Memphis Art Opening: Robby “Slim” Johnston

January 27, 2009 | By | Comments (1)


(Photo: Ken Walker)

I’m like a moth to a bug light when I see a front porch like the one in the painting above. It’s like a mood ring. In a cheery state of mind, I see the light emanating from inside and immediately hear music and voices, expecting the door to swing open and the party to spill outside. In more introspective moments, I focus on the emptiness, the tidiness, the skull, as metaphors for the spent spirit after a long day…and wonder how long before that party spills outside.


(Photo: J.M. Allen)

OK, maybe I’m a little one dimensional, but the painting and others featured in “Slim Visions” by Robby Johnston opening Friday in Memphis open themselves easily to interpretation. Robby, who’s been like a brother to me for almost 40 years (we met in first grade), has roamed Memphis and the surrounding Delta with his eyes and, dare I say, heart open. His current works focus on shotgun homes, as well as Delta landscapes and, in a nod to bluesman Robert Johnson, the darkly magical crossroads.

He says each painting is typically an amalgam of places he’s seen over the years, “the rural South a land steeped in a strong dichotomy of joy and pain. To me these particular works are about family and the simple life, where less is more." And, no, he corrects me, it’s not just about the party that’s about to take place on the porch, but about "love for each other, and how people get by in the home."

A drummer since junior high, Robby has done some of his wandering while driving to and from gigs at area clubs and colleges. He earned the nickname “Slim” from the late Bill Story, owner of Wild Bill’s, the famed juke joint in Memphis’ Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhood where Robby has occasionally performed. Hallowed ground to many folks from Memphis and way beyond, the club was also the subject of Robby’s first paintings.


(Photo: Ken Walker)

A relative newcomer to art, Robby began what is his “wonderful outlet” in 2007, and has since then become one of the most popular artists at downtown Memphis’ Center for Southern Folklore, where he’s sold the majority of his works until now. “I’m so glad I picked up a brush,” says Robby, who finds inspiration from various folk artists. “When I started, it was more or less just for my eyes, but it’s really become something I want to share, and I’ve been surprised at how people have responded.”

Last year, he began taking lessons from local artist Amy Hutcheson, who he says has helped him refine his technique and "see new things. I think I’ll keep painting for a while. I love it and it’s easier on my ears than drumming.”

20090111 rob 0012 Memphis Art Opening: Robby “Slim” Johnston

(Photo: J.M. Allen)

Show Title: “Slim Visions” by Robby Johnston
Opening: Friday, January 30, 2009
Where: Eclectic Eye (an eyeware boutique and art gallery)
242 South Cooper St.
Memphis, TN 38104
For those of you unfamiliar with Eclectic Eye, it’s located in the Cooper-Young section of Midtown Memphis. The area is one of the city’s hippest entertainment districts, offering plenty of restaurants and clubs, as well as a few shops. So come early, stay late, and make a night of it.


  1. metro ethernet

    I really like the pictures it gives me a warm feeling i can see alot of things from this painting and i reall like the feelingit gives you homely and cozy like the south very nice i like his paintings very good stuff.

    March 24, 2011 at 9:20 am

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