Getting realism: Ben Johnson talks about a controversial painting show in …

For an artist usually tied to his studio, Ben Johnson is affable, articulate and disarming. We meet at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where obsession and introversion colour all the works in the current show.

His own pieces, The Rookery and Looking Back to Richmond House, took months to finish. Because like all the artists here, Johnson is one of that maligned breed; he is a photorealist.

“It is quite astonishing that in the 21st century there is still a hierarchy mentally for some people, that there is fine art, there is applied art and craft and commercial art,” he says, defending his colleagues.

It’s not even as if, like certain other –isms, photorealism is a bona fide movement. This all-consuming style precludes meeting other artists. “You’re spending 12 to 18 hours a day in your studio,” claims Johnson. “You aren’t going out to the pubs and the clubs.”

The artist appears

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