Student profiles: Gateway High School artist Ernest Bucanan Johnson III | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Student profiles: Gateway High School artist Ernest Bucanan Johnson III

click to enlarge Ernest Bucanan Johnson III - PHOTO: ERIKA JACKSON
Photo: Erika Jackson
Ernest Bucanan Johnson III
The exciting bass and rhythmic flow of lyrics from Roddy Ricch and Rod Wave, two popular hip-hop artists, contributes to Ernest Johnson III’s flow of painting. Johnson, a young artist from Gateway High School, uses their music to jumpstart his creative process.

Walking around Johnson’s studio, his paintings and digital art cover the walls. Some of Johnson’s earliest memories include his mom drawing, and he would “repeat and mimic” her artistic process. In 2016, he picked up a paintbrush — watching Bob Ross paint on Youtube — and experimented on canvases he found in his garage. His self-taught talent, at 14, inspired him to never give up on his artistic journey.

City Paper chatted with Johnson about his inspiration and his work as part of our new student profile series, created by Gateway High School senior Erika Jackson.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Who inspires your art?
I have to give credit to Bob Ross. Starting off, I tried to paint like him and use his techniques; now, I paint loose, not too polished.

When did you realize you were an artist?
There were two phases; the first phase, I felt I was decent at painting. My third painting, I gave away, and I still used Bob Ross’ techniques. The second phase hit my freshman year of high school. Students said I painted realistically, and I painted more nature scenes after.
click to enlarge Artwork by Ernest Bucanan Johnson III
Artwork by Ernest Bucanan Johnson III

Have you sold your artwork?

Yes. I sold three digital works. Two were for rap covers. Recently, my coworker wanted a poster capturing the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, it’s framed.

Do your paintings have to be meaningful?
I can’t paint anything without meaning. If it doesn’t have meaning, it’s not going to turn out good. … All my paintings with meaning turn out better because I’m in this “mood” to paint.


How do you get in the “mood” to create?
I have to think about a painting I want to create for a couple of days; I paint at night and turn on my music. Usually, my dog, Baxter, is with me in my studio.

Do you prefer the process of working on your art or the finished product?
It’s definitely the process. Sometimes it’s frustrating because I don’t know where it’s going to go, but it always turns out right. The finished product feels good too, though.

What would you like to be known for?
I want to be known for my art, hopefully, a leader in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 18-year-old Gateway High School senior Erika Jackson says
local recognition for the variety of talents her generation exudes is rarely seen. Follow along with City Paper as Jackson profiles different students in Pittsburgh. Have a student you'd like to suggest? Email us.

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