Photographers/Artists:Randy Lee & Lance Johnson
Partners in RLJ Industrial Artwork and Design. Professional artist born & raised in Eau Claire, WI. Randy and Lance have forged a partnership through Friendship, Passion and Talent…
When Randy Lee and Lance Johnson took their talents in Photography, Architecture and Carpentry and combined them with their love for reclaimed material and aging urban landscapes, the two fashioned a studio with a new, distinct point of view. Through their photos and their custom frames they are creating artwork that is focused on expressing the powerful, industrial history of our unique and diverse region. RLJ Industrial Artwork and Design is a testament to the kind of art that can be forged when you meld a long friendship, creative passion, and pure talent together into an amazing, interpretive masterpiece.
Friendship can be quantified many different ways; by longevity, popularity, proximity or intensity. In today’s world, it seems that friendship is far too often undervalued. Many times, when things get tough, people throw it out as easily as they would the trash. Friendships can grow by overcoming disagreements and can be made stronger by the range of opinions they share and value. No friendship is perfect, but a good one stands the test of time. There is value in the struggle. Growth can spawn from disagreement and bonds can be strengthened in times of weakness.
Randy and Lance have a friendship that goes back nearly 4 decades. They have always dreamed big. In one of their first ventures, at the ages of 14, they took over Randy’s parents’ basement to create an architectural firm, complete with name, advertising and slogan. Unfortunately, they underestimated how many adults would be ready to trust the design of their new home to a couple of young teenagers.
As time went on, Randy became a professional photographer in Eau Claire, WI while Lance built his design/build company in Milwaukee, WI. But, in 2012 they took their past efforts and combined them with new aspirations and created a photo art exhibit which people have connected with, called Little Milwaukee. It is an exhibit that was built out of the dreams of two friends, and people are connecting with its honest look at a tired city. This wide appeal is due in part to the unique and organic origin of a project that combines their talents and their passion.
Passion is a powerful thing. It can push people to destroy or it can drive people to create. Little Milwaukee has brought out the best in Randy and Lance. It is the things that they have in common that drives this project. Their love for architecture and structure are common themes in their work. Most might classify their photography as Architectural, but really it goes much further than that. They see the city see as a living organism.
“There are parts of the city being rejuvenated like the cells in our body, there are parts that are bleeding like a fresh cut and there are also parts of the city that are decaying like a rotten tooth,” said Lance. “The history of a city includes the forgotten and inglorious masterpieces that only neglect, malice, wind and rain can create. To some, this is beautiful. Rust, for instance, is a product of metal, the elements and time. It seems to grow as though it has a life of its own. It may look like a cancer or a wound to some, but there is wisdom in the rust. We build things only to fall into time’s grip. They decay- so that we may build again.”
Their passion comes out in all they say and do. In their art they are always striving for a balance between the image they have captured and the frames they have designed to house it. They go out in search of reclaimed material such as steel, wood, glass, hardware, etc. and seek to give it new life in their work. By pairing one or more materials with the right image they give these resources a new purpose and a rebirth. By honing in on their passions they have developed an eye for achieving this harmonious balance, which is a tribute to their exceptional skill and talent.
Talent is never finite. It is as alive as those who possess it. It can fall into decline and decay or it can be exercised like a muscle to be made stronger and more powerful. And one look at what Randy and Lance are doing with their artwork and you can see that they are not resting on their laurels, and they have a lot more to give. They are clearly pushing themselves and improving on their talent.
They may have gained proficiency with the tools and techniques they use long ago, but they are constantly growing and developing their talents. The two are finding new and better ways to procure, process, and treat their resources. They are becoming more in-tune with their environment. Rescuing materials from a heap of junk, bringing them to the shop, and living with the material helps them figure out the best way to use them in a manner that will give them a new purpose and life.
“It’s an interesting journey,” Randy confessed about their creative process. “We find ourselves looking at the world a little differently as a result. We see natural resources differently. We see their future differently.”
The love for what they are doing is evident in each of their pieces. They are reclaiming the weathered city landscape, reusing its broken and discarded pieces, and repurposing it for an artful memorial of who we were in this community and what we can become. Lance stated, “We photograph the unwanted, and use the unused- and it gives us great joy.” It is no wonder then that people are taking notice and seizing the opportunity to display these pieces in their homes and offices.
RLJ Industrial Artwork and Design are reinterpreting our decaying city’s landscape through their art. In the process, they are celebrating what our community was, is, and can be. The idea that the materials they use have had a rich history, reminds us of our place in it. From Randy and Lance’s friendship, passion, and talent they have forged a showcase of artwork from their studios that affords us the opportunity to reclaim our potential. At the heart of their collective work is their friendship, a growing masterpiece. Their art reminds us that time is a fleeting resource. The moment to live up to our own aspirations, is now.