I don’t really *get* modern art.
I’m unsure why a partially painted blue wall is significant, why a yellow dot can symbolize human life, or why I should get a thrill out of seeing a bloody band-aid, framed, and hanging in the Tate Modern.
Maybe I’m just not smart enough. Or maybe I just think bloody band-aids belong in rubbish bins, not museums.
But while I may not understand modern art, I do understand the hilarity and brilliance of artists like Marc Johns. People with antlers and talking bowls of batter? Not only can I understand and appreciate this, I embrace it. Maybe almost too much.
I first heard of Marc Johns while I was blogging on VOX, and back in the good ol’ days of 2006, Marc would draw clever little bits and pieces on post-its about underpants going to Starbucks and “sipping on caramel lattes”. The community on VOX got to watch as Marc grew more and more popular, his drawings changing and evolving from post-it notes to more watercolours of things like Mrs. Van der Woodsen.
Now, in 2010, March Johns is not only an internationally acclaimed artist and illustrator, but he also has a very important art book. Serious Drawings, it’s called, featuring one of his classic post-it note drawings on the cover: ‘H’ is for Holy Crap.
I recently had the chance to catch up with my old VOX neighbour, and I got to ask him more about his fabulous illustrations, those gosh darn antlers, and what he has planned for the future.
Blogging and Antlers
As I first discovered Marc Johns online, I found it only appropriate to ask how important blogging and social media has been to his career.
The answer? Very.
Johns says that being able to grow a career mostly online was “certainly a goal”, but that the he could have never guessed or estimated how important the web would have been to his success.
“Blogging and social media have been everything to my career. My book publisher found me on Swiss Miss's blog. Galleries find me online. Magazines that want to interview me, or commission me find me online...”
Johns says that he has been “extremely fortunate” as he’s not had to approach a “single website, publication or gallery” for coverage, and that they’ve all approached him after finding him online, which “utterly amazes” him. For this, he insists that he has the “good folks on Flickr, Vox, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else to thank for it.”
If you’re familiar with drawings like "Mrs. Van der Woodsen" or even Johns’s avatar used for Twitter, you’ll know this dude is a fan of antlers. And what may seem like a simple hop on the ol' bandwagon, Johns originally started drawing antlers as a joke and was just “making fun of a trend”.
“Antlers seemed to be everywhere, on Gap t-shirts, crafts for sale on Etsy, etc. So I made a drawing about it. But then I kind of got hooked on the idea, so I fell into the trend trap too.
“The antlers are part of a larger subject I'm obsessed about, that of identity. I'm fascinated by how we use clothing and accessories and cars and handbags to communicate a desired identity. Multi-billion dollar industries rely on our conspicuous consumption of trend items and branded goods, and I like to make fun of how we blindly participate in what is a bit of a charade.”
S is for Support
Like any proper creative (or so I’m told), Johns carries around a small notebook and pen with wherever he goes, even around the house: “I never know when a funny saying or a strange combination of objects or a snippet of dialog will come to mind and I need to capture it on paper.”
Johns says that keeping notes is extremely helpful as when he’s ready to sit down and draw finished works, he heads for his drawer wear he keep all of his notebooks, flips through the filled notebooks and searches for an “idea I'm in the mood to work on.”
As plenty of artists have rather tortured pasts and a history of having those around them being unsupportive and doubtful of their work, I wondered what sort of network of friends and family Johns has had around him.
Johns explains that he had always drawn from a young age and that his parents “always encouraged it”. Johns says both of his parents were “really creative”, and that his father is an Engineering professor who is trained in drafting, “Not with a computer, “Johns notes, “but good old pencil and paper.”
And while he doesn’t think his parents envisioned him publishing a book, Johns says that drawing was a regular activity throughout his childhood and that he and his friends would sit around drawing comic books.
Now, in his adult life, Johns says that his wife is “extremely” supportive: “I'd be a lost soul without her. I can't imagine not having that kind of support around you.” Johns and his wife have two boys, aged four and seven (who provide Johns with “plenty of material”) and knowing Johns sense of humor and imagination, I can imagine that growing up with a Dad who draws talking beards on Post-it notes must be pretty cool.
“I think it's important that parents create an environment for children where creating art is a very normal, everyday activity, “Johns says, “If parents can do that, their children will absolutely thrive creatively.”
Hard to argue with that.
With the recent Paperchase vs Hidden Eloise scandal, I asked Johns if he’d had anything similar happen to him, as it unfortunately seems quite common in the indie art scene.
Johns says he’s been “lucky” and not had anyone rip him off as blatantly as Paperchase did with Hidden Eloise, but that he’s had a few problems here and there.
“I get people using my artwork as part of their website design, when they haven't asked permission. When I find out about it I send them an email, and people have been really nice and quick to rectify the situation.”
Johns tells me he doesn’t mind people blogging about his artwork providing they source his images correctly and link back to his site, but that sometimes there's nothing you can do, “I get people on Facebook using my drawings as their profile picture, which used to bug me. But after seeing it happen for the fiftieth time, I decided it was fine.”
But blogs and Facebook pictures aside, Johns fans love his work so much that there are number of people who have had drawings by Marc tattooed on their bodies. Yes, tattooed. With needles. You know, the kind are permanent.
While I suggest that this might freak Johns out (it would certainly freak me out) Johns just takes it all in stride and thinks it’s awesome: “It amazes me! I am truly honoured and humbled by every person who has had one of my drawings, or even portions of my drawings tattooed. It means a great deal to me.”
Does this mean we will be seeing a four pack of wrath on Johns anytime soon? “I don’t have the desire - or the guts - to get tattooed. I'm a blank canvas."
So, what’s next for the artist/blogger/illustrator powerhouse that is Marc Johns?
He has an exhibition coming up at Giant Robot in Los Angeles in May, where he’ll be exhibiting with Steven Weissman, so at the moment Johns says that he’s “madly working on a whole set of drawings” for the show.
I ask Johns if he has any plans for another book, as myself and my entire family (I kid you not) love Serious Drawings so much.
“I really want to do another book, and soon," says Johns, "I've got the beginnings of a slightly Edward Gorey-esque story. I've also got enough drawings to do another compilation of work, like the Serious Drawings book.”
Plus, Johns says that he’d “love” to do a childrens’ book (“one that my kinds would like”) and that he has a “series of drawings about disgruntled objects that would work best in book form.”
Disgruntled objects? Awesome.
To learn more about Marc Johns, please visit MarcJohns.com, where you can purchase prints of his drawings and check out his blog. You can buy his AWESOME book, Serious Drawings, on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or if you’re in NY, Urban Outfitters and MoMa.
You can also follow him on Twitter as @marcjohns.
All images from Serious Drawings © Marc Johns