Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ritual Interview

Thanks so much to Sandy at Ritual Gallery for the interview! Check it out!

Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Jon MacNair, an artist and illustrator living in Portland, Oregon. 

Why do you do what you do?
It's hard to imagine doing anything else.

Tell me about your work?  What are you currently working on? How is it different from your past work?
 My personal work and gallery work is mainly drawings with india ink on paper (sometimes with watercolor added). My commercial illustration work is mainly ink drawings with digital color added in Photoshop. I'm currently working on some pieces for upcoming shows in Portland. It's pretty much in line with my work of the past few years.

What inspired you to create such awesome creatures (characters)?
The funny thing is, I never really set out to create characters. It was a very gradual process that probably evolved from doodling in sketchbooks. And I guess the reason they are "creatures" for the most part, is that I've never been a huge fan of drawing people. I love drawing tails, horns, fur, fins and claws.

Why black and white?
It began when I first started using India ink (which was purely experimental). The monochromatic look grew out of the restriction of the medium I was using. It wasn't a conscious choice from the beginning to use the lack of color to evoke a mood or atmosphere (although these days that is definitely the case). I also do some pieces in color, although it's more infrequent than the black and white work.

What work do you most enjoying doing?
I love creating personal work, not intended for any specific assignment or gallery show. I have total and complete freedom. 

How did you decide to become an artist?
I've always enjoyed drawing and using other mediums to express something dwelling inside my head. I started drawing at an early age, although most kids do that. I guess the difference is I continued to do it as I grew older and really focused a lot of time and energy in creating things. I enjoyed it! It was like playtime to me. By the time high school rolled around, I was taking as many art electives as possible. I dropped chemistry to take yet another art class. It was pretty clear I wasn't going to be able to get through chemistry without a giant struggle, and it probably wouldn't have been worth it, considering the direction my career interests were heading. We had some recruiters from the Maryland Institute College of Art come to our school one day, and I happened to be in my art class with my portfolio at hand (I was getting ready for the Scholastic art competition). They looked over my work and highly suggested I apply to their school, which I did. The only other school I applied to was the College For Creative Studies in Detroit. I went with Maryland because I was awarded scholarship and thought it would be a better experience to live out of state.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I've had people embrace the work and love the world I've created, and I've had some people be very put off by it. One show that comes to mind was a solo exhibition I had in Baltimore a couple years after graduating college. Really, it was a cafe where I hung about 18 pieces up for a month. I'd always had some pretty good responses to my work in art school, so I had a bit of a rude awakening when I stepped outside my college bubble and found my audience to be quite critical and even negative towards my work. I thought it would be a cool idea to have a comment book for people to write feedback in. Some people misunderstood the point of the book and wrote comments for the cafe, concerning the food, decor, atmosphere etc. Others wrote some pretty critical things toward me and my work, calling my art "demonic" and "satanic". One guy wrote that I must have had a messed up childhood and called my mind a "ruined and mangled place." I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was just really taken aback by the response. It helped to toughen my skin though and I think I am actually better because of it. Also, in retrospect, I feel that getting strong reactions, even negative ones, is preferable to getting apathetic, non-reactions. The work is still making an impression.

What themes do you pursue?
I think there is a lot of myself in the characters I portray. They're not directly supposed to be me, but some aspects of their moods and feelings relate to me. I think there is a theme of journeys in my work, with characters traveling from one place to another as vagabonds or beings looking for a home. There's a theme of melancholy and loneliness in some, as well as a theme of nighttime. Nighttime is an interesting theme to pursue because it's sort of a transformative time. Things look different in the dark than they do in the daylight, and I think there are a lot of symbolic things that darkness can evoke.

Many artist struggle to find ways to sell their art, How do you sell your work?
 I feel like I'm still struggling with that. It's a difficult thing. Over the years, getting exposure in various ways has helped me build a bit of a following. It's weird to say that, but there are definitely people out there who have started to collect my work (and some of whom I have befriended as well) and keep an eye on what I'm doing. But first, you have to have your work seen. I achieved this in various ways over the years. I took advantage of social media and posted my work on sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube, Twitter etc. I also participated in calls for submissions for zines and art publications, and took part in small gallery shows. Even something simple like submitting your website to an art blog that features artists can help. Everything you do to get your work out there adds up, and the more people that know of you and your work, the more likely you are to make sales. Exposure is key, but so is creating art that is true to your own vision. 

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
 I'm not sure I have personally been given much advice as an artist, although I am always telling myself not to compare myself to others. It's kind of a tricky thing to avoid, but over time you realize that it doesn't do you any good and actually hinders your growth as an artist. 

What do you do outside of your work?
I'm a huge film buff, so I'm always watching films. I also love to cook, read and take photographs. 

Who are some artists you enjoy?
Harry Clarke, Edvard Munch, Charley Harper, Alfred Kubin, William Blake, Frida Kahlo, Kiki Smith and Henri Fuseli to name a few.

If I were to follow you around to see Portland which places would we go? What would we see?
 I'm not sure. I haven't even been in Portland a year yet, so there is a lot I have yet to see. I'd probably opt for taking a walk in the forest and then getting some really good food.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?
More drawings, although I'd like to try and do some larger scale ones in the future. Generally, 18" x 24" is considered a large size for me. I think it would be interesting to challenge myself to work bigger. I'd also like to experiment with translating my work to three-dimensional mediums. 

Any exhibits to promote in the near future?
Night of the Hunter at Antler Gallery in Portland. Opens January 31st!

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