John believes the best compliments about art come from those who don’t know they’re giving them…
What do you think people’s first impression is of you? Mostly they mistake my quietness for arrogance. Once you get to know me, you can’t shut me up. I’m very critical of my own work, as much as I am of other artists’ work. That may be why some people think I’m a bastard. At my age, it takes a lot to impress me. I have a good eye for evaluating artwork, but I’m most critical of my own. When it’s not successful, I’m annoyed at myself for days. Even months.
Which artists inspire you? Who are the artists I can’t stomach? That’s a better question. But I don’t think I’ll share my answers here. My earliest influences were Andrew Wyeth and Salvador Dali. My tastes have grown broader with maturity. I’m more openminded now and appreciate anything done well. But if you’re an artistic phoney, take a hike.
Do you have a painting ritual? Not really. I try to work everyday in the studio, and prefer working at night. I usually get up in the afternoon – unless I’m pulling an all-nighter – check emails and write a to-do list. I work in the evening, into the wee hours. Rinse and repeat. Hey, I guess I do have a ritual. When did you first realise that you wanted to be an artist? Like most artists, I’ve been doing it since I was very young. In first grade, I’d watch an artist on TV (search for Jon Gnagy’s Learn to Draw on YouTube) so my parents bought me his deluxe art set. I was thrilled and on my way. You grow into it. You are passionate. Obsessive about it. Art was the only thing I did well and had half a chance in.
Who was your first artistic crush? Probably Jon Gnagy, a TV artist, then my high school art teacher, Frederick C Graff. Mr Graff is also a practicing artist and made a good portion of his income
That may be why some think I’m a bastard. At my age, it takes a lot to impress me
from his art. He truly saved me from being a juvenile delinquent. He was an award-winning watercolourist and I still use many of the techniques he taught me. He’s like an older brother and we have been good friends for over 30 years. Do you remember the first image where you thought you’d nailed it? I think it was a watercolour landscape in high school. There have been many paintings like that over the years. The key I find to “nailing it” is working toward the image you have in your mind. I’ve never fully captured my interior vision, but when I’m close the paintings have been very successful and well received. What was the first bit of praise you received that spurred you on? Winning awards is gratifying. That encourages you. Also, at an exhibition, having someone commenting positively while you’re standing nearby and they don’t know you are the artist. If the discussion that you’re eavesdropping on is constructive then you can learn something about yourself and your art. It could be something you weren’t aware of, and that’s good.
And your first knock-back? At an exhibition, having someone commenting negatively while you’re standing nearby and they don’t know you’re the artist. You can learn something from that as well. I always try to evaluate all of these opinions by consensus and source. What was the last thing you painted, and were you happy with it? I can’t say what the last thing was because it hasn’t been published yet. It was a surreal piece. It was okay. We tend to work in clichés in this business. I will reserve more detailed comment, that may incriminate me, about the cover in question. Currently I’m working on a personal painting: it’s an assemblage of items, sort of a surreal, still-life figural thing. It’s not complete yet, but it’s going well. Also I’m doing sketches for some upcoming book covers and interiors paintings for an author’s collected works. All hush-hush, of course.
Roads to madness This painting of John’s was used as the cover for HP Lovecraft’s Roads to Madness novel.
Prophet no. 2 John first had his art published as a 15 year-old, when he won a local newspaper competition in Ohio. He’s been freelance full-time since art school.