Andrew Ellis Johnson was born in Cortland, New York to a jazz guitarist, civil war historian father and science major mother who, together, won many bowling tournaments. He made his first life-size faux bronze sculpture of Baron Manfred Von Richtoven at the age of 13, miniature marzipan figurines of Fats Waller at 11 and his first film cycle on the battle of Gettysburg at 9. Pursuing film and painting, he studied at SUNY Buffalo and completed his BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After years in Europe and Asia, he earned an MFA in Art at Carnegie Mellon while serving as an artist-in-residence at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and curating an exhibition of inmate art at the City Theater.
Subsequently he attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and a residency through Poznan Academy of Art in Poland. After several years of nomadic teaching and a five-month studio stint in Amsterdam, he taught for five years at University at Buffalo where he co-founded PED, a socially engaged collective that has performed in Buffalo, Belfast, Chongqing, Rio de Janeiro, St. John’s, Tonawanda and Toronto. In 2004, he joined the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University where he is now Associate Professor of Art. Recent residency/exchange projects include those at Korean National University of the Arts in Seoul, Fayoum International Art Center in Egypt, University of the Arts London at Camberwell and Sites of Passage in Jerusalem/Ramallah/Pittsburgh.
Through image and form across a variety of media, tactics and disciplines, Johnson explores social and political issues and injustices, wrestling with boundaries between aesthetic, political and moral orders. He treats representation — not as a hermetic mimetic pictorial tradition —but as an agency to awaken and combat torpor. Exhibition topics have included: the Haitian grass roots movement; homelessness; predatory economics; hemispheric hegemonies; unabated sowing of land mines; crises in the Middle East; cultural eclipses; the visibility and invisibility of communication; consequences of war and violence; and meditations on labor and myth. Venues for his work have included museums, galleries, electronic arts and video festivals, public collaborations, conferences, books and journals in North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.