I can’t remember when I first heard of Marc Johns, but I’ve been a fan ever since, I tracked him down, more out of personal satisfaction than anything to learn more about him, and hopefully introduce more of you to his amazing work. I spoke to Marc who was kind enough to really open up and give us an insight into his work which has become a worldwide phenomenom and we showcase a selection of his works.
How were you originally drawn to art?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawn to art. I’ve been drawing since I was tiny, and never stopped. When I was a kid I was content to just stay at home and draw and make stuff, instead of calling up my friends. They’d always be the ones calling me, dragging me out of the house.
How would you describe your style or medium of art?
That’s a tough one… Like many artists, I find it hard to describe my own work. If I had to boil it down to one line, it would be this: simple drawings filled with dry wit and humour. People have described my drawings as sweet and lovely with little claws, absurdly humourous, and so on. They’re definitely not cartoons, not really illustrations. If anybody has a better description, I’m open to suggestions.
And how do you think you developed your distinct style?
I think my style evolved naturally over time, as I figured out who the hell I am. It developed from looking at other artists’ work, but also came from a need to share the thousands of ideas and observations that are clogging up my head. I’ve got piles of little notebooks filled with drawings. I would keep trying painting and collage and other methods, but I kept returning to drawing. For me it’s the most direct, simplest form of visual communication. It’s the quickest way for me to get an idea out of my head and in front of your face. I like the spontaneity of it. Because there are so few steps involved, there is very little editing, revising, embellishing, doubting, judging, etc. It’s honest. At least I try to keep it that way.
Were there artists around as you grew and learned that you admired or who influenced your work?
As a kid I read loads of comics, but it’s not an influence anymore. When I was around 14 my parents took me to see a huge retrospective of Picasso. I still remember it. Then the first time I ever went to New York I saw a big exhibit on Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Whitney. It changed my life. The way he mixed graffiti, pop culture, music, and politics into his art… The way he used text… His paintings are essentially drawings and words with loads of colour. My own work may not seem connected to Basquiat’s, but seeing that show really opened my eyes and, this may sound strange, but gave me "permission" to try different things, add text in my work, etc. At the time I remember thinking "Wow, it’s okay
to do that in a painting?" About 5 or 6 years ago I saw a show by the Royal Art Lodge for the first time, and that was an influence as well, in the sense that it validated drawing as its own art form.
Can you describe your studies and how you transitioned your passion into your full time career?
I got my Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Fine Art, but I didn’t really find my style, my voice until much later. I drew for several years before I showed my work to anybody. Once I started putting my work out there, participating in group shows, posting my work online, I really gained momentum. People started emailing me, asking if they could buy my drawings. So I eventually set up an online shop (http://shop.marcjohns.com), which made things easier for me and made art purchasing more accessible. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve sold prints and drawings to people all over the world. Some have ordered from me 3 or 4 times, which is pretty awesome. You really get to know people after a while. I try and write a little note or do a little drawing in every package I send out. The internet has been the best tool in the world. It makes artists so much more accessible, if they choose to be.
What other artists and designers around today do you admire?
David Shrigley is absolutely brilliant, and I love his humour. Edward Gorey (well, he’s not actually around anymore) is another; I love the way he set the stage for his characters, like actors in a play. He had this incredible wit. If there’s an artist I get compared to on a regular basis it’s him. I also really Craig Atkinson, Matthew Feyld… I could go on and on. How long do you want this interview to go on for?
What have been some of your most exciting projects to date?
A couple of months ago, I was asked by two separate magazines (within a week of each other) if they could use my artwork on their covers. That was a real thrill. They found me online somewhere. Usually an artist has to go around and bang on doors to make something like that happen, so I was pretty excited.
What are you working on at the moment and what do you have planned for 2008?
My number one goal is to draw more, and get more drawings out there. Pretty simple, really. Part of that goal is to publish a book of drawings later this year. I’m really excited about that.