Title: Robert Johnson at the Crossroads
Commissioned by: Gene Mangrum
Location: Shiloh Gastro 123 Shiloh St, Pittsburgh, PA 15211
Date: 2021
Artist: Scott Kowalski


When I was commissioned to paint this piece. It was honor to be asked to paint such an iconic story about such an important historical musician. As an abstract artist I wanted to give the piece enough realism that the story could be understood while not painting in a literal sense. I wanted to portray Johnson small and alone with his decision. Using the landscape to convey the weight of his desired request. I hope you enjoy my approach to this piece and my interpretation of the story. 

Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938) was an American blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. His landmark recordings in 1936 and 1937 display a combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent that has influenced later generations of musicians. He is now recognized as a master of the blues, particularly the Delta blues style.

As a traveling performer who played mostly on street corners, in juke joints, and at Saturday night dances, Johnson had little commercial success or public recognition in his lifetime. He participated in only two recording sessions, one in San Antonio in 1936, and one in Dallas in 1937, that produced 29 distinct songs (with 13 surviving alternate takes) recorded by famed Country Music Hall of Fame producer Don Law. These songs, recorded at low fidelity in improvised studios, were the totality of his recorded output. Most were released as 10-inch, 78 rpm singles from 1937–1938, with a few released after his death. Other than these recordings, very little was known of him during his life outside of the small musical circuit in the Mississippi Delta where he spent most of his life; much of his story has been reconstructed after his death by researchers. Johnson’s poorly documented life and death have given rise to much legend. The one most closely associated with his life is that he sold his soul to the devil at a local crossroads to achieve musical success.