Leimert Park, Los Angeles–In 2011, artist and alchemist Patrick Henry Johnson wanted to paint something that would be his statement to muralists in Los Angeles. It would be the second mural he ever painted and was inspired by his ex-girlfriend.
The time Patrick spent with the 27-year-old was such an exhilarating experience that she would become his muse for the Elixir.
In alchemy, The Elixir of life is a potion that is said to bring youth and/or eternal life to those who drink it. In Los Angeles, The Elixir is a 40 x 40 foot mural on Crenshaw Boulevard before Stocker St., right in the heart of the Black community.
The afro-cosmic mural outlines the head and shoulders of a Black woman with the Milkyway in her large afro.
The Elixir is painted on the side of the Liquor Bank, a staple made familiar in Los Angeles by John Singleton, who shot a scene from his 2003 film Baby Boy in the parking lot.
“I had no idea what I was going to do or how I was going to do it. But I knew I could do it. I wanted to create something that would blow people’s minds,” said Patrick. “I didn’t know how it was going to affect people but I knew that it was going to be monumental.”
A quote manifested because Patrick wanted something to compliment the image. Underneath the Elixir is the quote:
Have we all forgotten that we are spiritual beings having a human experience? In a universe created in harmony, conflict is a creation of your own mind. You have all that you need within, what are you waiting for? FREE YOUR MIND!
“I never had a project that burned in my soul the way that mural did. I had to get it out. Getting it out meant freeing myself of the feelings I had for her.”
Patrick had the opportunity to show a small replica of the painting to the owner of the Liquor Bank. Soon after, he asked Patrick to draft up an agreement.
“He loved it,” Patrick expressed. “After we signed the agreement, the wall was mine.”
Patrick began the project Sep. 2011 and it took him two months to complete. Finding help for the mural was difficult so Patrick used a 15-foot ladder that extended to 30-feet.
He would climb to the second step at the top of the ladder and use a telescoping roller that extended 10 feet, painting by himself under the Los Angeles sun, determined to complete the mural.
“It was really, really, really difficult. But it was powerful that I painted it myself. I poured all the love that I had for her into the piece. So that’s what everybody feels. They feel love.”
“No matter the race, the painting resonates with everyone on a universal scale because everybody is a spiritual being having a human experience,” Patrick expressed.
The Liquor Bank was shut down by the City of Los Angeles in 2017 after the city revoked its liquor license and labeled the business a public nuisance.
In Jan. 2019, Patrick’s eldest son Joshua saw a sale sign in the parking lot of the now-closed Liquor Bank which prompted him to contact the realtors.
He feared that the new owners would demolish the building along with his father’s mural. This led to a meeting with the CEO of the real estate company that bought the Liquor Bank property.
“I discussed with him that this is basically a cultural landmark and that maybe he should converse with my dad before he demolishes the building. He doesn’t know about this area. He is based in Beverly Hills,” Joshua explained.
To his surprise, the developer was receptive. He began to do his own research and eventually contacted Patrick to set up a meeting.
Although the Liquor Bank will be demolished, the CEO of the real estate company has agreed to Patrick repainting the Elixir mural.
The new building will be a five-story apartment complex with retail space below. You will not see the Elixir anymore as you drive down Crenshaw but you will see it as you go east or west on Stocker St.
“It turned out he was a pretty cool cat, and he is actually for the community. He doesn’t like to come in and gentrify. He just found an opportunity and took it, as anybody else would. But he is not going to take it aggressively, he wants to help out, said Joshua.”
Patrick was born deep in the country of Valdosta Georgia where you can hear frogs at night and had to walk to get drinking water from a well. Johnson’s parents split when he was three leaving him one of nine children.
His mother wrestled with drinking which made his household dysfunctional.
“It was hard for her to see anybody who was a creative spirit in the house. You can’t see anybody when you’re drinking.”
Patrick found refuge in his older brother Johnny Lee Johnson who was ten years older. Patrick referred to Johnny Lee as his saving grace and he also credits his brother as the one who taught him how to draw.
“I had such a profound love for drawing so he sat me down and showed me how to do it. He inspired me. Anything he was doing I just wanted to be close to him. And he never called me by my name.”
“It was always son. To everyone else, I was PJ. To him, son.”
The Evolution of An Artist
In 1993, Patrick responded to an “artist wanted” ad in the newspaper which would lead to him spending nearly 20 years painting alongside a diverse group of artists. Some of these artists were not from the U.S, which helped Patrick to expand and grow in his own art and also as an individual.
“I used to call my friends damn near in tears because I couldn’t paint the way those guys in the studio were painting. I had to humble myself and say I’m not as good as everyone else here, but I’m going to get better.”
Patrick knew that if he wanted to be great, he had to put his own ego to the side.
Working in the studio offered Patrick the opportunity to travel the world. He has visited places like Finland and traveled to Europe 13-years in a row.
“My passport had so many stamps on it, and it was always being renewed,” Patrick reflected.
Although school is important Patrick says there is nothing like real-world experiences that come with working in a studio alongside other artists.
Some of Patrick’s favorite artists include Salvador Dalí, MC Escher and René Magritte.
“Their imagination was paramount to their work. Their imagination was so amazing that they changed the way art was done, especially Salvador Dali.”
His artwork has allowed him to be in spaces with people such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Snoop Dogg, and Muhammad Ali.
“Not everybody is generous and not everybody has the feel of how great you are. Even with that, I never let that affect the way I look at other people when meeting them.”
When Patrick is not painting (or even when he is) he is fathering three of his four sons that live with him. Two are students at Venice High School. The eldest, Joshua, is completely enamored with his father’s art and style, while on his own art and life journey.
One thing that Patrick does to keep his son’s minds sharp and aware of the world around them is assigning books and having discussions on the material.
If they do not know any of the words, Patrick encourages them to write it down and look them up.
“When Elijah read “1984,” it was 290 words he had to look up. When he finished “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” it was 68 words he didn’t know. I did not know how to really read until 22. I read the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and from that point, I was reading all the time.”