Robert Johnson was born in Hopewell, Virginia. His mother loved to paint and his older brother, Ben ,was also a painter, who distinguished himself in in the field of art conservation and later established and served as the Director of Conservation for the Los Angeles County Museum. Ben, later played a significant role as a mentor in Robert's development as an artist.
Robert had an instinctive love for art from an early age. He also loved sports and attended Duke University on a football scholarship and later graduated from Duke Law School. Even though focused on academics and athletics, he kept his painting and drawing going in his private time. His love of art and drive to see the best art of Europe caused him to veer from the usual legal career path. He moved to Germany where lived for two years in a small German village, learned German, and travelled extensively see the best art in Europe while at the same time working privately on his own painting and drawing skills.
After returning to the US and several years of juggling the demands and conflicts of two diverging careers he sought the advice of Frank Wright, a prominent painter and instructor of Art at George Washington University. While Frank Wright was critiquing Robert's drawings. Robert asked , " From what you see, can I be a real artist like the ones in books, galleries and museums?" Wright wisely replied: " I like your drawings. But you must realize that you will never know how good an artist you can be until art gets the very best within you...your primary attention, your highest energies, your best working time." The advice stuck. Soon thereafter Robert turned over his law practice to his partner and began an extended period of study at the Art Students League of NY where he studied painting with David Leffel and drawing with Robert Beverly Hale and Michael Burban. Robert loved the painting tradition of the Art Students League and the wonderful opportunities to draw at all hours of the day and into the night. He also studied sculpture in the evenings with Barney Hodes. He later taught at the Art Students League and remains a life member.
He topped off his training with study in the studio of Lajos Markos, a Hungarian master who at the time had his studio in Houston, Texas. The influence of Markos-especially the brushwork-are clearly visible in the paintings of Robert today.
Throughout hits training he received the constant mentoring and support from his brother, Ben, who encouraged him to... "Learn to draw, and only compare your work to that of the masters." At the same time Ben tutored him on the materials and techniques of the masters in the paintings he was working on or evaluating for acquisition by the museum. Ben also involved him learning from the masters while assisting other collectors assembling their own collections of museum quality work.
Since becoming a full time [painter in 1987 Robert has won first place national awards in The Artists Magazine and Salmagundi Club(NY) and numerous other awards- including six awards from the Oil Painters of America (OPA) among which is the American Art Collector Magazine award of Excellence($14000). In 2017 he was awarded the status of "Master" by OPA . He has had twenty one-man Shows in private galleries throughout the US. He teaches painting workshops throughout the US and Canada and has produced seven instructional videos.
He is the author of On Becoming a Painter(Sunflower Press, 2001) in which he explores his experiences in becoming an artist and his thoughts on the fundamentals of the painting process. His work has also been featured in numerous other books including the Best of Flower Painting II( North Light Books) and The Simple secret to Better Painting,(North Light Books, 2003). He is a featured artist in a book published in 2014 by North Light Books-Oil Painting with The Masters by Cindy Salaski.