The Fall Days of Design event included an exclusive silent auction.
A massive painting greeted guests at BoConcept’s JONNMARC pop-up last week. It was part of Fall Days of Design, a series of interior design events at Georgetown boutiques. The painting was up for silent auction, with all proceeds going to the Humane Society. The District-based artist has previously engaged in charitable collaborations, and the abstract, splattered acrylic piece—which stood out from BoConcept’s modern, tonal decor—was a perfect fit.
“[BoConcept] is Danish and minimal, and JONNMARC’s style is avant-garde and urban. They’re aesthetically different, but colorful and creative in the same ways,” says Isoke Salaam of Isoke Salaam Public Relations.
Perusing BoConcept revealed JONNMARC canvases and papers on stands, tables and walls. Punchy Americana was evident in their subjects: black and silver objects (cherries, peppers, super glue) on brown paper; stenciled prints of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Abraham Lincoln; papers exploding with color from images of spray paint cans and farm animals. Next to the European modernity of BoConcept—compartmentalized tables, geometric lighting and rectangular sofas—JONNMARC’s style was a delightfully punky accent.
“I’m in a morphing phase right now. I used to do a ton of acrylic paintings, so I tried to work faster, but I was doing 90 paintings at one time, which was very overwhelming. The addition of paper has such a fast, raw feeling, that I like,” says JONNMARC, born Jonathan Willie, of his changing methods. “I worked on about 240 paintings this week. For the stencils, I drew the image and cut it into a piece of Dura-Lar, and after I put in one color I’d shift the stencil and add different ones. When the differently-colored images aren’t lined up, I think there’s a visual vibration that occurs in your brain. I feel like everybody is able to pick out different rhythms to that vibration, so they’ll each have a different experience with the piece. That’s what I love about it. The images aren’t concrete, but hazy and abstract; some portraits are recognizable, and some are not. It comes with the territory of making quick, crazy, fast work.”
That work was not immediately apparent to JONNMARC, who’s been part of DC’s art scene since 2014. As a child he would doodle in church services, which grew to larger art interests. “I sort of knew that art was what I wanted to do. I fell into it in high school, and it became an instant passion,” says the artist. “That obscure ability to communicate with people in a way that wasn’t language, music, or dance became mesmerizing. It was an obsession after it became an infatuation.”
The infatuation was hard to miss from the works on display. A wide array of JONNMARC’s art is on most surfaces at the BoConcept pop-up, but it isn’t his entire repertoire. “This is a sliver of what I’ve done. A lot of people responded to certain portraits, so I started doing more of those, and what you’re seeing is the distillation of all the most popular faces. I have so many; I’ve written out a list of influential and inspiring people, and there’s about several hundred. I try to learn about them at the same time that I’m learning their face, to try to better myself but also ingrain their spirit into the painting. I write out tons of lists, so there’s always potential for others.”
JONNMARC portrays many figures in his work, and inspiration similarly comes from many people. ” When I was in New York, I went to the Met and Guggenheim, and saw a lot of Picasso. He’s wonderful, and I guess I feel him on the level of the volume of work he created, and that’s what I love about doing so much,” he says. “You get to turn off the cognitive side of your brain, and it becomes the ‘pure, unadulterated feelings’ side; all the emotions and good stuff that should be in artwork.”
Despite negative feelings about previous pieces, JONNMARC says he’s been able to learn from his audience to improve. “It took me a long time to get to the point where I could act on my ideas, because I have so many pieces I think are crap. The funny thing is, at an exhibition, I sold a ton of pieces and people were buying the ones I hated,” he says. “I was almost embarrassed, but at the same time knew they saw something. A lot of people see things that I don’t see in my own work, which I love talking to them about. I feel like the more I talk to people about my work, the more I learn and see through their eyes what I’m missing.”
That connectivity is what the artist, who will host another pop-up at West Elm this month, believes viewers can use to find meaning in art.
“When you’re trained as an artist, you’re taught about your role and the observer’s,” JONNMARC says. “I like to say it’s up to you as a viewer to engage it, and to figure it out yourself. To interact with it, see how it affects you, and learn from that.”