Paul Johnston was born deaf to artistic, hearing parents and raised in Los Angeles. He attended the California School for the Deaf at
Riverside, where he learned ASL and was inspired by Felix Kowalewski, a Deaf art educator. At the age of 13, Johnson enrolled in the Oregon School for the Deaf, where he stayed until graduation from high
school. He was the first deaf student to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in furniture design and woodworking from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). While at RIT, Johnston also studied
drama, literature, and Deaf culture and in 1975 made his acting debut with the National Theater of the Deaf. He graduated from Penn State University with a Master of Science degree in art education and a minor in
sculpture in 1980 and went on to earn a doctorate in art education with a minor in philosophy from the same university in 1988. Prior to joining the academic staff of Gallaudet University, Johnston taught
experimental educational theater at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington, DC. Johnston currently teaches several courses, including
experimental drawing and sculpture. For as long as he has been an artist, Johnson has been interested in the concept that came to be known as De'VIA. In May 1989, in partnership with Dr. Betty G. Miller,
Johnson co-facilitated a workshop sponsored by the Deaf Way, where a group of artists defined and developed the concept and the name, wrote a manifesto, and painted a visual manifesto founding De'VIA.
"I consider myself a semi-abstract artist. I continuously try to both nurture and share my art by transferring to paper my feelings, my philosophical interpretations of my Deaf experience, and the
use of the hand as a tool for both communication and creation. My works are, at times, expressions both of my identity as an American and a Deaf individual living a bicultural experience.
"In creating my
Handscapes, I use my insight into imagination, interpretation, perception, perspective and appreciation in an experiment with content and form to construct three-dimensional poems. I am infatuated with the shape
and gestures of the hand. The perception of the 'hand instrument' and the 'mask-of-hands' relates the poetic beauty of hands using either sign language or gesture to the expression of mood and emotion on the face
or through the voice. Some of my work serves as an analogy: the pleasure that music brings to hearing people is equivalent to the pleasure which beautifully expressed hand signs and gestures bring to Deaf
people. As hearing people appreciate the beauty of music, so do Deaf people appreciate and respect the beauty of sign language and the pleasure of the visual arts. My intention is to embrace freedom of
expression by inventing new and imaginative icons in each of my works. The image I seek to create the expressive individuality of each hand — pride, beauty and character. I want my works to speak for
themselves. I welcome your reaction."