The City Magazine Since 1975

An Insider Perspective on Charleston

An Insider Perspective on Charleston
June 2019

Poet and painter Joseph “P-Nut” Johnson gets his inspiration from his native city

This month, Dog & Horse Fine Art will present a solo exhibit of P-Nut’s work, Spreading Lowcountry Love.

Lookin’ down, lookin’ down/I find a dollar on the ground/So now I’m really lookin’ down.”

That’s a line from a piece of napkin poetry written by Charleston native Joseph “P-Nut” Johnson: poet, storyteller, and, as of two years ago, painter. Within that short time, this self-taught artist has gone from selling his paintings on the street to hosting gallery pop-ups in his yard to being represented by Dog & Horse Fine Art & Portraiture.

When gallery founder and owner Jaynie Spector saw P-Nut’s work, she fell in love with it immediately—not only because of his unique narrative style and aesthetic, but because of the artist himself. “P-Nut’s art offers an insider’s view of Charleston history from his life experiences,” Spector says. “All of his God-given talent topped with his fabulous perspective and personality makes it an honor to know him and to collect his creations.” On the eve of his first solo show, get to know the renaissance man. 

Lyrical beginnings: For a long time, I was just a poet. I started when I was a kid—I used to buy blank cards, and I’d put words in the cards and give them out to friends and family. They were so good people kept them!

Writing and nightlife: When I got older and started going to the bars, I started writing poems on napkins. I got so famous, I was making $300, $400 a night doing napkin poetry. My first book, P-Nut the Lowcountry Poet, came out because of what I’d written on napkins.

From paper to canvas: Within the last year or two, some of my friends said, “Your poetry is so good you need to turn it into art.” I didn’t understand what they meant by that—to take the ideas from poetry and put them on canvas. But then my friends brought me the canvas and the paints and everything, and I just started painting. I did my first piece, Over Yonder, and this girl bought it on the spot for $300.

Local flavor: I do a lot of paintings of what Charleston used to be like when I grew up. Like Calhoun Street, where the Gaillard is now—I did some paintings of what it used to look like. People like those.

Life story: Every painting I do tells a story. It’s not just a piece of art you put on the wall and look at. Art is a story itself—like a piece of poetry, it captures you. So every piece I do tells a story about my life.

Personal take: I think my art is different because I don’t have somebody in particular I like as an artist except myself. I just try to be honest with my work. I really love what I do, and I didn’t know I had the talent until I tried it.


Images courtesy of (bone) Dog & Horse Fine Art