Magnus Johnstone was born in 1952 in Chicago. By the 1970s, his family had relocated to the East Coast, settling in Duxbury, MA.
He began painting in his 20s and was, at first, self-taught. He completed his first larger canvases (70” tall x 50” wide) by the mid-1970s working in oil paint. Throughout his life worked with a variety of sizes and materials, and attended the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts for a year during his early career.
His fantastical and psychedelic artwork was influenced by sources as diverse as Renaissance art; German expressionism; surrealist painting; writers like H. P. Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison; graphic and comic art of the 1960s; Mayan art; and music. Always music.
A lifelong music fanatic, his taste was as diverse and selective as it was in all of his creative domains. Indeed, his lifelong work as a DJ provided the evolving soundtrack to his unique artistic vision. By the very early 1980s, Magnus was a college radio host in Boston and was producing popular and forward-thinking African and Reggae shows on MIT’s WMBR 88.1 FM in Cambridge, “Aliens’ Corner” and “Reggae Mukasa” – years before “world music” became a popular term and genre.
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, Magnus’s two loves burned passionately and brightly – painting and music. An immediate acolyte of hip-hop, by 1985 Magnus started the now-legendary “rap and electro” radio program called “Lecco’s Lemma,” on WMBR. A year later he moved the show to Boston College’s WZBC 90.3 FM, where it ran until 1988.
He will forever be known as the first person in Boston to truly give local hip-hop artists a chance to be heard regularly on the radio – Guru, Edo G and The Almighty RSO, among dozens of others – playing their demos and interviewing them in-studio. As The Noise magazine said in 1987: “Magnus Johnstone is a DJ at the front of a movement, in it for sheer love of its excitement and possibilities.”
In the early 1990s, he was producing two weekly radio shows, “Mecca,” which was “an exploration of music of the Arab world” as well as a new version of the “Aliens’ Corner” show which featured “pan-African music.” After a brief hiatus from radio as he dealt with several health issues – which he battled with vigor and determination, beating leukemia in the mid-‘90s – Magnus returned to the airwaves by the late ‘90s on WZBC with the “Dub Hop” show. Relocating to Maine in 2000 with his life partner Mango, he continued to paint and work in radio. He hosted weekly shows including “The Matrix” and “Da Vibes” on WERU, a community station in Orland, ME.
Magnus Johnstone passed away on February 22, 2013, after a vibrant life filled with art, music and community. His friends and family will always remember him as compassionate and creative soul, a visionary artist and a music fan who was constantly in search of his next muse.
When he passed, he left behind over 80 large canvases, dozens of medium sized works and just as many smaller pieces, most of which are currently for sale and located near Boston.
Proceeds from these sales will go to the Johnstone family, to help store, maintain and market his work.
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