something I'm not familiar with. I don't need carbon copies of me. Those who know me are in complete agreement."

Johnson describes his own style as figurative realism. "I suppose that's the broad genre. My paintings do just what I do - tell stories, crack jokes, make fun, ask questions and hopefully make people think."

Johnson's website says that his "work questions our stewardship of humanist ideals. What have we achieved and what of our humanity?

"As it's commonly understood, working means making a living. In so many jobs, living is what comes after work. What I want more than anything for my students is that they make a life while making a living. As a working artist myself, responding to the creative directions of a number of students is invigorating. This is making a living in the fullest sense."

Classes at the University of Perry are $100 a month. Information can be found at www.universityofperry.com.