There’s a blurred line between this week’s Artist Jonny Negron’s subconscious and his canvas. Or an acid trip. His illustrations are rich in symbolism, from metaphysical glyphs to Amazonian women epitomizing fertility goddesses. He currently lives in Austin, keeping it weird. Very weird. You still have until April 27 to check out his latest show up at Farewell Books, if you happen to be in Texas. I’ve been a big fan of Jonny’s for a few years, so it was super exciting getting to pick his brain over the phone.
SHANON WELTMAN: First, what are some of your biggest life inspirations?
JONNY NEGRON: I’ve drawn since I was two-years-old. I’ve always been almost like a sponge visually, so as a kid I would watch cartoons and always want to mimic the images that I saw. It’s never really stopped. Now as an adult, there’s an obvious reference to cartoons, anime, pop culture, but I’m influenced by all kinds of art and media.
SW: What about unrelated to your work? What sort of inspirations keep you going? If you couldn’t do art, what else inspires you?
JN: Good question. What would I do if I wasn’t creating art? I don’t know. I never completed school and when I did it was for visual art, but I always wished I’d done better in science. Maybe, maybe… to pursue some field of science might have been interesting.
SW: Who are your top five favorite artists?
JN: It’s almost impossible for me to have a favorite, if any, but off the top of my head I really appreciate CF, Masami Teraoka, Suehiro Maruo… to make it an even five, I’d say Namio Harukawa and Matt Lock. The artists who I draw inspiration from are a lot of the Japanese artists that do woodcut prints and things of that nature. The Ukiyo-E.
SW: So, Japanese artists spanning throughout art history?
JN: Yeah, like Hokusai, you know. I love today’s work that has that same essence, very simplistic.
SW: When you do your really, really weird illustrations how do you develop the concept for that imagery?
JN: Whenever it’s the more kind of bizarre work, the stuff I make sometimes is derived from a dream. Or a lot of times it can be from an article or my reaction to something that I’ve seen or read. For example, I remember watching that documentary that came out maybe two years ago called something like “The Invisible War” or “The Silent War”, something like that?
SW: Ohh, I know what you’re talking about.
JN: Yeah, it was a documentary about women being abused within the military. After I saw it, I just really wanted to draw something just depicting women kind of humiliating men. And so I drew that, I wouldn’t say it’s directly inspired by it, but it was just the first thing that I thought of after I watched that. That’s how I’ll work sometimes. Dreams or just sometimes it’ll be a piece that I really like and if it’s stuck in my head I’ll try to not necessarily copy it, but make my own interpretation of what I saw. In terms of absurd weird stuff, one artist who I drew a lot of inspiration from is David Lynch. A lot of his films have kind of intense, exaggerated scenarios that are often… discomforting.
SW: Yes. [Laughs]
JN: A lot of sexual stuff, of course, you know. A comment I’ll often receive is, ‘oh you’re fantasizing about this stuff.’ For me it’s always try to exaggerate things and make them more absurd. Not to try to be shocking or provocative, but it just… there are so many things that are commonplace in our society that are just completely absurd, but because it’s such a commonplace thing, no one seems to question it. Whereas things related to sex can be controversial to people. I like to do stuff like that because it’s a way of normalizing the hyper-sex or hypersexualised women.
SW: Where do you find inspiration for the colors you use? They’re very pretty.
JN: Thank you! I think a lot of that comes from a lot of the Japanese stuff. Something that always inspired me was the use of markers. A lot of the Manga’s that I would see as a kid would have the comics in black and white, but would have a really bright cover that often appear to be hand drawn, with markers or watercolor. American comics are a little bit different, you don’t see that as much. It was more of a digital print when I was a kid in the 90’s. In term of color, I’ve always loved it a lot, even when I was a little kid.
SW: You have one piece, a guy with his arms crossed, the colors you choose were turquoise and this pastel, lavender pink…
JN: Is that possibly Kool Moe Dee?
SW: Yes! I think that’s what it was.
JN: I really like bright colors and I just always envision really unnatural light. Like if someone was in a room of like florescent lights. I envision an unnatural world, almost hallucinatory-like. Like the way things would look if you were on acid or something like that.
SW: Yeah I’d say that’s a pretty good description of, if say, you had to spend a day in the world of your drawings.
JN: Yeah, it’s like acid rain, maybe some strip clubs.
JN: Yeah, that’s kind of how I figure it’d be.
SW: What are your favorite materials to work with?
JN: I mainly work with pens, microns. For coloring I’ll often use markers. I do work with other mediums like watercolor and acrylic, but it’s primarily markers that I’m using for colors.
SW: So you don’t color digitally at all?
JN: I do from time to time, but I really do enjoy the process of just doing everything by hand and having a completed piece when I’m done, you know? Like if it’s comics, I like to have everything there, just appreciate the physical piece. I love all kinds of digital art as well, but working by hand has always been more enjoyable for me.
SW: How long does it take you to complete an illustration?
JN: I work pretty quickly for the most part. I mostly try to do something new every couple days. Most pieces take me eight to twelve hours on average.
SW: Do you draw from models or is this completely imaginary?
JN: Sometimes both, like I said I’m drawing references from places all the time. Sometimes if I see an interesting image in a fashion magazine I might use it as a loose reference, or there’s always things you can find on the internet now, lighting and things like that. I do use models for the most part, then there’s times I can do freehand and go from there.
SW: There’s some poses that are just really impressive, especially since you say you didn’t finish school? It looks freehand but it also looks like you really had to use a model, like some of the ways you contorted arms and stuff. It’s cool.
JN: Yeah, sometimes it’s certainly freeing. Ideally I like to work without any reference, because the work kind of flows that way, but when there’s more time constraints you don’t want to have to make as many… You know, there are some days when I have a really precise idea of what I’d like to do. Usually when I have a strong idea I’ll sketch it out and find a series of references to build with. Then there’s days where I’ll just start sketching something and if I like how the sketch is going, whether it’s the figure or sometimes the drawing, I’ll try to finish the entire thing and make it into an illustration.
SW: We like to end on a random note, totally unrelated to anything. If you could live in any other era of time, which one would you live in?
JN: Well I guess I wouldn’t mind living in 17th century Japan, so I could appreciate all those prints that I like so much.
SW: Oh that’s a cool answer.
JN: I’ve always been interested in Japanese culture. Even now that I’m an adult, people think I’m a huge anime nerd and really I’m not anymore. I’m just really interested in aspects of Japanese culture, because I find so much of it appealing. Like Japanese fine art on all levels, there’s so many great fine artists from there. I think they’re great.