The Cleveland arts community was tilted out of orbit this week by the sudden and catastrophic loss of someone who brought joy to so many and shared his wisdom and compassion with all.
John W. Carlson — painter, musician, teacher, parent, partner, friend and a bright light to all — passed away on Sunday, December 20.
Carlson attended Cleveland’s Cooper School of Art and was influenced by the works of Egon Schiele, Franz Kline, Edward Hopper and Lucien Freud. He used mediums such as oils with alkaloids, charcoal and graphite. He worked mostly on large canvases in order to have free reign to express himself gesturally while utilizing his command of negative space.
His artwork conveyed an intuition and a display of visual narrative while usually unveiling a soft spot of the human condition. His line drawings are expressive meditations of form and movement grounded in simplicity while brimming with emotional intelligence.
Carlson played guitar and through his music seemed to find, as well as offer, solace which went beyond the two dimensional realm. Carlson had a passion for sharing his knowledge and skills with others and endeavored to nurture a sense of meditation, inquisitiveness and wonderment in his students and everyone he came in contact with.
Among his many formal professional honors: He was nominated for the Cleveland Arts Prize in 2009. His piece "Visitation" was purchased and entered into the Massillon Museum's permanent collection in 2017. The Carlson/Standley Experience was shown at the Field Projects Gallery in New York in 2019. And his work can be found in collections across the United States and in Europe.
He most recently in Cleveland contemplated the power and sorrow of delta blues music with his show entitled “Blues,” which opened in April of 2020.
Carlson’s family and friends, his collectors and fans, his fellow musicians and his pupils have been flooding social media with memorial content as they grapple with the loss. It is clear he had a profound effect on people due to his humility, patience, generosity and his endearing charm. Here are just some of the thoughts shared.
Friend, artistic collaborator, esteemed Cleveland photographer and film maker Robert Banks, who recently collaborated on an exhibition with Carlson:
“…He was a true music and film lover and the planned upcoming projects would have included a more painting meets film noir approach. He was truly a visionary and had no restrictions whatsoever. He will truly be missed.”
Painter, curator and owner of HEDGE Gallery, Hilary D. Gent:
“John W. Carlson’s gift was not only in his prolific art-making, but also in his ability to connect with people. John genuinely cared, and authentic emotion gushed from his paint brush and pencil. He insisted on including other artists in every exhibit at HEDGE Gallery, and each of his shows explored humanness on the deepest level. John was a friend- the gentlest of spirits with the kindest of hearts. He always asked me, 'Hilary, are you making time for your own artwork?'”
Fellow painter, who preferred to remain nameless:
“I could go on, as many before me and after me will, about what a special person and amazing artist John W. Carlson was/is. If you’ve even met him once, no doubt he inspired you, even if just for that moment, to be kinder, happier, or more excited about something- he just had that way. If you’ve seen his work, his studio, or his shows, you left moved by his pieces’ dynamics- especially if you were an artist- specifically if you were a painter. The corporal void he will leave cannot be escaped, to be sure.”
A protégé of Carlson’s, Felix Latimer:
“I was given the opportunity to spend one on one time with John over the course of several weeks in 2018 as part of a mentorship program. This was when we really bonded, we would spend hours talking about artistic inspiration, family, music, nature, love, history, emotions, and much more. It was so easy to talk to John about everything, he was open-minded and deeply empathetic. I loved every single moment of my mentorship with John, from combing through his artworks, listening to him play the guitar, socializing with his art network, being in the car going somewhere, to having meaningful conversations.”
Student, Jennifer Andrews:
“John was like a cool rock star that you discovered was actually a wonderful human being... My heart grieves for his family, close friends and all who were lucky enough to know him."
Shelley Marquardt Nowak:
“John literally filled a room with the joy, passion, and excitement that radiated from him. He made everyone feel like friends, even if you had just met him. He also made everyone he met feel valued and relevant. His art was so alive with that same passion. So many times I looked at his work and was brought to tears with the strong emotions it evoked. A beautiful man and a tremendous talent lost. How heartbreaking.”
Nephew, Jason Carlson:
"My uncle John W. Carlson was one of those guys you couldn't help but get along with. He never had a bad word to say about anybody. He had a beautiful outlook on life and found inspiration in everything - you can look at his artwork and what he was feeling jumps out at you. Many know him for his amazing artwork, but he was just as talented at guitar. He loved the arts, and excelled at them."
Memorial services have yet to be announced