Mixing It Up

by John Bloner, Jr.

Call me DJ Jazzy Johnny.

My younger self could make a pretty cool mixtape, first on cassette and later on CD. I never played them in clubs – I cannot stay up past ten o’clock, and I hate crowds, even in pre-COVID times.

Nowadays, I prefer to mix things up on paper or canvas instead.

I put big heads on tiny bodies. I riff on characters from some of my favorite artists – Charles Bragg, George Condo, David Driesbach – and make up my own. I get to reveal what fashion icon Iris Apfel looks like when you remove the  couture costume jewelry, feathers, and fabric.

Can you say, smokin!?

Sketchbook: Iris Apfel has a Rockin’ Hot Body

More than an art DJ, though, I’m an unreliable mimic; if we were playing a game of telephone, I’d blurt out “aardvark,” if you’d whispered “archangel,” into my ear.

While the writer Harlan Ellison admits, “I purposely mishear things. It mortars up the gaps in boring conversation,” I don’t try to misunderstand what’s said to me. 63 years on this earth, coupled with an acute case of tinnitus, makes me answer most questions with one word:

What?

If I’d ever met Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules, from Pulp Fiction, I’d be dead now.

Warning: violence and foul language appear in the link to this image. Illustration: Adobestock

For inspiration and just for fun, I spend a lot of time looking at old comics. Not superhero stuff or Peanuts. Good grief, I like to go way back.

Two hundred years before Robert Crumb, the English artist and caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson was painting bawdy images of busty women and lascivious men that would make your grandma blush. This is one of his tamer pieces.

Hand-colored etching, November 30, 1812 by Thomas Rowlandson

This week, I’ve tried reproducing one of his pieces in watercolor. It’s a work-in-progress, I’ll admit. Dig those lips, though!

Watercolor by John Bloner, Jr., based on etching by Thomas Rowland (work in progress)

Last year, I participated in an online course, Wonky Friends and Critters, taught by Canadian artist Deb Weiers. In her course, we used acrylic and India inks, collage papers, charcoal pencils, and gesso to create distorted and abstract versions of the human face. Deb says, “I don’t think I will ever get tired of studying the human face and all the emotions that come with it. I like to distort and abstract the face.” I share this passion.

Artwork by Deb Weiers

I’ve applied her fun-house mirror techniques to my recent work, sometimes using reference photos and often relying on my imagination.

Disc jockeys use a variety of techniques to entertain, messing with rhythm and tempo of their tracks, adding beats and loops, and scribbling around a sound until they find one that pleases.

I have one go-to method in art-making. I transmogrify. According to Merriam-Webster, to transmogrify means to change or alter greatly, often with grotesque or humorous effect. If art can’t upset your apple cart, what’s the point?

Calvin and Hobbes

Like me, you may have learned the word, transmogrify, from the eternally six-year old cartoon boy, Calvin, who engaged in many adventures in the funny pages with his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. In one strip, Calvin introduces Hobbes to his Transmogrifier, an upside-down cardboard box, which can turn its occupant into anything they desire: a giant bug or a dinosaur, for example.

I have a Transmogrifier inside my head. It affects how I see the world and how I make art. It messes with reality, turning button noses into monstrous honkers and dainty chins into ginormous jawbones.

Last year, I started a series of paintings on the wives of Henry VIII. Hans Holbein The Younger beat me in this pursuit by almost 500 years, but I hope I’m putting my own stamp on these ladies’ images. For starters, here’s Hans’ painting of Jane Seymour next to my own. Which Jane would you rather walk around with at Hampton Court Gardens?

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein the Younger and by John Bloner, Jr.

Stop by next week when I will share work from my fellow Krazines‘ artists who recently created work on the theme, Remix Remake Transform, for the March 2021 issue of Moss Piglet. I cannot wait to show their art to you.

Would you do me a big favor? Please share this blog post with anyone who might enjoy it. I’d also love to hear your comments or your suggestions for future posts.

Until next time,

John Bloner, Jr., ArtRoot Racine Writer-In-Residence 2021 (Jan-June)

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