Medford Johnston was born in Atlanta, GA in 1941 and was raised in Decatur. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Georgia State University in 1965 and his Master of Fine Arts degree from Florida State University in 1967. Johnston began an influential career as an art professor in Atlanta upon the completion of his postgraduate work in 1967, while at the same time maintaining an active studio practice. During his career as professor of art, Johnston generated several bodies of influential work and mentored successive generations of emerging artists in Atlanta. In addition to the High Museum of Art, Johnston’s works are included in the collections of such institutions as The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA GA); the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Mint Museum of Art, amongst others.
Johnston's paintings offer a visual interplay between line, form and color that is specific to his experiences of the Samburu, Kikuyu and Masai cultures during travels throughout Tanzania and Kenya. They feature variations on a theme inspired by Masai walking staffs, which are used not only for balance while herding cattle, but also as a protective weapon against animals that threaten both the herdsmen and their charges. The jagged contour of the staff in juxtaposition with the graceful poise of its owner, seen in silhouette against the horizon of East African plains, inspired Johnston's years-long study of balance, counterbalance and dissonance in the interdependent relationship between people and nature.