“I personally desire darker imagery, but from a business standpoint, I have to tone stuff down for the general public, which I don’t mind. My art isn’t evil 100% of the time.”
What were the most valuable lessons that you gained from your university experience?
Education wise, I’ve been around a lot. I started two years at the University of Wyoming. It was a decent program but they never pushed you. I hate to sound arrogant, but the people and instructors there weren’t anything special, no stand-outs. I ended up going to the community college there, took my core credits, saved up and came to Bozeman. MSU had credibility, nothing like Wyoming. A lot of the people in Bozeman got out and went other places. I’m a firm believer in getting out and experiencing different scenes where you’re seeing real, legitimate art, seeing what the pros are doing, who they are and how they create their art. I strive to do that and I felt like MSU pushed me to do that. Also competition wise, at University of Wyoming there was no one that challenged me. And I got to the point where I got lazy. I was so focused on getting out of there to the point where I was a mute for almost two years. No talking, no socializing, just working on art. Working three jobs, just to get money. I needed to get out of there. In 2005, I came out to Bozeman.
Lord of Dark Waters
More recently you were living in Portland, what made you want to move again?
Yeah. It got to the point where I needed to get out of Bozeman. I grew up in a small town and there’s certain things about that I’m not a fan of – like when you know everyone – you know their background story, their family. It gets nosey and I wanted to meet new people. I was out of place in Bozeman, which was kind of surprising because it was probably the best year I’ve had art-wise. I moved to Vegas for a while. I tried the whole Vegas market. Turns out there is no market, unless it’s digital photographs of the strip. They love their cheesy digital photography. Still, no one is buying it. I had buddies with amazing galleries and amazing art in them, they only sold one piece out of 300 shown this year. They didn’t bother putting price tags on it because no one is going to buy it. Vegas is it’s own little world which I don’t recommend for anyone unless you are on vacation.
What is it like working as a creative artist and working the market, trying to do the professional thing? What’s your experience and take on it thus far?
Connections. Networking. Networking is key. I used to be stubborn about things and try to let my art speak for itself. Before I moved to Montana, I was quiet. It was hard to talk to me and I would be the guy in the corner at my own shows. Here, meeting certain people, I came out of my shell. I met so many people who know people. A place like Bozeman doesn’t necessarily have the most thriving art scene but the people who are in it have great connections. There is a huge variety. I know blacksmiths in this town, graphic designers, ceramicists and such a huge variety of creative people. Where in Wyoming, I can’t talk art with anyone. I put my art out as a job. Which a lot of people romanticize about the lifestyle. In theory, that would be nice but statistically, you’re going to be putting in more than 40 hours a week. Going from working 40 hours a week with a job that guarantees money and has stability, to working 60 hours a week with no guarantee or stability is a huge leap for people. I’ve toiled with that for many years and finally got to the point where I’m confident enough where I can pay bills by doing art. I can’t look frivolously for it. If I had approached it any other way, I don’t think I could have done it. I’m very conscious of all my situations. I learned a lot about having a career in art. It’s small things like the importance of prepping your canvas. I don’t leave a white edge because that’s poor representation. To a gallery, that looks lazy. “He paints an amazing piece but can’t even get to the edges?” I am all business oriented. I work out all the fine details from top to bottom. In that regard, I’ve had good support from my friends who are like minded.
What types of themes do you work with and where do you draw inspiration for your visuals?
Generally dark and evil things. I always grew up where everything is good, everything is happy, Lots of wildlife art. I want to be the complete opposite of that. Do something that stands out. I personally desire darker imagery, but from a business standpoint, I have to tone stuff down for the general public, which I don’t mind. My art isn’t evil 100% of the time. I had a battle with color over the years. When I started college, I was anti-color. I like black and white, sepia tones, but no bright colors. I had buddy who got me into graffiti and from there on out I discovered so many colors. With graffiti, you are limited to one tool, your can. The quality of paints differ and some cans are easier to use, but I was so intrigued by adding certain colors, without manipulation. I had to make it work. I’ve seen a lot of people abusing color, throwing all the colors on the canvas and saying “ta-da!”
Do you still work in graffiti style spray painting?
Yes, a lot for my backgrounds. I use acrylic and spray paints. I love oil paints but the drying time kills me. I like using a dot matrix with spray paint and getting good blends. Big scale or small scale, it goes quick. I’ve done a lot of live painting, so its a good medium to use.
Where have you done live paintings?
I’ve done some painting at the ArtWalk in Bozeman. I also work for the GVSA, Gallatin Valley Skating Association, with a lot of fundraisers to auction off the paintings during the event. We have it lucky in Bozeman with so many venues and opportunities, which is shocking to me. Try going to Portland where a lot of these people have the mentality to go to a big city and make art. Well you’re a dime a dozen in a big city, statistically. I’ve had a lot of friends who want their band known, so they move to Seattle. How about you get your band and your style established? Get some mileage under your belt because in Seattle there’s 100 other bands doing the same thing that you are doing.
Do you work with any other types of art besides visual?
In the past year, I’ve been dabbling in casting resin toys. It’s pretty difficult. At first, it’s kind of pricey because of pressure pots. The Boston marathon made it only possible to purchase them with a commercial license. And there’s online workshops to make them yourself, but I don’t trust that. I also do woodworking and basic welding, I consider myself a jack of all trades. I make that a conscious decision because I get bored. I keep the hand moving. I can do graphic design even though I’m self taught.
In all of your creative endeavors, if you get stuck on something– creative blocks, what is your fall back?
Other artists. I hope when others look at art, they get that feeling. I need to paint now! A lot of my friends are on-top-of-their-game artists. It’s good to get out and look at some good quality artwork. Also, these people have their ideal artist model. They work artist hours to be able to pay the bills. The people I surround myself with influence me. I weed out people who just hang around and romanticize about the artist lifestyle. People will ask me what I did last night and I’ll respond “I did 16 hours of painting.” They’d respond “That’s horrible.” Sometimes it is horrible, but it’s like any other job. There’s going to be rough days, especially before shows. Three days before my shows, I’m pulling all-nighters. I’m not a guy who procrastinates last minute but I always achieve my goal. I have a structured timeline. I wish more people did that, especially in college. When I was going to school I worked full time at a job that required me to be at work at six in the morning. Some days before my eight o’clock class, I’d have to be at work at 4:30 in the morning. I’d come to class and everyone else would be moaning and groaning waking up while I was in the middle of my day. When it came to projects, I didn’t have time to put it off until the last minute. Especially in printmaking because every time a project is due, you’re limited with space and presses. I don’t have time for that. I don’t even have time for a social life. I’m the type of guy that will have my work ready two days before it’s due.
Beyond the Barriers of Light
What style of art pisses you off the most? Something that you wish didn’t exist, if any.
I’d have to say conceptual and performance art. And that’s only because of Portland. I was thinking about going to grad school out there. I attended a grad show opening. It was weird, the minute I got there, all these people I was around were talking about this one girl. “She’s the new in-thing, we’re going to be hearing about her!” Her piece was a video of her eating cake and spitting it in her boyfriend’s face. It was running on repeat all night. There was also a guy that did very traditional illustration and his work was tucked back in the corner, in the shadows. They wanted these larger than life performance characters. They focus more on being able to bullshit your art, than actually create your art. I got an anxiety attack, turned into the hulk and walked out of that gallery. It was a good realization of what I’m not into. Maybe grad school isn’t necessarily for me. I’m able to survive and do what I want to do without the safety net of grad school. Not to knock anyone going to grad school, but I think to some extent, it’s a safety net. Extending and pushing the debt back, you know. But I know it’s a studio space, it makes sense. Or, I could also say abstract art. With people who make good abstract art and you can see the amount of hours they put in. Bad abstract art, you can clearly see that there was no work, no time and no effort involved. They think it’s an easy way out. You’ve got to put time in before you jump to abstract art. Look at all the masters who started out realistic, and decided to change it up. And why not? That’s a proper approach to things. Start out with photo realism. I used to draw the covers of Cabellas catalogs. A lot of people take abstract art as the easy way out. It is such a trend lately.
Any last words?
I hope this doesn’t come off as negative. Everyone always says “Oh, John you’re so negative.” What I’ve learned through my experiences is that you have to approach art professionally. At a show, I talk to everyone, I don’t get sloppy drunk. I take care of the show first. I feel an artist must represent themselves to the fullest. You can go and enjoy yourself in the off-time, but some artists just represent themselves so poorly in public. Another thing I’ve learned is the minute you love everything you do, you plateau. Very rarely do you see a person who can be truly critical of their own work. You can be happy with your work, but when you can look and see room for improvement, that forces you into your next piece. Being content is dangerous, in any aspect of life. The minute you quit caring about something and become complacent, you get in trouble. Like on a job site, being complacent could mean getting your hand chopped off by a miter saw. Luckily, in art, you won’t lose your hand. Don’t be stagnant.