Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Art Space Talk: John Westmark

John Westmark’s art explores the meshing between man and machine. In a sense, his images serve as both a warning and celebration of this connection. One could say that they reflect the hopes and concerns that surround us within the context of contemporary culture. John has been featured in New American Paintings and Studio Visit magazine. Westmark has been involved with several solo and group exhibits. Including, exhibits at Chelsea Gallery, Gallery Bienvenu, Andrea Schwartz Gallery and Dobbs Gallery. He holds a BFA from Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from the University of Florida.

Brian Sherwin: John, I first learned of your work during the announcement of the results of the myartspace New York, New York Competition 2007. You were one of the 50 finalist of that juried competition. The jury panel included James Rondeau, Frances and Thomas Dittmer Curator of Contemporary Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, Jessica Morgan, Curator, Contemporary Art, The Tate Modern, London, and Steven Zevitas, Publisher and Editor of New American Paintings. What have you achieved since that time? Can you discuss some of your recent accomplishments?

John Westmark: Yes, since the myartspace competition, I've been featured in New American Paintings and Studio Visit. I've also mounted three solo shows and participated in several group shows. All of these things are great exposure and valuable experience, but I think the biggest accomplishment is to be in the position to spend the necessary time in the studio to make work.

BS: John, you studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Florida. Can you discuss your academic years and how they helped you grow as an artist. For example, did you have any influential instructors during that time?

JW: Looking back, my experience at KCAI was invaluable. The culture there was one of total immersion into practice of artmaking, both critical thinking and formal development. As an sheltered and immature arttist/student it was like having a bucket of ice water thrown in your face. There were numerous influential instructors at KCAI, but Stephen Sidelinger was one who scared the living sh*t out of me. He challenged everything you did, and it took me years to finally realize that he asked you to dig inside yourself for something real and honest to put back out into the world.

My graduate experience at the University of Florida was prompted by the need to engage in a process of exploration and conceptual direction for my work. UF does a good job of promoting conceptual investigation

BS: John, you have mentioned that you were first introduced to art as a child while doodling during long Southern Baptist sermons. With the art you create today in mind… is there a religious or spiritual aspect to your work?

JW: Very much so. When I was a child, my mother would bring a pencil and paper to church and draw things during the sermon to keep me form jumping around. And she draws really well, so it always captivated me.

Needless to say, growing up attending a small Southern Baptist Church has deeply influenced my work. This is something you can't just toss away, it leaves a permanent mark on you. The sense of struggle, moral struggle, and the notion of faith are huge threads in my work. The question of faith has expanded with technological advancement. Coping is no longer a question of spiritual faith, but also faith in the device or machine.

BS: Speaking of your current work… can you discuss your painting and collage process? Perhaps you can give our readers some insight into the materials and methods that you utilize and why?

JW: The work begins with collecting store bought paper sewing patterns, you know, the kind you find in the craft store, back in the fabric section. They are these great little envelop/pouch type things with the paper patterns and instructions. And really, they are schematics with a unique set of construction markings and text. The paper is extremely thin and delicate, which is an interesting dichotomy, this fragile tissue is the overlay for the material that becomes our outer skin. When I look at the paper patterns, I see the pieces of aircraft, orwellian machines... even figures.

In terms of process, I apply the patterns directly to the canvas with a PVA size. The patterns fuse to the canvas and paint. I do not employ a random approach to collage, rather each piece is developed via sketches/drawing. Once I'm comfortable with the direction, I will begin a painting. There is a constant back and forth between collage application and painting

BS: What about the message of your work? Is there any specific message that you strive to convey? Any themes that you tend to explore?

JW: The overriding message or theme in my work is the question of whether what you're looking at is a warning or a celebration? Something rising or descending? Is it a machine or a figure? I think these questions resonate to our current culture.

BS: Can you discuss other influences? For example, are you influenced by any specific artist?

JW: In the past, I have struggled with being too influenced by artists, to the point that my work suffered from being derivative. As I've matured as an artist, my voice is much stronger and original, so now it's really a question of who's work do I enjoy and admire. Right now it's Ben Nicholson.

BS: What are you working on at this time? Can you give us some insight into your current work?

JW: I'm really excited about the development of the "pattern pieces". I'm researching Greek mythology and how the idea of myth and symbolic narrative relates to the current human condition. In some sense, the entire idea of history is a form of mythology.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the goals that you have?

JW: My goal is to continue to develop my long term career and to make work until I'm physically unable to. As trite as it sounds, it's not an option, it's a necessity.

You can learn more about John Westmark by visiting his website-- www.johnwestmark.com. John Westmark is a member of the www.myartspace.com community, www.myartspace.com/johnwestmark. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews.
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor

1 comment:

makeyounosense said...

John, as always your work is spectacular. I'm glad to see things are going well with you and your work!