Grambling State University student by day, Picasso at night describes Jared Johnnie, 24, a senior engineer major from Lafayette. The low-profile artist was born into an artistic family, and did not start to draw until the first grade “because (of) somebody called Benji.” Benji was a kid in Johnnie’s first grade class who told him he could not draw, sparking his thirst for art.
Art was more of a hobby to Johnnie during his childhood, but he took it more seriously as a freshman at the Lafayette Art Academy, which he attended for two years. Before attending art school the young artist taught himself and never used acrylic paint, only pencil, and his favorite tool, markers.
“(At an art contest the) Dean of the UL College of Arts gave me such high praise and told me that he has never seen anyone with such art ability skills and not have taken any classes,” Johnnie said when talking about his sophomore year in high school. He was further encouraged when he won an award in a statewide competition. (He was awarded honorable mention for a painting titled the unknown.)
Since he was the only Black student at the academy, this made Johnnie feel that he was as an outsider and out of place. During class one technique that was different was the type of music teachers played for students to listen to while painting: classical. Though this was new to Johnnie, he quickly adjusted and became comfortable around his classmates.
In addition to processes used to draw at the school, there was one teacher, Kathy Reed, who wanted to change the way Johnnie expressed his emotion in a painting. Reed encouraged him to draw from a latent perspective by using symbols to represent emotions.
Johnnie said he and Reed, “Always butted heads. She said that my paintings were too literal.”
“She would tell me ‘Don’t paint what you see or hear, paint off what you feel.’ For example, paint a dead tree with a rainy background instead of a sad face with a tear.”
Johnnie is also a part of numerous organizations on campus, including the Art Guild, the CMAST (Center for Math and Science Teaching) program and United Afrikan American Men (UAAM). He holds a member-at-large position with the Favrot Student Union Board, where he helps the committees and chairs.
Johnnie has also provides his services as an artist to his organizations and others on campus. In 2011, he did the AKA’s backdrop for the Bayou Classic Greek Show, the Delta’s backdrop for the 2012 Homecoming Step Show and T-shirt designs for his organizations.
Having aspirations to become an architect after he graduates in December, Johnnie plans to use his artistic background to excel in the field and have his own art gallery. Until then, he is preparing for an upcoming art show that the university is hosting and will have two of his works displayed.
He is not open about his talent with strangers, because he does not see the need to boast. Johnnie knows what he is capable of drawing, anything.
“I have that mentality that if I see someone else do it I can do it too.”