Roger Johnston was born in Coventry, England, in 1930. From 1940 to 1946 he attended King Henry VIII School; during this period his education was disrupted by the war and in particular the blitz in April 1941, which damaged the school. After showing early promise in art, he won a full scholarship in 1947 to attend Birmingham School of Art, where he studied with the Royal Academician Fleetwood Walker. Johnston secured a place at the Royal Academy Schools in London but was unable to attend due to his being called up for National Service in 1950. He subsequently became both an officer in the Royal Artillery and a paratrooper. After serving in the Middle East, Johnston taught first at Wolverhampton College of Art and then Warwickshire School of Art.
In 1956, he began a long career teaching at Leamington College for Boys grammar school, where he later became Head of the Art Department. Johnston also wrote a regular weekly column for the Coventry Evening Telegraph from 1973–75 called ‘Looking at Art’, covering Midlands exhibitions. He took early retirement from teaching in 1989, principally to assist his wife, Hazel, an internationally known porcelain potter.
Throughout his career of teaching art, Johnston also maintained a personal practice, working in his earlier days with oil paints, then watercolours and acrylics, as well as continuously sketching, often on holidays both in England and overseas. His preferred subject matter has been English landscapes, mainly in Warwickshire, Cornwall and the Lake District, as well as railway scenes, a particular interest. His art has never been formally exhibited, and so the 2018 calendar presents an opportunity not only to curate a selection of his watercolours but also to place Johnston’s work within the long tradition of English landscape watercolour painting.
All works reproduced in the calendar were painted in situ, with no subsequent revisions or touch-ups. This fact can be seen most evidently in the ‘November’ image, painted on the Suffolk coast at Aldeburgh, where raindrops fell directly onto the watercolour whilst it was being painted, completing the naturalism of the scene in an unintentional but serendipitous manner – literally water and colour.
Johnston has said of his working method:
‘With the watercolours I am working from back to front, from the far distance to the foreground. I am trying to capture the atmosphere of place, using mark-making that is in sympathy with the scene. It’s an additive, cumulative layering process of building tone, form and depth, with occasional use of Chinese white for lighter foreground detail, grasses and so on, and some darker pen marks for detailing of definitive architectural or built forms such as walls. It becomes a fluid process of careful observation and instinctive mark-making.’
All profits from sales of the calendar and prints will benefit cancer care, particularly Macmillan Cancer Support, in memory of Johnston’s wife, ceramic artist Hazel Johnston.