Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jon MacNair Interview

Jon MacNair, Mobile Home, ink on paper

Jon MacNair is an illustator living in Michigan. Originally born in South Korea, Jon grew up in South East Michigan. He received a BFA in illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Party Like an Art Star: You attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, but recently moved back to Michigan where you grew up. How are you liking being back in Michigan? How does it compare to Baltimore in terms of environment, art scene, and sources of inspiration?

Jon MacNair: It's been a big change. I lived in Baltimore for 8 years and being back in Michigan again is kind of odd. People asked me "Why are you going there? The job market is terrible." Really, I am back here because of my family and to be in a place where I have a support system while I figure out where to go next. I'm very much in what you'd call a "transitional period." I live in a very suburban area at the moment and there is not much to do around here. I feel myself craving the activity of a larger, livelier city. The art scene is pretty non-existent, so I haven't really been to any art events lately. I can't say that I've been all that influenced or inspired by my current surroundings. However, if you take into consideration the type of mood your environment puts you in, I guess on a subconscious level it's playing some part in my work.

Party Like an Art Star: Your work is highly detailed. Tell me a bit about your process. Do you do a lot of preliminary sketches, or do you just go for it? Your compositions are often very complex, and fill the page with such grace and precision, is every inch preplanned?

Jon MacNair, Evicted process shot, ink and graphite on paper

Jon MacNair: I don't do a ton of preliminary work. I jot down words, phrases, and thumbnail sketches in notebooks. Usually it's just one rough thumbnail that only I can decipher, or sometimes no sketch at all. When I'm ready to begin the final, I'll rough it out in pencil on the paper (to get it right compositionally), then go back in and refine that sketch. Then I ink it or paint it. I wouldn't say every inch is preplanned. I find that a lot of the time I will take things out of the compositional at a later point because I realize they are unnecessary or there's just too much going on.

Party Like an Art Star: Most of your work that I've seen in person and on the internet, other than your graphic design work, is black and white. What is it that draws you to such a minimal palette? Do you ever work in color when doing personal work?

Jon MacNair, Collection Day, ink on paper

Jon MacNair: Yes, I'm trying to introduce more color to my work. I recently did three works for a show overseas that had some color in them (watercolor and gouache). In the past I've used color quite a bit, but with the development of this particular style and body of work, it's been more gradual. I'm still trying to find the right materials and palette to fit this style. I started with black and white initially because I was using black ink as my main medium and wanted to get comfortable with that material.

Party Like an Art Star: I read some where that you are working on painting more. Are your paintings much different from you illustration style? Is the content similar?

Jon MacNair, Amber Moon, mixed media, 5"x8"

Jon MacNair: My paintings (so far mostly on paper) are pretty much the same stylistically as my drawings. The content is the same as well.

Party Like an Art Star: Your images are have a haunting narrative quality, almost like illustrations for uber-warped fairytales. Where does your inspiration come from?

Jon MacNair: It's a big range. Everything from German expressionist films to plants that I come across walking in the park. I'm really into Russian animation these days and love the work of Jan Svankmajer. I also find a lot in inspiration in medieval and renaissance art, particularly tapestries and illuminated manuscripts. There's a certain flatness and awkward perspective in these that I enjoy.

Jon MacNair, Man With Intricate Headdress, india ink, colored in and collage on paper, 9"x6.75"

Party Like an Art Star: Having mentioned that your work has a sort of fairytale, folkloric vibe, are you a big reader? What are your favorite kinds of stories?

Jon MacNair, Man With Spear, graphite on found paper, 4.5"x8"

Jon MacNair: I love to read, but these days I don't have a whole lot of time to. I listen to a lot of audio books though, which allow me to draw and "read" at the same time. One of my favorite writers is Shirley Jackson. She has a whole range of work, from humorous to terrifying, with a lot of subtle psychological stuff going on in her stories. I enjoy endings that are kind of ambiguous too, which she certainly implements in her work.

Parrt Like an Art Star: You obviously possess a fantastic imagination, what are your most beloved ways to exercise it other than visual art?

Jon MacNair: Well, I remember using my imagination a lot as a kid when playing in the backyard or the woods. There was a lot of living room fort building and stuff being made out of cardboard boxes going on back then. I guess now instead of that I use my imagination to draw.

Party Like an Art Star: If you could be any fictional character for a day, who would you be?

Jon MacNair, Under Skin detail, ink on paper
Jon MacNair: Well, if gender doesn't matter, I'd be Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. That just seems like one crazy ride of a dream. I've read the book many, many times and listened to the audio book numerous times too.

Party Like an Art Star: You are an impressively prolific artist, especially considering the highly detailed nature of your work. Do you have a good work ethic when it comes to concentrating on your art? What do you do to get over the hump when you have a day where you're feeling less than inspired?

Jon MacNair: I think I've acquired a good work ethic. I make my deadlines and have learned to manage my time efficiently over the years. I have a lot of written lists that help keep me on track with what's next. If I'm working on something and it's going well, it's easy to stay motivated. It's when things are not going well that you really need to buckle down and tell yourself to stick with it. Most of the time it works out in the end. This is probably not the most interesting answer, but the pressure of deadlines often gets me over my creative hump. If it's not a matter of deadlines, drawing in my sketchbook sometimes helps.

Jon MacNair, The Pool, india ink on paper, 18"x24"

Party Like an Art Star: Finally, since we've now collaborated on two shows here on the West Coast, and you've had other works in shows here in Portland and elsewhere in the area, when will you be gracing us Left Coasters with your presence?

Jon MacNair: It will happen eventually. I'd love to come to Portland and check out the city. Perhaps when I get a solo show out there on the coast I'll make an appearance. Hopefully before then though!

Update: Recently, Jon made the trip to Portland, OR to attend the opening of the Portland Print show at Gallery 1910 (Greg at Hungry Eyeball has some great shots of the show as well as a ton of other amazing 2010 PDX openings on his Flickr), where he met a number of artists who joined me and Jon and I's friend Ellen in our quest to convince him to move out West (you can see pictures of the opening at Jon's blog Scritchy Scraps). It sounds like Jon had a lovely trip, including a visit to the Zoo, the Oregon coast, and several great art openings. We also had a chance to try Pho out on 82nd, which was delicious but very tricky to eat. Here's hoping that if myself and Jon's other admirers weren't able to convince him to move out here, the beef noodle soup did.

You can see Jon's work in a constantly growing number of shows, galleries and publications too long to list here. Visit his website, his lovely blog, or his Society6 page to get up to date information on what he's doing, where to see his work, or to buy prints!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ashley Sloan: Like a Unicorn Pricess with a Mane of Twinkles and Cupcakes... Only Cuter

Ashley Sloan, Untitled, graphite on paper, 20"x26"

Ashley Sloan was born in Albany, OR. She received her BFA at the University of Oregon, and now lives and works in PDX. In her short time here, Ashley has been wasting no time getting her art into some of the hottest galleries in the city, and getting her hands dirty with a wide variety of creative projects in the area. It doesn't hurt that she's cute as a button and exceptionally charming to boot.

When she's not working in her studio, Ashley helps out at
OPENWIDEpdx, as well as contributing art to the Home School Art Shop, a fantastic project organized by the lovely Jacqueline and Jess.

Party Like an Art Star: You were born in Albany, OR. Have you always wanted to be an artist? When you were young were you a creative child? What did you drawn inspiration from in central Oregon?

Ashley Sloan: I always knew that I was good at and loved to make art, but I can’t say I always knew I wanted to be an artist. That didn’t come until I was a bit older, maybe even until I was 18 or so. But I definitely have always been creative and have always loved making art. In third grade my mom got me a watercolor set and it really took off from there. I would also do art projects for any school project, regardless of topic. In 5th grade I did a science report on fire ants and my mom and I sculpted a bunch of huge ants as my presentation. Another time I sculpted the head of Gandhi for a history project. I was always creating opportunities for myself to make art.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t think growing up in Albany was relevant to my work. But the more I think about it, it is a huge part of my inspiration. As an adult I look back on it as a small, boring town, but it was surprisingly inspiring as a child. It was safe enough for my parents to let me run around without supervision at anytime of the day. I lived next to a forest where I had tree forts and would sleep outside during the summer. It was a big surprise for me to move to a city where I didn’t know everyone and had to actually lock my doors. I had what would be considered the perfect, quintessential American childhood. Coming from that background of security and happiness is what creates my strong sense of nostalgia today and what made such a forced transition in my adult life.

Party Like an Art Star: You got an art degree from the University of Oregon. How did your experience at U of O influence your work? Any particularly inspiring faculty members?

Ashley Sloan: Honestly, I’m not yet sure how going to the University of Oregon influenced my work. I have a degree in digital art, but now that I’m out of school I barely touch my computer for artistic purposes. So I’m not sure what that means. I think what influenced me most about school was the people I went to school with and the faculty members I worked with. A lot of people in my program are amazing artists who have now turned into collaborators, co-workers and good friends.

As far as professors go, I can easily say Michael Salter had the most impact on the shaping of my experience. He’s an amazingly inspiring and encouraging professor who had complete confidence in me. I think that’s what I needed most in school, added confidence. He was the first person to tell me that what I was doing was totally valid and that I should pursue it. Honest critiques were also something he invaluably added to my education. I feel like a lot of art classes I took were almost too positive, to a fault even. He was the first person to challenge me and to give me constructive, honest criticism.

Party Like an Art Star: I read through your C.V. and found a show called The Cute Institute at Perfect Attendance in Eugene, OR. I lived in Eugene and went to U of O and I'm not familiar with the venue Perfect Attendance. I saw the installation photos, they are so cool! Can you tell me about this project, I'm fascinated!

Ashley Sloan, Cute Institute installation detail

Ashley Sloan: Perfect Attendance was actually a group show of all the final thesis projects from my graduating class. We rented an empty storefront in downtown Eugene and pretty much got to do whatever we wanted with the space. My thesis project was The Cute Institute where I created an imaginary world where I attempted to scientifically examine cute creatures/objects. I think a lot of this project was also about reconciling what role femininity played in my life at that time. Finally being okay with making work that was unapologetically feminine. That body of work is really what has led me to the place I am today in my artwork.

Party Like an Art Star: Since graduating and moving to Portland you've shown at some of PDX's hippest galleries. How did you go about getting your work out there?

Ashley Sloan, Untitled, graphite on paper, 22"x30"

Ashley Sloan: Well now I’m flattered. The simplest answer I can come up with is that I know a lot of people in the Portland art scene. And it’s an easy transition from being friends with artists to working professionally with them. Over a year ago I started contributing to the website, and through that I’ve met many of the galleries and curators I’ve shown with. And honestly, many of the galleries I’ve worked with are owned by people I went to college with, such as Tractor Gallery, Chump Change Gallery and Lump West. So I guess as cliché as it is, for me it’s all been about who I know socially and professionally.

Party Like an Art Star: Many of the illustrations that you've done in 2009 deal with incomplete figures. Can you tell me about what this series means to you?

Ashley Sloan: Most of the time with my art, I don’t really know what I’m working through until I have about a year’s space to look back. As strange as it sounds, I often look at past work and with hindsight can understand what it was really about, not necessarily what I thought it was about at the time. I recently read Anne of Green Gables and think this sums up a lot of what this series means to me. “That’s the worst of growing up, and I’m beginning to realize it. The things you wanted so much when you were a child don’t seem half so wonderful to you when you get them.”

Party Like an Art Star: You work a lot in graphite. What is it about the media that draws you to it? Do you have other favorite media?

Ashley Sloan: I’m not sure what it is about graphite that I’m so drawn to, but it’s certainly my favorite medium. Sumi ink, colored pencils, acrylic paint and watercolors are also some of my favorites. It just depends on what kind of project I’m working on. I think another part of the story is that I was embarrassed for a long time in school to do graphite drawings. At the time I thought drawing was dead and that I should be using new and different techniques more suitable for the 21st century. But now that I’m out of school and left to my own devices I’ve reclaimed this medium for myself. Graphite drawings were almost a secret indulgence, but I feel most comfortable with a pencil in my hand and there’s nothing wrong with that. It was certainly a shock to most of my peers when my “Wish” show came out. Almost all of them thought that the series came out of nowhere, but really I’d just been hiding that part of my work for 4 years.

Party Like an Art Star: Portland is awash in artistic talent. Who are some of your favorite local artists, and where do you like to go to see art?

Ashley Sloan: Agreed. There are so many amazing artists working in Portland right now and it’s really almost impossible to choose my favorites. Some people that come to mind presently are MK Guth, Storm Tharp, Joe Thurston, Holly Andres, Damien Gilley and Mia Nolting. As for favorite galleries I’d have to say Appendix, PDX Contemporary, Tractor, Half Dozen, Fontanelle, New American Art Union, galleryHOMELAND, Rocksbox and Fourteen30. I would also like to mention two galleries that aren’t in Portland but are, in my opinion, some of the best galleries in the Northwest. Seattle’s Western Bridge and Eugene’s Ditch Projects are really amazing spaces I try to visit a couple times a year.

Party Like an Art Star: Ugh, yes Ditch Projects! I'm from Eugene, and worked in a gallery there for three years. Ditch Projects was the space I always wanted to create and that I always believed the Eugene/Springfield community deserved. Kudos to Ditch Projects!! (Really click their link!) Your artists statement explains that your art "portrays the moment when one involuntarily shakes off the shroud of stability and carelessness, to a reveal an adult life of hope, disappointment, and realistic worldview." We're less than a month apart in age. I felt like your statement pretty eloquently summed up the feeling of being in your mid-20s. How do you harness the tremendous energy of change and evolution that characterizes this phase of our life into mature artistic output?

Ashley Sloan: I think I ended up where I’m at right now unwittingly. Coming from post-college emptiness, I unintentionally tapped into this huge source of inspiration. No one told me what it was like after college and that almost everyone faces a sort of abyss where childhood and adulthood clash in your mid 20’s. But through my work I’ve started to identify these emotions in myself as well as in others. I try to make work that other people can relate to while also telling my own story. And I think with that in mind is where the mature artistic output comes from for me.

Party Like an Art Star: Do you feel like your recent artistic experiences have allowed you to grow out of the dogpaddle-sh feeling of the mid20s or wallow in it?

Ashley Sloan: I think identifying the problem is half the battle, so for me making this work is definitely a growing process. Identifying where I’m coming from, embracing that feeling, but also seeing what’s wrong with it has been a huge part of my life and art. And that’s where I try to instill my work with a certain amount of hopefulness. It’s okay to be nostalgic for the past but you have to be an adult at some point and that hard transition also hopefully includes a certain amount of optimism.

Ashley Sloan, The Best Night of Your Life, graphite on paper, 3.5'x7'

Party Like an Art Star: Much of your recent work focuses on the sort of accoutrements of femininity - dresses, ponytails... Are you a girly girl? Or is the isolation of these elements within the compositions a sort of rejection of their importance?

Ashley Sloan: Not surprisingly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a girlier girl than myself. In return, my work fully embraces all things girly. I love frilly dresses, bows, heels, and tulle, but that certainly wasn’t always the case. For years I rejected all traditional femininity. To me , being a feminist meant that I had to reject everything associated with girliness. But the last year of college I worked at the university’s Women Center and realized that embracing being a woman didn’t have to mean giving up girly things. I think that the work I’ve created since that time has been a personal evolution of accepting the validity of femininity. So as much as my work is about becoming an adult and putting away childish parts of myself, I simultaneously embrace aesthetics associated with young girls.

Party Like an Art Star: Wow, I can certainly identify with that. Growing up in a hyper liberal community I always felt that the most acceptable form of femininity was a sort of starched, hard-nosed state with no bells and whistles. It took me years to understand that my strength was in my actions not the stoicism of my dress. I was so happy to move to Portland where I could go out in heels and a pencil skirt without being asked if I was on my way to a funeral.

What are your artistic goals for the coming years?

Ashley Sloan: I think to just keep making art is my main goal for the future. New year’s Resolution: I want to make art my main priority. It’s easy for me to get distracted with everyday busyness; it takes a concerted effort for me to make a new body of work. But I recently got an art studio, and think that will contribute to me making art on a more regular basis. Other than that, I’d love to expand beyond Portland and have more shows around the country. I’m also thinking about getting an MFA in the next five years.

Party Like an Art Star: I really love your sculptural and installation work. Do you tend to work in 2D and 3D simultaneously or do you work in phases?

Ashley Sloan: I’m not sure if I have a regular way of working between 2D and 3D. With The Cute Institute, I made the stuffed animals before anything else and then created the paintings and installation. But even those started out as a sketch, so I think I almost always start with a sketch whether it’s for a 2D piece or 3D piece and go from there. I haven’t been doing a lot of 3D pieces lately, but am starting to work on some large-scale sculptures as part of an installation I’m creating.

Party Like an Art Star: Portland has a huge number of creative types trying to make a go at being a professional working artist. You seem to have done very well for yourself in the Portland scene in a short amount of time. Do you have any advice for artists just arriving in Portland?What is your best advice for how to stand out in the very large crowd of PDX artists?

Ashley Sloan: I think just getting involved in the art scene is the most important first step to standing out. When I first arrived I made a list of galleries and people whose interests somehow intersected mine and contacted them. Despite the fact that there are tons of artists in Portland there’s also a huge amount of venues and opportunities available to emerging artists. That’s what I love about the Portland art scene, it’s pretty easy to immediately become involved. I also think having an art website is huge. Without a website it’s a lot harder for people to become interested in your work.

Party Like an Art Star: If you were a crayon what color would you be?

Ashley Sloan: Hmm…not sure about crayon color; maybe the Cotton Candy crayon from Crayola. It’s a good light-colored, airy pink. Perfectly summing up my feminine indulgences.

Ashley Sloan, The Best Night of Your Life detail, graphite on paper, 3.5'x7'

Party Like an Art Star: Favorite way to reward yourself when you complete a new piece?

Ashley Sloan: Unfortunately for my health, I definitely reward myself with sweet things. I have a ridiculous sweet tooth (as can be seen in some of my past art) and can pretty much be convinced to do anything if I get a dessert as reward.

Play for Keeps Opening a Complete Success!

we were told again and again that january was a hard month for first thursday in portland. the weather is too cold for most to brave, and many are financially tapped out after the holidays. elizabeth and i approached the opening last week with excitement mixed with trepidation. despite my uncertainty i chose to go into it without expectations, because in my experience expectations often lead to disappointment.

in the final hours of the day, approaching 6'o'clock when we would throw open the doors, i felt nervous. the show looked amazing, it filled the space well, and all our ducks were in order, yet i couldn't help but feel a bit anxious simply because it mattered to me so much. i'm a social person, but i get nervous in large crowds of people and openings have been notoriously hard for me. i'm not sure where it came from, but in the final minutes before we opening i managed to stumble on a rather significant well of confidence, and when people started streaming in i felt like a million bucks.

luckily, this feeling of elation was not only engendered by how amazing i felt in my little black dress. from the very beginning the public's reception to the show was amazing, and the room filled quickly! for almost four hours the tribute gallery was packed wall to wall. though i did spend a good chunk of time pouring beer (generously donated by our friends at ninkasi brewing) and leveling pieces that were gently jostled by the lively crowd, i managed to have a number of wonderful conversations with people about art, curation and the tribute gallery.

we sold six originals the first night, which is great for a january first thursday! and more importantly an impressive number of portland's art lovers got the chance to see play for keeps in all its opening night glory. tribute gallery was the most hopping spot on the block without a question. while other galleries hosted beautiful openings with plenty of breathing room, the play for keeps opening could only be described as HOT. the body heat alone was enough to send me running (more like slowly making my way) out the door into the cold january night every few laps. elizabeth and i got some of the greatest compliments. one man told me that it was the best group art show that he had been to since living in portland, and someone said to elizabeth that they saw more pieces in the show that they would hang in their bedroom than any other show they'd seen (bedroom art is personal! that's a big compliment!)

all of the pictures that i've posted here were taken by jon macnair's friend ellen, who was a delight to talk to, and took some amazing pictures! i will hopefully have more to post soon. you can see more at jon macnair's blog scritchy scraps.