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!


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