This month, The Pony Club Gallery had the honor of interviewing Jon MacNair. Jon MacNair was born in Seoul, South Korea and grew up in the suburbs of Southeastern Michigan near Detroit. He graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2005 with a BFA in Illustration. In addition to freelance illustration, he frequently exhibits his personal work in galleries around the U.S. Jon currently resides in the beautiful city of Portland where he continues to divide his time between freelance projects and exhibiting his personal work. Jon is part of the group show, “Preternatural”, that will be on display at the gallery throughout the month of August.
Your artwork has a very mysterious, magical dream-like quality to it. Is there a great deal of work behind the conceptual aspect of how these images are created, or do they come about with a significant degree of spontaneity?
Sometimes they are totally spontaneous, but more often than not I have to take some time to develop them. Usually the essence of the piece comes out in the thumbnail sketch and then all the details are developed on the final paper during the pencil stage. A lot of erasing takes place. Not having the entire piece planned out before I start the final drawing makes the process more interesting for me.
Is there a constant narrative that runs throughout your imagery?
I wouldn’t say there is a constant narrative, although one could easily think that due to the fact that certain characters I draw seem to reappear in a lot of my drawings. More than a constant narrative, I would say there are themes that one could say are constant or prevalent. Some of these themes would include things like man and beast, anxiety, journeys, isolation, night, communication, magic and rituals.
When did you decide to become a professional artist?
I originally went to art school with the intention of being a professional illustrator. While I still do some illustration here and there, gallery work and personal projects have definitely taken over my working life. It wasn’t a totally conscious decision transitioning into full time fine artist. I tried for many years to get enough illustration work to sustain myself, which, while not an impossible thing is a very difficult one. While I was sort of spinning my wheels trying to do that, I started to develop my personal work, first in sketchbooks and then into finished pieces. As it turned out, the world seemed a lot more interested in my personal work than commercial work and that just kind of took off around 2010. When I moved to Portland in the spring of 2012, It seemed almost certain that I would have to get a part-time job, but due to the artistic opportunities the city had to offer, it wasn’t necessary. My first year in Portland was my first year as a full-time working artist. It’s ironic that I’m doing this as a career now because it’s probably just as difficult to do as getting full-time illustration work, but somehow it has worked out so far.
Why do you prefer to work in strictly black and white?
I actually don’t think of it as “black and white” because to me that sounds exclusionary of the whole in-between spectrum of grays. I prefer the terms grayscale and/or monochromatic. The reason my work is grayscale is because india ink is my main medium. I love the way the inks dry and the luminous quality you can achieve using this medium. While my work is limited in terms of the colors, I have a multitude of tones I can utilize within that gray spectrum. That said, ink is definitely not a forgiving medium if you make a big mistake, so you have to be very careful about the process to prevent unintended drips and drops of ink on the paper. I’ve been doing it a pretty long time now so it’s not as stressful as it once was. I would say it’s fairly easy working in grayscale in that I don’t make decisions about color schemes or what hue will compliment another hue. However, because I don’t have colors to help define one element of the composition from another, I have to be particularly careful about having a variety of tones in the works (ranging from very dark to very light). In retrospect, I feel like the grayscale look has worked out pretty well for me. Many people have told me they feel it compliments my imagery, and although I would agree with that, it was never my reason for going that route. At the time, I was just experimenting with ink and did not foresee what was to come.
What are some influences and inspirations in and outside of the art world that have shaped your art?
Renaissance and Medieval art, Symbolism, prehistoric animals, Russian animation, Surrealism, old maps, Indian painting, ancient Greek and Roman art, German expressionism, Grimm’s fairy tales, Tarot, Russian folk-tales, Greek mythology, Edward Gorey, sea monsters, ghosts, botanical drawings, Gustaf Tenggren, sleep paralysis, anatomical engravings, picture books from childhood, Assyrian relief sculpture, Henry Fuseli, Wanda Gág, sketchbook collaborations, forests, magic, gothic architecture, the music of Igor Stravinsky, mythical creatures, ancient civilizations, childhood memories, alchemy, William Blake….
What current projects are you working on?
Working on a number of pieces for a group show at Pony Club Gallery and then it will be onto works for a solo show with Antler Gallery, both in Portland.
If you had to exist in the confines of imagery from one of your favorite classical painters, who would it be and why?
Hmmm…this is a hard question. I think maybe the world of Remedios Varo would be a fascinating one to exist in. Her work is pure magic, but with a very haunting quality. It seems like there would be so many places to explore and lots of surprises hidden within.
You can check out more of Jon MacNair’s work here- www.jonmacnair.com