TONE: I’m always interested in peoples past and what things in their lives made them who you are. When you look back into your childhood, can you think what transpired to make you the person and artist you are today?
JOHN: I’ve always been creative and used my imagination alot. I also yearned freedom and non-judgment so when the arts chose me I gave in. Seemed like we’d make a good fit together.
TONE: Does your family support your career as an artist? Can you talk to me about how that affects you whether negative or positive?
JOHN: I think a fair assessment is that they a smart enough to stay outta my way and caring enough to wish me luck, but they’d be happy as shit if I decided to be a mailman and kept art as a hobby.
TONE: Some of your stencil art has a political streak in it. Talk to me about a political issue that resonates deeply with you and where it came from.
JOHN: Social commentary is important in art and with my guerrilla art I feel its what seperates art from vandalism when done well. If you’re gonna say something, then actually say something and try to raise awareness or spark an insight whenever you can.
TONE: The idea for the light box. Where did the inspiration for this come from?
JOHN: I didn’t have canvas when i first started painting, all I had was pieces of scrap plastic so I painted on that. I had a lightbox in my studio for tracing illustrations. I held my painting up to the light and it felt like stained glass. I put it on the lightbox and BAM! I was awestruck at how rich the color looked. After that I gave up Toy Design and worked at finding a loft to become a fulltime painter.
TONE: Tell me about the first light box you built and some of your struggles and joys with that.
JOHN: I find NO joy in building the actual light box. That is to say the components and hardware, wiring etc; I do enjoy making the doors and weathering, distressing the box to make it more sculptural and interesting though.
TONE: The paintings within the light boxes I have seen have been very abstract, very colorful and almost psychedelic for lack of a better word, when your painting, what is the visual aesthetic you are reaching for and why?
JOHN: The last thing I wanna be is known as a psychedelic painter but I do recognize the similarities. I’m sure people on drugs love my work, but my work is about energy, essence and the interaction between very primitive energies at the core of our existence. Reminiscent of what you’d imagine exists deep within the ocean, way out in space or happening right now within your body.
TONE: What is ROCKSOUP exactly?
JOHN: RS began as a collective, with the intention for all of us to put on large scale arts events and share the burden and success. Then we got a Gallery for a temporary run and our mission was to hold small weekly events and be a center for the arts. Since then we’ve streamlined and now we do some big Art shows like Studio tour here in JC and shows during Art Basel in Miami as well as curate a lounge I’m resident artist at in the Bronx called The Gallery Lounge.www.thegallerybx.com
TONE: My business partner Trevz and I from NEWPOP always argue about shit. At first I thought it was a sign that things weren’t meant to be. However, it’s turned out to be positive as long as we keep it constructive. It’s the times that we don’t argue, when we hold it in, that are destructive. I never really realized how similar a business relationship is to an intimate relationship. Ultimately, I have learned a ton about myself. What kinds of struggles does ROCKSOUP have internally and how has it affected you personally?
JOHN: Well in the beginning I was disappointed with the ambition and dedication of a few, but now its mainly myself and John Ruddy running the show. We also work closely with Nyugen Smith on some projects. We all have distinct talents and even our share of flaws but at the end of the day I dont know anyone else who I’d rather work with on a creative endeavor and whenever I do meet someone I would like to work with I’m sure to bring them on board for a trial run which is definitely still in the spirit of collaboration which is the heart of RockSoup.
TONE: ROCKSOUP was involved in the last Art Basil Miami. Why were you down there?
JOHN: Art Basel is the most important Art event in the country and maybe the world. With so many galleries doing most of their sales there and so many international collectors its stupid to not at least be in Miami and try to catch some of the overflow. We work closely with Design Crib in Miami in doing yearly exhibits around Art Basel and every yr our shows get more cohesive.
TONE: With regards to you personally, what kinds of things inspire your art?
JOHN: Physics theory, nature of the universe, interaction between energies and nature and how clever it is.
TONE: When you are in a creative rut, what do you do to get out?
JOHN: I do something else. DOING is more important then thinking about what to do or what youre gonna do. So I just find something else to actually do and once the engine is on Im more likely to keep going.
TONE: I like to find out what people are listening to. Mostly because I hate finding new music myself, but I figure other people are interested too. So, what kind of music is playing in your studio these days?
JOHN: I’m the same way. I’m horrible at finding music and if I have to I fall back on the old tested and true. I play alot of Mobb Deep and Method man when I want hip hop, Soundgarden and Metallica for rock, some Pink Floyd or Bjork when I want to escape and then some Coldplay, Gorillaz or PJ harvey in between. I also love some good drum and bass when I’m really in my groove.
TONE: Does music have an important role in your life? If so, how. Does it influence your art?
JOHN: Drum and bass and house def were playing alot when i first started b/c i paint fast. Now its all on the mood. Music is crucial in an artist studio. It connects you to your soul.
TONE: Tell me a little bit about 660 Grand Street. It is the space you manage and also the home of ROCKSOUP. It’s a big building filled with many creative people passing thru. I imagine there must be a significant influence coming from that experience.
JOHN: I learn alot about artists and how they think, how they interact and often self sabotage. The building is a job these days but it began as a love for community. I like being in the studio with others. Im more creative that way. By the end of this yr I hope to have had more events and taken on more artists to breathe life into the building before I move on which I imagine will happen in 2 yrs.
One of the other ideas I’ve been throwing around is turning the loft into an Arts Hostel for international travelers who want to see NY but want character and community. We all seem to thrive off the creative energies of one another and people are at their most open when they are strangers in a new place.
TONE: Can you go more into the statement on artist self sabotage. I’m really interested in things like that because I’ve seen it and I still experience it myself. I think it’s a big issue.
JOHN: Artists tend to hide from their latent strength but simultaneously revel in it. It gives them their independence, their arrogance, their quirky nature and inspiration. but all too often they chase the proverbial dragon or sabotage their success by being lazy or unmotivated not to mention using drugs and alcohol as a crutch. I’ve dealt with a few addicts, seen one sad death of a talented painter and also witnessed my own forms of escapism dictate my path at times. Its a bunch of hard lessons until you decide to take accountability and structure your conduct.
TONE: Tell me about the area you call, “The Treehouse”. Where did that idea come from and what usually goes on up there?
JOHN: When I first moved in I saw that lil alcove in the building and wanted to build a Treehouse. It took me a yr to get around to it but I built in by myself in one day. Its just a place I go to when I wanna get away and have privacy. Sip some whiskey and think.
TONE: Lastly, if you could be anything else other than you are, what would that be?
JOHN: I wouldn’t be anything other then an artist no matter what my profession. I’d like to be a writer, philosopher, farmer and carpenter but all of that would be while I remained an artist. Unless were talking about ANYTHING else in which case I’d like to be a bird or maybe a planet.
You can see more of Johns work at his website, www.jfathom.com