By Damion Smalls
Christopher Johnson is a real one. Whether it’s being showcased at the 2018 North Charleston Arts Fest, wowing crowds with live artistic performances around the nation, or motivating the youth with his words of encouragement and reflection, Johnson has seen his profile rise tremendously in recent years. This fall, the artist widely known as kolpeace will attend Savannah College of Art and Design for graduate school. To help pay his way at Savannah College, Christopher is offering his services through art and at the same time informing the public of a new donation campaign for the sake of his education.
“I am using my work to push my message and raise funds to complete the full program,” says Johnson. He is highly proficient in the style of speed painting, often performing in front of fascinated spectators with the backing of a curated soundtrack befitting his project for the occasion and the use of fire that finishes off his newly created vision with flair within mere minutes.
Johnson is no stranger to the big stage. His artwork has been featured at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, MOJA Arts Festival, Lowcountry Local First’s Good Business Summit, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Mother Emanuel AME Rally for Unity and various pop-up events nationwide. He is also the visionary behind the brilliant welcoming sign at North Charleston restaurant My Three Sons. The diversity seen in his legion of fans and various venues that have played host to this innovative Black artist’s stylings speaks to the undeniable talent that kolpeace wields. “My art is not subjugated for just for one crowd,” he informs.
This summer, Johnson is featured in the current season of the CBS series Celebrity Undercover Boss with recording artist Jewel portraying the incognito luminary in search of talented individuals. “I don’t even know how they found me,” Christopher laughs. He blew the singer away after she helped him set up for an art show in Tennessee and witnessed his ambient fury with numerous varying spray paint hues on the canvas.
At the end of the episode, Jewel hires Christopher for an art and music tour and offers $20,000 towards tuition at Savannah College. The overjoyed and overwhelmed artist was moved by her graciousness. “I’ve failed so many times. I’ve failed so much. Because of Jewel, I get to tell these stories. Because of her, I get to tell the opportunities I had. Because of Jewel, I get to continue my education, I’m able to attain this purpose…Because of Jewel, I’m just able to be more than I thought I can be,” he says on the show.
Christopher’s ambition is driven by his love for family, especially his mother. He conveys how much she sacrificed and provided for him throughout his life. In return, he wants to be in an position to provide for her and make her proud. “I’m an only child,” Johnson reveals. Some of his goals are for her to be able to relax and not have to work anymore.
Johnson attended Charleston Southern University as an undergrad. On his experiences at CSU, Christopher opines: “You just hear that it’s a Christian school, football, and that’s it. It’s not really an art school or anything like that because we’re at the back of the school in small trailers, sweating and building stuff. I would stay in there until about 2 or 3 in the morning and have to go to class at 8am. I wanted to find some way somehow, not only help my education and help my family, but to be brave and talk to students and actually have some type of voice. I didn’t have that. I finally had an opportunity to develop that.”
Johnson’s success hasn’t gone to his head, but he has noticed how some react differently towards him in congruence with his newfound fame. “It was weird because people who didn’t know about me or have respect started to show respect. It’s crazy how things are different because I knew what was right and wrong, and I knew who was there before so I didn’t feed into it. But I still show respect because you never know who has to come after you. I can’t really be selfish or think about myself because there’s gonna be a lot of people to come after me.”
Recognizing the difficulty in breaking in Charleston’s art scene, Johnson relishes each event that he participates in. “Each opportunity is fuel,” he asserts. Originally from Columbia, Johnson knows of the path that those before him have taken; mainly, relocating out of the state to continue their art careers in more accessible locations. That’s not necessarily the path he is looking to travel, however. “I know may be going to school [in Georgia], but I ain’t leavin’,” Christopher maintains. “I just want to get my message across.”
Johnson is willing to do whatever it takes to make his dreams come true, which includes earning a master’s degree in Art. He is putting the word out that his services are all on the table: you can book him for events, live performances, lectures for the youth, purchase his artwork and whatever else one can think of within the realm of Johnson’s impressive skillset. No request is too small for kolpeace. He has learned in his young career that nothing is promised and an over-inflated ego has no place in his life. “Vanity is the worse thing to go by, and I never go by it because it can hold you back so much,” Johnson believes.
You can contribute to Christopher’s cause online at https://www.gofundme.com/g68p6m-fight-for-my-education. His GoFundMe campaign will aid his quest to cover the $50,000 tuition at Savannah College. “Any amount is greatly appreciated,” Johnson humbly adds. Additionally, artwork can be purchased on his website, kolpeace.com.