Johnny Bull

why i think
Johnny Bull
is a superhero

We are surrounded by heroes and superheroes. They are thrust upon us from Hollywood, they are ‘sung, drawn and selected’ by the mainstream media as prime examples of how we should all aspire to be.

Taken literally, Wonder Woman might fight aliens, Tim Peake left earth to float in orbit and Usain Bolt can run faster than pretty much anyone else. By the dictionary definition, heroes, perhaps..

Hero (noun):

A person, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

A person that when there is conflict or an enemy, rises above the call of duty to perform heroic deeds in the face of adversity which promotes peace and nurtures equilibrium.

I prefer Joseph Campbells’s thoughts on the matter from his profound volumes ‘Heroes with a thousand faces’

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

He says it perfectly ‘ the common day’ – a world in which we all live and with which we are all familiar. Not a cosmic battlefront, not an atomspheric barrier, nor even the need to be the best in a competitve field… simply that which surrounds us all, all the time.

Every day, each and every one of us treads the plod of our habits; the walk to work, the climbing of stairs, the view of our desk. We relax at the end of the day surrounded by our carefully constructed familiarity, our books arranged by size and colour, the dog at our feet … a nice cup of tea.

Where is the heroic in that? Campbell presents us with the term ‘supernatural wonder’ where ‘fabulous forces are there encountered’.

Supernatural wonder

Do you remember, as a kid, tracing the patterns in the carpet to create a map of adventure for your toys? Or spending hours on the beach making castles and digging tunnels? Back then we had wild imagination; relentless … infinite. Every event a challenge, each collapsed tunnel, rebuilt, rescued … a triumph.

Have we lost that sense of adventure? Are we really so opressed and manipulated by this world that we forget to see the wonder in the tiny things that surround us?

And even if we do chance upon them, they take us by surprise … what then?

When I first saw Johnny’s series which he provisionally entitled Little Utopias there was a distinct and real relief for me. A permission had been granted … a magical key almost.

Because here was a man that I knew. I had been familiar with his work for a good while – I liked it. Yet this work was different. It gazed upon the carpets of my childhood and granted consent to go even deeper, to revel in the sheer joy and simplicity of my imagination. I could see things that thrilled me in all their joyful, exuberant pleasure.

Sunshine Superman, is not just a technically competent rendering of clever lighting through stained glass, skilfully rendered using an iPad and stylus. The reason it exists is because Johnny noticed it. He saw the wonder and then he threw himself into the adventurous journey of how to express and gift that to everyone else. Pushing, pulling, scratching and stroking, succeeding and failing and relentlessly pursuing to complete the journey.

And when he does … what does he give to the world? This gift? This neatly packaged saga of triumph.

I see a brilliant piece of work that is also a ticket and when I spend time in front of it I sense the gates to my own wondrous imagination opening. Each of these works is an invitation – to pause, to breathe, to take a look at the brilliance of the everyday and familiar and simply say thank you.

It gifts a reward of humility and resilience.

And I accept that gift from this work; an everyday adventure from an ordinary man to a stranger, saying ‘see here, isn’t this bloody lovely’

So herein I rest my case, Johnny Bull has achieved heroic status through his journey through supernatural wonder and triumphantly returning a magical reward that benefits us all.

Bloody Lovely

Johnny’s work is available to be seen in his new exhibition entitled

‘A Day in the Life… and other stories’

At the Slade Centre | Gillingham | Dorset

from July 1st to August 5th, 2023

This article is also published on The Slade Centre website