John Behnke (b. 1991, Chicago, IL) is one of Project Onward’s youngest artists, but his paintings of richly imagined dream worlds are the confident work of a master. Working with acrylic on canvas, Behnke uses dazzling colors and meticulous details to create pictorial narratives of his own invention. Each painting tells a complex story, drawing upon fairy tales, science fiction, romance, environmental decay, and the artist’s own vivid imagination.

While Behnke’s dense, often hallucinatory visions are deeply compelling in their own right, the artist has written narratives to accompany each of the paintings in “Golden Country”. The stories combine a romantic attitude toward the natural world with distopian visions of the near future: “How much can the earth give, until it’s all gone? We’re growing, and numbers leave scars” (from “Urban Tribe”). The text for “Universal Gate” contrasts the lives of millionaires who colonize other planets with the have-nots who toil humbly for the betterment of a degraded earth: “They could live in their gated community in the sky, but we’ll live, finally, as one.”