Spotlight on the Artist-Interview with Ian Rumley

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[as interviewed by Ian Robet McKown 8.19.12]

When looking through your online galleries, it becomes readily apparent that  you are fairly familiar working with multiple-painting series. Is this an approach born from needing more than one piece to flash out an idea, or is it something you picked up in your formal training?

 This really made me think. In college they really push you to develop a body of work around a concept. I’ve seen great shows where the cohesive element might have been style and technique more so than an overlapping idea. A lot of my work comes from research and introspection so sometimes I need a few pieces to work it out or the idea becomes more clear during the process so I have to go back and edit. My uncle took me with him a lot when he was running installation crews when he was a kid and installation work was the big thing back then. A lot of that vein is meant for museums or galleries, not really something many people would buy. He taught me to understand that a lot of art is problem solving or philosophy. College helped with that too. I don’t like Kandinsky but I can appreciate what he was trying to say. Having said all that I admire artists that produce for the sake of producing as well. Sometimes it’s great to develop a whole sleeve for someone, and sometimes it’s fun to do a 3 hour burner from start to finish just to enjoy it too.

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Id say one clear common thread in many of your series and individual paintings is the idea of a blasted world-one where possibly cults have risen to rush the survivors and governments have come to show their true corruptness openly. Do you have any particular fascination with the occult, or cults, and what staements are you making about a society whose underbelly you portray as rotten and corrupt?
The whole idea of the H.A.V.EN project is something I’ve been working on for years and it’s what I chose to do my BFA thesis on so it’s definitely the most research I’ve done for a series. I’m stepping back from it for a while because I scratched that itch for now but Im sure I’ll come back to it in the future. I definitely picked something I’m interested in but some of this work, and some of the other work that include similar themes, are more autobiographical than they look on surface. I went to catholic school as a kid and have struggled with where I stand with that ever since. That created a lot of my interest in the occult and religious subject  matter as well as symbolism. I don’t hate religion or people with faith, I actually prefer to look for the similarities and try to carve out an idea from that. I’m more interested in the historical side than the spiritual. Tattooing has given me a strong fascination with symbolism as well. I also grew up around a lot of fantasy, science fiction and horror and I love rock and roll so those things creep in sometimes. I hope the apocalyptic stuff has an educational quality to it. The idea was to invent a cult and produce propaganda for it using historically tested methods. It’s more about the recipe for propaganda than the end of days for me.
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 I sense a bit of salvation when i look at the children in your pieces.. Possibly a bit of your own personal feelings on how children may offer some sort of salvation. Am i way off on this?
 I do believe we can change the world by the way we raise our children. The kids in the haven series are more about sinister brainwashing than salvation on the surface but whatever you bring to viewing a work of art becomes a part of it. Maybe your on to something deeper that I missed.
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 I know you have been involvedin quite a few public works projects over the yeares, and clearly you arent being asked to duplicate your regular fare.  How do you approach such projects, and do you see it as lessening your art in any way to paint such contrary imagery?
Great question. I think being multi-faceted as an artist is ok as long as you believe in the project. I got into murals because I was encouraged by someone I have great respect for to give it a try. I didn’t have much interest in it until I learned about some of the tradition behind it and artists like the “tres grandes” who were carving out a take on an art form that is one of the first records of humanity. I have only painted a handful of murals and they were all collaborations which I really enjoy and a chance to work with people i respect. I don’t hunt down projects often, I have been lucky to have some offered to me and recently was put on a committee for a huge project at Redline gallery that I’m excited about. It’s another great opportunity to work with kids and people who continue to teach me about art like Carlos Fresquez. I have always used brushes as that was the way I was taught and I have met a great community as well as learned a tremendous amount. I like the collaborative aspect and I think it’s fun to take someones idea and produce something for them. Tattooing is the same way. People give you some creative control but often you are still producing something that helps them express themselves. The more experience I get the more personal expression seems to come with the project. I admire artists that either are asked to paint whatever they want or don’t bother with permission but for now if I can work outside with people I respect for a good cause I’m a happy guy. 
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 Youve been teaching art to many “at risk” kids.  How has that experience been for you? Has it changes how you approach art?
Teaching changed my life more than I can say. Just to get the chance was an honor. I have been at a High School  in boulder for about 3 years now. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I do. I learn more from them and the rest of the staff than I teach them. The first thing I learned is that I don’t like the “at risk” label much. Every kid is at risk. I had a good home, problems like everyone else but I wasn’t getting my ass kicked or starving, shit I went to catholic elementary school for free because my mom taught there, she was the only real catholic in the family as far as I remember. I think teaching has changed more about how I approach life than art. Its a different trip, there are definitely things I don’t put on my website and a big part of my lack of Facebook because it’s a different world . I’m no saint and part of it is just growing up and realizing that the way people see you does matter. I’m still figuring out the juggling act. I don’t censor myself too much and I’m not perfect but it makes you realize that your high school art teacher was a human and made mistakes too. I’m taking a year off to make some other things happen but I love the connection I have with my students and I have a great time not answering any specific questions about tattooing. My go to answer when they want to know about machines or anything else is always find somebody to apprentice you when you graduate, I’m just here to help you draw.
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From kowing you over the years,  can safely sy that i dont see much of your own personal sufferings reflected in your art.  Do you feel this ommission is intentional? Are you the type of artist who produces more or less when life becomes a bit of a struggle?
There is a lot of personal struggle in my work but I don’t like the be too literal about it. I think it’s more apparent in the hanged man series but that was still more about the struggles my family went through to get me here.
There are issues in my life I plan to work on in the future, art is very therapeutic for me, as for any artist I’m sure. I feel like I can be more honest as I get older. I am learning to juggle things better I think. I want to do personal stuff but I also want to do things like learn more about figurative shadows in oils just because it would be satisfying and I love painting. I like things to have a sense of humor too. My last series was pin up girls with ankle monitors on called “house arrest.” If I ever get my website updated I’ll put those on. I guess if I ever stop struggling I’ll know if it’s harder to create. 
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  Im sure many young or new artists would like to hear your thoughts regarding getting a 4 year art degree.  Do you think its helped you as an artist or hindered you in any way?
Because of choices I’ve made my 4 year art degree took over 10. I started college as a writing major and was offered a shop apprenticeship at bound by design at the same time. I loved to draw but didn’t have the drawing skills or confidence I needed to tattoo so I switched my major to art. I might do some things differently now but it was cool being in both of those environments at once. I was fortunate, and still am, to be around amazing artists every day. Some of the artists I admire have MFAs and some of them never saw the inside of their locker in high school. School opened up amazing opportunities for me, introduced me to teachers and peers that have been instrumental to me, and gave me skills i needed. It took a lot of time away from my family that I don’t get back too. I do well in that  environment because of my learning style, there is no substitute for just opening a book or picking up a pencil, you don’t have to go to college for that but it helped me quite a bit. Don’t take out nine million dollars in loans to get an art degree so you can make money though, save your cash for lottery tickets. 
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Your works are all over the board in so far as medium. Do you hve any particular ones that you enjoy?
Oils and tattooing are my favorites. I do a lot of watercolor and ink which I think I’m better at but oils are my favorite to work with. My favorite thing is to put on some horror movies, have a cocktail and get out the liquin and terp. I like to be well versed enough in multiple mediums that I can pick the one I want to get the idea of the work across the best. The only downside to switching around so much is that I don’t spend as much time on one technique and it takes longer to get proficient. But I got time and It keeps me from getting burned out too.
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 You have until reently been involved with a local co-op gallery.  As an artist, do you recommend this as a good option for artists wanting to estblish themselves a bit before moving on to traditional gallery representation?
I’m still with the Boxcar gallery. It has been a great experience overall. Exposure is important and getting your art on the walls is important, at least for me. A co-op gallery is cool because you do everything from advertisement to installation. It is a big commitment and if you don’t care about being a part of the ins and outs of everything it might not be for you. The right co-op can help knock some of the jitters out of showing your work. With the exposure you can create on the Internet now people can see your work in japan by way of Denver if you want. I still think there is something to be said for the gallery environment though. Something I’m trying to get better at is creating work for fun instead of a deadline. There have been times when I wanted more time to work out an idea and the deadlines can hurt too. I am trying to worry less about my resume and more about my work. It’s hard to balance the professional side with the creative but art is a job when there’s mouths to feed. I know that co-ops are synonymous with emerging artists and that’s fair. I also know artists that have chosen to stick with them instead of seeking commercial representation. Often with commercial galleries there are no compete clauses that I don’t have to deal with. At the same time the commercial galleries offer things a co-op can’t sometimes like finding a clientele for you so it’s a decision every artist has to make for themselves based on the quality of their work and what is available to them. I also know many people that don’t have “gallery representation” at all that do very well for themselves showing their work due to a little determination and common sense.
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 For as long as ive kown you youve had ten things on your plate and your fingers in ten pies.  What can e expect to see from you in the next 5 to 10 years?

I wish I could say. School took me a long time and at least for a few months I just want to paint and tattoo. I think developing a stronger Internet presence will help the cause. I love Denver but my goal is at least one show out of state a year. If nothing else just as an excuse to travel a little. Grad school is a possibility and I could see teaching as a serious part of my future but it has to be the right fit. I don’t want to do it just to be in a holding pattern for two more years. I’m also looking into some local residency programs. I have two beautiful daughters, a great 10 year old girl compliments of my fiancé, a female snake, female cat and a gecko were not sure about yet so I think a pet with testicles is a must in my near future before I start to menstruate. Thanks for all the opportunities you have created and all the advice and support over the years amigo! PHS! 

Artist statement
Ian Rumley is a painter, teacher and tattoo artist at Bound by Design in Denver CO where he was born and raised. Ian graduated from the Metropolitan state college of Denver with a BFA in 2011.

http://www.Ian-Rumley.com

Spotlight on the Artist- Kans89

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“My name is Kans89 or plain and simple just Kans. My name took on many different changes as my career progressed but the artist behind it has always remained the same. I am a graffiti artist born and raised in Denver, CO. Born on April 11, 1989 hints at career in the world of art would sprout here and there during my early years as a toddler and adolescent. I can remember drawing all the time and being really creative with any problem that came my way. As drawing came naturally I never took art
seriously until I discovered the world of graffiti .

Walking along my normal path to school, I used to pass these walls painted top to bottom in colorful graffiti. I stopped and admired the work just about every day as they were always changing when finally, one day the owner of the building approached me. He said “Hey I see you around here a lot, do you paint?” Now at this time I had never even picked up a spray can so I lied and said “Yeah man I actually do”. He then replied “Well hey I need some new color, are you interested in painting?” I
responded with a quick “FUCK YEAH!!!” I was about 15 at that time and so my journey began.

Those walls were located in an alley way on 8th and Inca in Denver, CO, they were like home to me. Every chance I had I would be there painting. Thanks to that opportunity I fell in love with graffiti art and knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When I picked up the can for the first time I had no idea that it would have such a positive impact on my life as well as take me on the ride I have been on thus far.

I started out just painting my name over and over again, trying different technique and styles. Every ounce of creative energy went into graffiti whether it be sketching, research, learning the history or actually painting. You can probably say it was an obsession. Letters were my first priority and from there letters turned into characters and figures with the old school bboy flavor and from there went to more graphic themes and style. I was painting for about 3 years when I finally got my first commission and as I got more commissions and progressed stylistically I realized it was time to pursue a professional
career. I then worked with some friends of mine (Wiser and Lemon) to form a custom graffiti company (Ynig.com). The company has been in business for about 6 years and has sprouted many other ventures during the course of its life.

As a professional my career is still in its infancy but so far a lot has been accomplished. I was amongst the first graffiti artists in the city of Denver to be commissioned by the city for a public art piece. I currently work for Strange Music as a graphic designer which I have been doing for about two years now as well as work for myself as a free lance muralist. On top of all that I am currently working on a BA in fine art with a concentration in painting.

Graffiti is my main love within art, its my passion and my priority. With that being said its what I pride myself on but I am definitely not limited to that. My work almost always shows my graffiti art roots and style but when it comes down to representations and or meanings it is pretty simple. I try and document my emotion through my art in some way. You can look at a lot of my work and picture in some way what I was feeling or what I was trying to express at that particular point in
time. I have found that doing this has kept me sane for all of these years. This is the reason I love graffiti so much, you can show every bit of emotion through line, color, composition and shape so well without having an obvious image of it. As far as being satisfied with my work, after completing a new piece I am satisfied with it for about a day. I am always trying to find something to fix and something to improve on. That is to me what makes a great artist and that is what I aspire to do. In a field like mines even when you are finished there is always one more thing to do so with having said that I don’t think I will ever be totally satisfied with my work but I will climb everyday to always improve. That is what defines me as an artist…IMPROVEMENT.

Graffiti in so many ways has changed my life. It has taught me things you just cant learn from anything else, it teaches to be reliant on ones self, it teaches to never take no for an answer and most importantly it reveals your true spirit and soul. As cliché as that sounds it is very true. I had no clue on what I wanted to do or what my life meant until I was introduced to graff. I will always paint graffiti until my last breathe but it has opened so many other doors in which I will pass through.”

[as interviewed by Ian Robert McKown 8.5.2012]

 I know a lot of us who are unfamiliar with the graffiti world and rely largely on how its portrayed in the media have this idea that it can be a somewhat territorial and even a bit physically dangerous when it comes to putting up ones work.  Any truth to that?  Have you even had any tight situations

There is definitely truth to that stereotype. There is a very very fine line between graffiti art and gang graffiti. To the general public or people who have no knowledge of graffiti as an art form, distinguishing what those are is very difficult. To them it all is gang related. Generally only gang graffiti is truly territorial because the point of gang graff is to define the occupying gangs turf whereas the aims of a graffiti artist or bomber is to be seen everywhere possible. Painting in certain areas can definitely be dangerous for graffiti artist’s. If you aren’t from the neighborhood you are painting in that’s occupied by a gang you then run the risk of offending that gang which can potentially become violent. I really hate to expose that side of things but its truthful . Some gangs make no distinction from graff bomber to gang member, if you are not part of their gang and are painting on their turf they will check you. As for me and being in any situation of this nature it has never happened. Denver for the most part is pretty chill as far as these problems go but it is still a possibility.

 

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 I know that at least in Denver there are quite a few “free walls” where painters are encouraged to do bigger pieces without worrying about the legalities of working on random walls.  Has Denver always been like this?  I remember a friend telling me that you weren’t anybody until you’d been arrested for putting up work?  How about you, any scrapes with the law?

Denver has always had places to paint legally from what I can remember keeping in mind ive only been on the scene for about 8 years. The most famous spot were the walls on 8th and Inca. That is where I painted my first piece and it was responsible for the birth of my career, anyone who is anyone on the Denver scene has painted that wall as well as legends (Cope2, Tlok, Emit, East, Koze just to name a few). That wall has unfortunately been shut down but there are new walls being born. There are huge walls off of Acoma and Jewell that are constantly being painted as well. I know Boulder has a few as well as Longmont. The theory that you’re not any one unless you get arrested is a bit edgy. I think your more notorious for not being caught and I think all writers would agree that you pride yourself on being wanted and not caught as opposed to being caught. So I guess to re-word that it is more like “Your not anyone unless you are wanted” even then that is still sketchy because now a days you don’t have to bomb to become famous. Just show dedication and a passion for your work. Ive been chased numerous times as a youngin by both civilians and police, I have yet to be caught. Being that I paint legally now I don’t think ill ever be caught for graffiti. I don’t consider myself a graffiti bomber as much as I consider myself as a graffiti artist.

 

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There seem to be quite a few painters who have found some mainstream popularity.  What do you think this is attributed to, and do you think its in any way watering down a previously low-brow art form?

Yes there are quite a few graff artist who can be considered mainstream heavy hitters. I think the reason for this is persistence as with anything. Well I guess a bit of persistence and luck. I don’t like knocking anyone who has “made it” but in some cases I think it is more about the people you know and who co-signs for you as opposed to the work you do and how well it is done. It is a very sad thing but a common occurrence in the art world. Don’t get me wrong though, there are definitely artists who have made it who completely deserve to have the fame they have because their work is absolutely amazing. I don’t think that it is in any way watering down our art form, I think it actually helps it. When a commercial artist does work and exposes graffiti art in a positive light it then makes it less intimidating to the general public which results in more opportunities for artists of our nature.

 

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Along the same lines, in tattooing we are seeing mainstream media and fashion taking traditionally tattoo related designs for their own merch and products and it seems to be similar for graffiti designs.  Any thoughts on this?  Do you feel its a good thing for painters?

I think graffiti on merch and other products also helps the art form and artist’s because it creates job opportunities for artists as well as being able to own the art of your favorite artists without spending an arm and a leg. Many street wear clothing lines use and sponsor authentic graffiti artists which is why I think it isn’t a big deal. Now if clothing companies were to take graffiti artists work and printing it on shirts without consent or trying to replicate it by non graffiti artists then it would be a problem.

 

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 I know from some of our discussions that in working to get your BFA you’ve been exposed to and had to work with a few different mediums.  How are you finding working outside of your comfort zone?  Which ones are you gravitated toward and which ones did you have the most trouble with.

 

I think working outside your comfort zone is beneficial to any artist. It pushes you to explore and can possibly open a door that never would have opened if not for stepping outside the box. I have worked with sculpture, oils, acrylic, collage, print making, as well as watercolor. I have particularly been gravitated towards oil painting. I love that medium, it is a good release and break from spray paint. It gives me an opportunity to paint in a very different way from graffiti. The medium I have struggled with the most is watercolor. The reason being is because the technique of painting with it is completely opposite from how I paint and it is not opaque enough for my taste haha.

 

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Have you found that your approach to graffiti has changed now that youre working with more traditional mediums?

My approach to graffiti now with knowledge of other mediums has definitely changed. I feel like I have more ammunition supplied by other mediums to attack a wall with. Not in a sense of me using oil paint or collage on a wall but in a sense of subject matter. I almost would love to do still lives that were traditionally done in oils on a wall with spray paint. Working with other mediums has broadened my ideas on what I would like to paint in a graffiti style. However I would never let graffiti bleed into oil painting. I think it loses potency when you confine graff to a canvas. Graff was meant to be in the wild not in captivity.

 

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 I know that you’ve had some success with public works projects.  How do you approach those projects, and what it it like dealing with people who have little or no experience with muralists?

With a public work commission it is a very long painful process. There are call for entries, some to whomever and some by invitation only. You typically write a statement of interest and you are then considered depending on if you are a good candidate for the project you apply for. After this if you are considered you are then “short listed” which means you are up against a small number of other considered artists. You will then be required to come up with a concept and presentation which then will decide if you get the job. Working with people who have no experience with muralist is sometimes hard but mostly pretty easy. I say its sometimes hard because clients can be pretty “set in stone” on what they want even if it makes no sense artistically. It is difficult telling them their ideas wont serve for an aesthetically pleasing piece.

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If I’m not mistaken, you’ve taught art to some youth groups.  Can you tell us a bit about that?  What hurdles have you had to overcome when it comes to teaching what has become second nature to you?

Yes I have taught with my business partner Keith White at numerous public libraries as well as recreation centers and schools. I taught part time at Lake Middle School for an after school mural program. Teaching graff to kids who actually want to be there and learn is very satisfying. Most of the time art programs have been obsolete from school curriculums in inner-city schools which is very sad. I pride myself on being able to provide under-privileged kids with a chance to explore an art form which has been a part of their lives for so long. It gives meaning to why I do this type of art and gives me a chance to give back to a community in which I came from. Some big obstacles to overcome when teaching graff is getting the kids to understand that graff isn’t just about bombing and vandalism. Its hard when students take the info and knowledge I give them and destroy their own community with it.

 

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I know a lot of people are aware that you’re a merch designer for at least one top name in the music industry.  Any names youd care to drop?  Whats that been like?

I have been a merch designer for Tech N9ne and his label Strange Music (the number one independent rap label in the world) for about two years now. Working with Tech has been a wild ride being that he is one of my favorite mc’s and has become a personal friend of mine. I never would have thought I would be doing what I am doing because of graffiti! Obviously I have done work for Tech but also just about every other artist which is on the label (Krizz Kaliko, Kutt Calhoun, Brotha Lynch Hung etc.) I have also done work for former Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshal.

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Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 year?  I know youre really driven and I’m certain you’ve set your sights high.  What can we expect from you? 

In the next 5-10 years I see myself as a staple of Denver graffiti and hopefully an icon of graffiti itself. This is a really high standard but im hungry enough to do it! My drive to do this has been untamed and I wont stop until I get it!!! I also see myself owning a gallery of some kind I am still unclear on what that might be. Also I definitely want to travel the world and paint, leave my mark on as much of the globe as I can. You can always expect to see me producing graffiti but you can definitely expect to see tons of exhibitions from Kans89 in the fine art realm! I don’t want to sound cliché but I would like to conclude this interview with this…Any young people who aspire to be an artist of any kind, don’t let anyone ever tell you that you cant do something. Art is what you feel and in many ways what defines you, don’t ever sensor yourself or hold anything back. If you have a message to convey then get that message across in the medium that best fits you!!! Most importantly don’t let money be a motivator behind your work…you wont last long. Ian thanks for this opportunity, it means a lot coming from an artist who I deem as one of the best!!! Much love!!!

https://www.facebook.com/kanz89

Spotlight on the Artist- Josh Wool as interviewed by Jon McKenzie

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Josh Wool interviewed by Jon McKenzie 7.21.2012

Josh Wool ladies and gentleman: a fellow Southerner.  While I grew up in the much more refined and well mannered state of Texas, you were plagued with burden of thriving in Virginia.  A quick Google search found one expat describing his hometown in Virginia as, “toothless, low IQ, belief in creationism for the morbidly obese”.    Certainly, you don’t share this dejected individual’s animosity and ego-maniacal negativity and you wear the Southern badge proudly.  How did growing up in Virginia Beach mold you into the Josh Wool we know and love today?

Growing up in a Southern beach town was great, surfing, fishing, bike rides on the boardwalk, it was a pretty laid back lifestyle. I never felt completely at home there though. I moved back to Charleston, South Carolina, where I’m originally from, for college and immediately felt at home. I think it’s there that really shaped me as a young adult. There’s so much history and culture, and it’s pretty cosmopolitan for a small Southern city. It was also the first time I’d been exposed to the darker underbelly of life in the South, there’s great wealth in Charleston, but also a lot of poverty and seeing those two worlds be so close in proximity, yet  totally segregated really stuck with me. 

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Describe when and how you came into the affinity and, ultimately, the study of art and when did you realize your were an artist?

I was interested in art from an early age, but never really found an outlet for visual art until just a few years ago when I picked up a camera. I wanted to build boats when I was a kid, the beauty of shape and form really appeal to me, so I guess that’s what started it all and still resonates to some extent in my photographs.  I don’t know that I’d call myself an artist, I feel like that word should be reserved for those who paint, sculpt, draw etc. I’d say I’m more of a craftsman, I have a particular set of skills to get a job done, but there are artistic elements involved in that too. 

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You have are now a New York City transplant.  Describe the juxtaposition of the South to New York, which is known the world around as a melting pot as it were.  Do you think your Southern roots tend to help you in the Big Apple or hinder you?

New York is a totally different world; it’s fast paced and can be unforgiving. However I think the idea of NYC is much more intimidating than the reality of it. It was definitely overwhelming at first, but getting a feel for the city came easily for me and I adapted to the pace surprisingly well. It does demand that you be at your best, there’s no tolerance here for sub par anything.   There’s nowhere else that offers the kinds of opportunities that NYC does, but nothing comes easy, you really have to work. I’ve also found that it’s the world’s biggest small town. I run into people I know here all the time, in the city as well as in my neighborhood in Brooklyn.  The main difference I see beyond the obvious between NYC and the South is cultural diversity, there are so many different cultures here and it’s really exciting to see that. The trade off for all the opportunity is people stacked on people and the cost of living is borderline insane. The jury is still out on whether or not being from the south is a plus or a minus, but I can say living here makes me appreciate where I came from.

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When I first met you, you were a big fan of the culinary arts, and arguably more recognized as an artisan of food than a photographer.  You recently mentioned to me that cooking has taken a back seat to your photography.  Now, unless you are McDonald’s, a creation in the edible arts is subject to the biological demise of decomposition, or hopefully digestion, leaving itself little time to be enjoyed.  Did photography offer a more timeless form of expression to you?  What inspired the transition?

I never really looked at cooking or food as art. While there are artistic aspects to it, it’s more of a trade or a craft. It takes a solid foundation of technique and knowledge to manipulate raw materials to reach an end product, the artistic aspect comes in on how it’s presented, but at the end of the day that presentation isn’t going to change the taste. Function must come before form. Even more so I think style comes into play more than art does in food. It’s that style that sets people apart. Any asshole can make a mess on a plate and call it art, but more than likely it won’t taste good.   Photography is definitely along the same lines for me, but to answer the question, it does seem to be a more timeless way to express myself; the images don’t get eaten…hopefully.

I picked up a camera as a way to keep myself from going stir-crazy. I had surgery on both hands and both elbows three years ago as a result of carpel and ulnar tunnel syndrome, I was out of work for 6 weeks and during that time bought a camera and started taking photos around my neighborhood. Once I started photographing people I got hooked and realized I had some raw talent, and the rest as they say is history.

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Many photographers choose to explore elements of the human condition and (speaking broadly) sociology.  What facets of character do you find most curious, and what facets of personality do you find most enjoyable to interpret?

I like exploring what’s real. A lot of times when you point a camera in someone’s face they put up their picture persona, freeze, or get embarrassed, in some way they put up a wall.  The real reward for me is getting past that wall and capturing some real element of their personality, be it serious or silly or anything in between. Sorrow, heartache, longing, and angst are also big wins for me, there’s a certain beauty to those things that’s less than typical, but no less valid.  There’s an intimacy that comes with photographing someone and that’s very important to me that I convey that in a photograph.

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You’ve expressed that it is important to you that a part of you gleams through in your photography.  How much of Josh Wool is in a photograph of a model, and what would you like the viewer to understand about you in your work?

I think a lot of my personality comes through in what I shoot. I’m more about subtly than being in your face. Someone told me recently that my photos are really quiet, and that makes total sense as I tend to be a quiet person. I am an observer, much more comfortable not being in the limelight, and it’s pretty amazing what you see and hear when you actually take the time to look and listen. There’s a particular intensity that I think, or at least hope, comes through in my photos and again that’s a reflection of my personality. Finally, there’s always some sort of beauty be it tragic or conventional, I’m a hopeless romantic at heart.

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An underlying chorus in your process is noticeably darker themes and you mentioned targeting “honest and real life portrayals”, and you show an interest in the musings of dynamic characters like Hunter S. Thompson and Henry Rollins.  Would you say you feel most at home among the avant-garde and individualistic?

I’m a loner Dottie…I’m a rebel. Seriously though, I’ve always been an outsider, fiercely independent, sometimes solitary, and had shall we say had a slight aversion to authority. I’ve always identified with counter culture, but never wore the uniform. I have a really low tolerance for bullshit, so guys like Thompson and Rollins resonate with me,  they tell it like it is and aren’t afraid to be honest even  if it isn’t popular.  With the advent of social media I feel like people put these false or inflated versions of themselves out into the world and do it for long enough that they start believing their own lies instead of just being themselves. So yeah, I tend to relate to the individualists, the weirdoes, the eccentrics.

Ps. Get off my lawn hippie.  

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Much of you final products are shown in black and white or muted color palettes, often in high contrast lighting.  How do these techniques lend themselves to your objectives as a photographer?

I’ve loved black and white photography since I was a kid, some of the most iconic, dramatic images to me are in monochrome. For me it adds an element of drama and starkness that you can’t get with color photographs. I think its part of my personality too…I’m not about bright and flashy. I like things to be understated at times and muted colors or monochrome allows me to do that.  I’ve recently been getting away from the high contrast lighting in favor of softer ambient light and have a lot of exploring I want to do with that.  Not every image is good just because it’s black and white though…I shoot a color photo completely differently than I would a black and white, it’s not about just throwing it in photoshop clicking desaturate. 

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What can clients expect when they work with Josh Wool?

A reaaaal good time.  All kidding aside, if someone hires me they can expect to reach their creative goals in a timely professional manner,  and know that I will do everything in my power to give them the best possible product I am capable of. I bring creativity, a unique perspective, and skill to the table. 

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A common understanding amongst the Process Atelier artists is a mutual respect and admiration for fellow artists’ direction.  Certainly, you are no exception and I hope to see great things become of this talent that seems to be so inherent in you.  Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

Oh man…this is tough, right now it’s tough to know what next month holds.  Five years from now…hopefully paying my bills through photography.  My ideal five year plan…shooting enough commercial and editorial work to afford me a dedicated dark room and the time to explore my personal projects. I’m dying to start shooting large format and doing wet plate photography.

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I need headshots to pander to b-grade Dallas based talent agents, so I can get on “America’s Got Talent”.  I can do this thing where I flick my cheek and it sounds like a leaky faucet.  Is this beneath you?

Money talks my friend. I’m not above shooting anything, especially if it’s paid. Just like anything else in life, every once in a while you have to take a bite of the shit sandwich so you don’t starve. 

Thanks for speaking to me with such candid fervor and not doing that weird photographer thing where they make eye contact for too long and then ask me what my soul smells like.

I see what you’re doing there…trying to use the reverse psychology on me…not going to work this time Tex.

It’s been a pleasure and I’m humbled to be included in this fine group of artists. To view my work you can visit my website: www.joshwool.com or my blogwww.joshwool.tumblr.com  for bookings and general inquiriesjosh@joshwool.com  and if you want to follow my ramblings on twitter its @JoshWoolphoto

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 Jon McKenzie

https://processatelier.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/interview-with-jon-mckenzie/

www.facebook.com/pantsonducks

Interview with Jon McKenzie

“Jon “Jonboy” McKenzie has been and will always be an artist, first and foremost.  His work catalogues a lifetime of bold and trying circumstance.

“I think it is critical, not only to the viewer, but to myself as a working artist, that my art reflects an honesty and soul that offers a punctuation or closure to an emotion.  Art surrounds us everywhere.  In the media, billboards, radio, magazines; everything we look at is critically manufactured to get our attention.  After awhile we no longer look for what to look at and become stagnant in our passive musings.  I have an opportunity to give people a window into who I am, on the rawest and grittiest level.  Now, to get a viewers attention, you must speak in a soft whisper or an alarming call.  Anything in between because the cannon fodder for our ever consumptive lifestyles.  I want to present something almost primal and mysterious to the viewers- shake ’em up a little.  Art is supposed to make you think -and if you are really lucky, change the way you think- and that quality is so often abandoned.”

Jon is primarily self taught, sans a few remedial community college drawing courses.  He practiced the fundamentals of drawing at a very young age- light and shadow, perspective and most importantly for him, anatomy.  Collectively, his textbooks were comics, baseball cards, encyclopedias, early Disney animated films and National Geographics.  He pulled from his surroundings, occasions and memories, trying hard to recreate what was inherent emotionally at the time.  Fiercely independent and recklessly curious, McKenzie traveled over seas where he lived in worked in Bavaria, the Southern most part of Germany.  He produced art and it was here he began to come into his style, finding inspiration from the many artists past and presents chronicled throughout museums in Western Europe. Literature and history has always played an interesting role in his pieces, and both are referenced throughout his works, often juxtaposed with seemingly irrelevant imagery, but together telling a deeper story.  Many pieces are often tongue and cheek, as Jon finds himself delving into the human psyche too often is depressing and sometimes redundant.  Some pieces are glorified fart jokes on 10 dollar paper, further admitting to the elements of life he finds worth exploring, and grinning at the moments and obstacles that at too often discussed with no resolve.  Many pieces, while polished in design, are seen spilled on scrap with feverish intention, capturing the brief and fleeting sparks that tumble through the brain.  

Pieces often offer jarring and chaotic drafting lines that settle to a delicate and composed central image.  Bright, explosive colors war with the crunchy morose hues of asphalt and road tar.  Lipstick and blood are the mailbox and welcome mat to his imagination.

On McKenzie’s latest body of work:


Man on Fire

“I try to let my brain do the thinking.  Things just seem to click and I’ll think, ‘That needs to be put together’.  I wanted to explore the many facets of the female gender.  For a man, it can be difficult to capture a woman’s viewpoint.  What is important to her, what is sexy to her, what makes a girl laugh.  I have always enjoyed the female figure, and like anybody the face says it all.  While I did find this project challenging, I wish I could say I learned more!  Sexy, gritty, industrious and playful, one thing is for sure, no two girls are alike.”

As interviewed by Ian Robert McKown 7/16/12

[IRM]  So Jon, it’s clear that you have quite a different take on art and how much of one’s life, and life experiences should be involved in the work we present to the public. Can you tell us a bit about how your formative years might have laid the foundation for the energetic, raw work we see these days?

[JM]  Well, I have always been inquisitive about my surroundings and the various relationships I have built and acquired over the years.  Even as a child, I looked at even the calmest and mundane happenings as explosive and important, knowing that they were shaping me into what I would become.  I’ve always wanted to convey my viewpoint: that the simple things that make give you goosebumps or cause you to snarl your lip can be as dynamic as a fistfight or first kiss.

[IRM] From what I’ve come to know over the years, you’ve worked mostly in the southern parts of the States.  Has that culture had much of an impact on your wok, and has it in any held you back coming from a traditionally more conservative part of the nation?

[JM]   Haha, I love Texas.  When you are born and raised here, it certainly carves you into a specific type of man.  I have a deep love for the land and the people here, and though I have lived all over the Southern US and Europe, and traveled through much of the rest, Texas will always be home.  I think that part of the crux of a Southern mindset is an honest assessment of what is presented to you.  Rarely have I found an extremely right wing artist—even in political satirists and cartoonists.  Art, by design, is a liberal platform, and when that is abandoned I think it often leaves artwork cold, flat and predictable.  Like Thomas Kinkade’s collection in its entirety.  I think we all know the type of people who purchase(d) his work and I don’t ever want to be one of those people, because it encourages a belief structure that there is nothing better than a white picket fence where the sun is always shining and no one dares to ever be seen.

[IRM]  Many people might not know that you’re also a tattooist.  Recently, if memory serves, you took a voluntary sabbatical from tattooing.  Any thoughts you’d like to share on that?  Has your artwork had any carryover from tattooing or vice versa?  Any future plans in so far as tattooing and Jon McKenzie?

[JM]  I am very blessed to have found a fairly supportive career in tattooing.  However, when it became simply a means to an end, it began to wear on me.  That, coupled with the rat-race and pressure to succeed was becoming very overwhelming and the long hours with often unpredictable financial outcome.  I decided that if was going to be stressed out about art, I wanted it to be on my own terms.  For me, I find the greatest success in my endeavors when I do what I know is right.  That often means lifestyle changes and career changes.  I wanted to know I gave 150% to fine art, and that I would have no one to blame but myself if I did not succeed in my goals.

[IRM]  This may be a sensitive subject, but a few years back you had to have some pretty major heart surgery.  Did that have any lasting effects on your psyche that may have carried over or even helped guide your work?

[JM]Yeah, that was a pretty messed up time for me.  See, it screwed up my family and friends very differently than it screwed me up.  
  As a boy, I had always had heart problems, and as I aged, things needed to be addressed.  A small surgery to mitigate some potentially fatal problems introduced the MRSA bacteria into my bloodstream, compounding my problem 20 fold and putting me into a coma, and eventually I had to be intubated and put on a feeding tube, trach, the whole nine.  I stayed that way for about 2 and a half months.  Upon awakening, I was in ICU then the cardiac ward for another few months.  
My family and friends were exposed to that side of me; the coma side.  I had little interaction, and there were multiple times people were called in to say their goodbyes, so I can say I’ve French kissed death a time or three, but have no recollection of it.  In fact, most of my memory exists in brief flashes from that time.  I had to learn to walk again, tell time again…it sucked.  That’s the part I remember dealing with.  Being pissed off, wanting to go home, mostly confused and belligerent.  I was that guy that would rip out IVs and even the intubation tubes, pushing through the induced coma to wake up and tear a bunch of what I saw as torture devices out of my body.  I did NOT want to be there.  
So yeah, that whole period had me messed up pretty good for awhile.  It took me about a year to get back to tattooing, and I was bitter and haunted by nightmares through a lot of that time.  That definitely affected my artwork, and a lot of that despondence is reflected in pieces from that time.  However, I didn’t know it at the time, but as I was working through this whole PTSD thing, I was changing as a man.  Learning to be much more deliberate about my actions, and choosing my battles carefully.  It sounds like the standard thing to say, but something like that, playing with death like that, it changes the way you interact with people.  What you let get to you and what you let control you.  I thought, “Man, if I had died then, I would have just been remembered as funny Jon that was fun to party with and sometimes did cool tattoos.”  
That’s a stupid thing to be remembered for.  People don’t have room in their brains to remember someone like that.  I wanted to be something more.

[IRM] I know it’s often hard to pare down our influences in art to just a few, but if you could, who is the most influential artist (or non artist) when it comes to your art?  Have you actually met them?  

[JM]  Artistically, I don’t really have a lot of specific influences; rather it’s the type of person that influenced me.  Of course I appreciate all of the “Masters”- Da Vinci, Rembrant, Caravaggio-all those go-to dudes.  They were a true testament to the type of work that could be produced through practicing and improving religiously.  I’ve always been drawn to the free thinkers and renegades of the past.  I always appreciated people who drew for comic books.  I’ve met a couple of those guys, and that shit is a thankless job.  I wouldn’t want to draw Spiderman 300 times a day in awkward and possibly gay positions, but they did it and do it, and that’s their job. And, no, can’t say I’ve ever met any big influences.  Maybe some tattoo artists I looked up to, but the influence stopped when I found out they were assholes.

For a more complete set of influences, see:  https://www.facebook.com/notes/jonboy-mckenzie/influences/10150170117583913

[IRM]  Your work is very energetic and expressive.  I know I’ve tried to nail you down on your actual process a few times and from what I gather you just let the art flow.  What’s going on the moments before you start a piece, and at what point are you certain that you’ve finished a piece?  

[JM]  Art, for me, is very often cathartic, and a tool for self-therapy.  So during the inception of a piece, it often begins as a very vague idea.  Something as simple as a man that’s pissed off, because I feel very pissed off.  I might also have some song lyric that I’ve been studying rolling around in my brain.  If it fits, in any way, then I want that in there too.  Let’s go ahead and get that out.  Maybe I saw a dude at the grocery store with two black eyes and wondered what possibly could have happened to him; nothing good, no doubt…So I give the angry man in my piece two black eyes.  This is all getting layered as it comes, starting with a very chaotic buckshot of imagery in my head and then attempting to make a type grouping of it, resulting in a polished piece, that ultimately is a reflection of everything I was thinking about in that moment.  Insta-honesty, if you will.

[IRM] As an outside viewer, I often get the impression that, regardless of the subject in your paintings, many of them are actually about you.  Are we seeing a bit of an autobiographical expression in your works?  I know from our talks that actual self-portraits are a bit off putting for you but I suspect many of your works are indeed self portraits.  Any thoughts on this?

[JM]  I wouldn’t say that they are all self portraits, but I would admit they many are a reflection of a notion or emotion I might be experiencing at the time.  Sometimes, they are an interpretation of something someone else might be going through, or possibly just what I perceive them to be going through.

[IRM]  I think we both share an affinity for genuine, honest expression, regardless of whether the artist is employing conventional or proper technique.  Do you feel that you’re offering up a genuine and honest body of work?  Do you feel this is common in the art community at large?

[JM]  While I can’t be matter-of-fact about a lot of facets of my work, I can say, in confidence that every piece comes from a very real and very genuine place.  Gruesome things can be dolled up to be made beautiful, and in stark contrast, the seemingly pure can be made defiled.  Art is an open door and interpretation is endless.  It’s a shame when a piece of work can only be interpreted at face value.  Really, it is.  I’m not trying to sound elitist, by any means, but there is a clear difference between telling a story on paper and simply writing the name of the book.  I’ve noticed that a lot of tattoo based imagery in art is reproduced and altered just because it “looks cool”.  It’s the same stuff that ends up on koozies and lighters that we frown upon in great disgust, but readily reproduce on paper.  I think if an artist wants to convey real honesty that garners real response from people that use their real brains, some people need to start challenging themselves and the way they think, instead of trying to impress the people they went to highschool with.  Congrats, ya know…you drew a pistol or whatever.  What the pistol does is way fucking cooler.  A bullet goes a billion miles an hour and tears up some previously perfect and organized biological system, splitting veins and shattering bones.  That’s some crazy stuff.  But people don’t want to think that far.  They just want to rest in the idea that guns are cool and chicks dig pictures of guns.  Maybe, this drawing of a gun with get 50 likes on Instagram.  Especially, because I put a banner that says “America” on it…that’s a guaranteed 20 likes in itself!   

[IRM]  What are your thoughts on your experiences as a tattooer entering the fine art community?  You’ve got a solo show coming up in a week or so.  How have you prepared for it, and how have you found the experience overall?

[JM]  I had done gallery shows prior to tattooing and during my tattoo career, so I always stayed pretty grounded in that respect.  The fine art community is a different animal.  They don’t care about how cool your friends think you look, or how hard you can party.  All the bullshit is weeded through pretty quickly and you better be on top of your game and giving the people some shit they want to study when it’s your time.  I didn’t have a normal season to prepare for the upcoming show, Man on Fire.  I had, like 4 weeks’ notice, I think.  Mostly, it was a brutal self critique of my current body of work.  As you said Ian, artists can be readily labeled as wishy-washy and flakey in their delivery, and I did not want that.  I wanted and still want to be taken seriously, so basically, I’m doing all the shit I think it would take on my end to make that happen.   That means not fooling myself or stroking my own ego.  Constantly switching up my methodology to stay fresh and honest, and producing stuff that I could see hung and framed in my own home.  Also, I gotta have stuff that makes people use their brains where they allow themselves to look at the piece longer than 3 seconds.  Even if it’s from a technique standpoint.  Otherwise, I’m just doing this for a paycheck again, and I might as well be laying tile.

[IRM]  I think we both feel that the Rise of Jon McKenzie is just beginning. Where would you like to be in the next year?  5 years?

[JM]  I have a feeling that the next year will be more of paying dues and staying hungry.  I have no problem fighting and pushing, and am very comfortable in that role.  If things became too easy, I’d probably end up losing my passion and focus.  
In 5 years, I imagine I’ll be married, mostly because I will be in my mid 30s by then, and that seems like a normal thing to do.  Normalcy is important in the physical realm of things, when your brain fires on all pistons in the psychological.  The idea is to make some damn money doing this stuff  I love, so yeah, I’d like to make more than just enough to make ends meet.  I’d like to have some land and some livestock and whittle my friends down to the important ones.  That seems like a normal thing to do too.

I imagine my work will have progressed in technique and delivery, but the underlying concepts will most likely still be the same, and as they always have been.  Show ‘em what you see with your eyes, show ‘em what you got with your hands.

[IRM]  Well Jon, thanks or taking the time to knock this out with me.  I’m a big fan of your work and can’t wait to see more!  Any last thoughts, shout-outs or stuff you’d like us to know?

[JM]  I wanted to say thanks to Ian McKown, a beast on canvas (check out his shit) for the opportunity to speak on a lot of these subjects.  Great questions.  Well rounded interview, lots of peaks and valleys.  Fantastic cadence…

Check out Jed Leiknes shit.  Check out Nicole Marie McCord’s shit.  Go look at some Puerto Rican shit and check out José Antonio González.  Aaron Grace is crazy.  Ronsta Fari is nuts.  Brian Scott Hampton is an animal with a rattle can.  Much love always to my AE crew.  Jaime Tank Smith knows his way around a piece of paper…I’m sure there are people I forgot.

All of the artists I have worked with and for, all my old IN homies (the old proving ground…)  My best friend Jared Primm, and mad-crazy artist in his own right.

My family for tolerating me.  

As Willie said, “To all the girls I’ve loved before…” Some of you are inspirational.  Some of you are evil.  But I guess the same can be said for the weather.  Neither of which, I can control. Chicks that draw are hot and grounded.  Dude’s that draw have emotional problems.

Check it out:
www.facebook.com/pantsonducks
940-595-5525
www.kirkhopperfineart.com

Man on Fire is a one night only pop up solo show, July 27th 8pm-11pm
at Kirk Hopper Fine Art in Deep Ellum, Dallas.  There will be booze and tacos and fancy chicks and champagne.

I love you.