He's won the Indy 500, built and fielded Indy cars and the Can-Am series winning Turbocharged Porsche 917s—all with Roger Penske, built two 50' state of the art racing trimarans in cold-molded wood—employing race car wing technology to the rudder and daggerboard systems two years before the Australians became famous for it in the America's Cup, flies small aircraft, participated on Space Shuttle ground crews and has three paintings in the Smithsonian collection from his on-site experiences in the NASA Fine Art Program. He is fortunate to have many well known individuals enjoying his work. BJ builds his own computers, illustrates book and magazine covers, served as production designer for the National Air and Space Museum and Strasenburgh planetaria, does wildlife photography and paints landscapes, blows glass, collects and restores large antique music boxes, writes articles, is working on two children's books and has recently taken up the cello.
...So far, the cello is winning.
Like we said, not the normal background of a space artist...
or any artist, for that matter, and it's made all the difference.
One of his passions is doing mission art for the aerospace sector. NASA, JPL and aerospace corporations are repeat clients. Bringing his accomplished engineering background to the table, he can discuss on equal terms with the scientists and engineers designing and flying the spacecraft and apply the knowledge gained to paint the craft with an accuracy and realism that is striking in its presentation. Indeed, he often asks questions of them that they least expect to be coming from an artist. That's because he's an engineer.
More than one of his "out of the box" observations have influenced mission planning, due to his unique view of the Universe and the mission within it.
"Things come to light when you look at them from a different perspective. Sharing that light is what engineering and science are all about."
The fusion of science with an artistic eye and balance to convey the space environment so few have seen creates imagination—firing images. Being able to actually paint Photographs That Haven't Been Taken™ is an art unto itself. Now doing this in a 3D environment elevates this to another level. Being able to feel the engineering behind the mission is what makes it real.
Does he want to go into space? No question. Will he get there? No one knows. Will being able to feel and see the space environment around him help him to translate the space experience and why we go? Absolutely. He's already experienced the flight deck of Space Shuttle Discovery during a mission—twice. Floating above it was the next logical step; but it will have to be in another ship.
"I have been very fortunate to have experience in a wide range of amazing endeavors but there is only so far that one may think into the concept of spaceflight. You have to go there at some point and do the work. Having a person who is comfortable around dangerous, complex technical systems, is sensitive to physics, geology, meteorology, photography, writing and art experience the space environment and pull that experience together with these many disciplines will mean so much in the communication of why it is important for us to be there. "If I can instill even the slightest sense of wonder and appreciation for the Universe in the viewers of these works, and ignite a spark in just one kid that propels them to go on to become a scientist, engineer, teacher ...or artist, I feel I will have succeeded."
BJ is gratified to have seen this happen many times since that quote was first expressed and lives to see it happen a number of times more.
A New Ocean, a Signature Image for the National Space Symposium,
was selected more than a year prior but was painted during the first flights of Columbia, 18 years prior. It depicts a new ship sailing "under" the more limited but still beautiful oceans of our ancestors. The painting was chosen for its tranquil and confident vision of our future in spaceflight. Following the Columbia tragedy, and Challenger before that, it now has taken on the mantle of a wistful tribute to our space explorers, and the crafts themselves, who have given their lives in the noble pursuit of knowledge.
"Living our dreams is something that very few of us get to do before we die. Yet, there are those who would use this incident to cause the cessation of human spaceflight altogether. To do so would mean that these individuals will have died in vain, for the goal that they were contributing to will never be reached. Explorers everywhere, throughout history, have given their lives in pursuit of the goal. The High Frontier is no different."
For three and one half decades B.E.Johnson has championed the space effort in a singular, cut to the bone thought:
"Space—To Go and Learn is Reason Enough!"™
It is all that needs to be said, for this is what it is all about.