First impressions: Eric Johnson opens pop-up printmaking studio at West Acres

FARGO -- Starting today, Monday, June 4, Eric Johnson is the first printmaker in the Artist-in-Residence program at West Acres, and it's all due to one tiny notification from eBay.
Printmaker Eric Johnson poses in his studio at West Acres, where he’ll create prints for 20 hours a week until Sept. 17. Chelsey Ewen / The Arts Partnership

FARGO - Starting today, Monday, June 4, Eric Johnson is the first printmaker in the Artist-in-Residence program at West Acres, and it's all due to one tiny notification from eBay.

Johnson, a prolific local artist known for his colorful and imaginative prints, always wanted to apply to the program. But not owning a personal printmaking press proved to be a big (and quite heavy) stumbling block.

That is, until he received an eBay alert one morning while working in the Printmaking Education and Research Studio (PEARS) in North Dakota State University's Renaissance Hall. It notified him that there was a Griffin etching press for sale in Alpine, Utah.

Johnson consulted his wife and made an offer on the press, which is one of a limited number of presses produced by The Griffin Co. in Oakland, Calif., in the late 1960s. The seller accepted his offer right away.

"Then I was like, 'How am I going to get the press back (to Fargo)?'" Johnson recalls.

After borrowing a friend's truck and a trailer, Johnson, his mother and eldest daughter took a four-day journey west to acquire the press while stopping to admire the scenery along the way.

When they returned home, Johnson fixed up the press and applied for the program at West Acres. He was quickly accepted because of "his depth and quality of work as well as his desire to work in an environment that is full of interaction," says Alissa Adams, senior vice president of marketing and business development at the Fargo mall.

"It is our goal to expose our customers to as many different types of art as possible, and as our first printmaker, he will bring a completely new experience," Adams continues.

Artists who have participated in the program since it began last year include Emily Williams-Wheeler, Ryan Fritz and Ashley Kunz, all of whom work primarily with paint and canvas.

During his residency, Johnson will create prints and some paintings for at least 20 hours a week in his studio in the JCPenney wing until Sept. 17. After his residency, Johnson will move the press to his studio in Hillsboro, N.D.

"Once the press is in Hillsboro, it's probably not going to move for a long time, so this (residency) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this," Johnson says.

Johnson's vibrant work showcases his active imagination and conceptualizes his personal experiences while making them relatable to his viewers. He's created hundreds of prints in the last 12 years and has exhibited his work in more than 50 regional and national exhibitions.

To create his prints, Johnson uses the reduction relief technique that involves carving away a single block after each layer of color until the artist's desired image comes to life.

Johnson enjoys sharing his creative process with anyone who is interested, especially on his social media platforms. Now, as a featured artist at West Acres, Johnson has the opportunity to reach new audiences and educate community members about printmaking. He says he looks forward "to interacting with people who are unfamiliar with the process."

"I spent a lot of time at (the mall) growing up. I would always go to a video arcade called the Pirates Den, so to think of someone (around that age) who might just be looking for something to do, they can now come in and learn something new," he adds.

And that's exactly why West Acres has an Artist-in-Residence program, Adams says.

"One of our favorite parts of our Artist-In-Residence program is hearing stories from both the artists and our customers about their interactions with one another. It is truly a mutually beneficial process where both sides get to learn and be inspired," she says.

"We admire Eric's work and his passion for it, and we can't wait to see what he brings to his studio over the next few months."

To view Johnson's schedule at West Acres, visit or the artist's Facebook page, Eric A. Johnson, Artist/Printmaker.

If you go

What: Eric Johnson pop-up printmaking studio

When: June 4 - Sept. 17

Where: West Acres, 3902 13th Ave. S., Fargo

Info: Visit or for more information