San Francisco-based artist Jon Stich has been creating art since he was nine years old. Since then, his work has appeared in numerous publications such as Time Magazine, Mother Jones, Bloomberg Newsweek, The Washington Post, and more. This Friday, September 1st, Mule Gallery will be hosting an opening reception for his solo exhibition, Prizes May Vary.
Most of the portraits you painted for your upcoming show, Prizes May Vary are of well-known figures. How do you decide who to paint?
I’m glad a lot of them are recognizable- for a long time I would do sort of warm-up sketches to get into the rhythm of drawing for the day, so I’d give myself about 30-45 minutes to do a portrait. A lot of times I couldn’t think of who to draw or paint, so I’d go to famousbirthdays.com and try to find a celebrity who was recognizable, but maybe not a present day mega-star. A few of the portraits of this show are from my sketchbook, and others have been published. A couple are illustrations I did for Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People issue, and I’m including them because their accomplishments in writing and science are incredible. Celebrity and fame in the United States has always been fascinating to me.
This question kind of ties into the previous one. A lot of your work seems to be a commentary on current political issues, but you also inject some humor into it. How do these images start to form for you?
I used to be a lot more heavy handed with my personal work. I was in my college years during September 11th and the beginning of the Iraq war, and my work had a lot of anger in it. I think the conversation I was trying to have between my work and the viewer was along the lines of a cable news debate show, where everyone raises their voice and you can’t make anything of it. I’m not a very angry person, but I am passionate about social and political issues. I think I’ve always known what message I wanted to put out there, but figuring out how to deliver that message is what took time. Ultimately I think truly great illustration should be thought provoking, but as in any conversation, it’s as much about the tone as the message.
You teach classes at CCA. How does that affect your work, if at all? What do you hope your students ultimately walk away with from your instruction?
I’ve only been teaching for a couple years now, but I really love it. I see younger versions of myself in a lot of the students, and a lot times I think teaching grounds me. In my own work I’ll often get carried away or try to do too much with one painting, and then I’ll hear myself critique my students work and realize I’m giving myself advice, too. My goal is to try to teach the students to create work that is truly their own. They’ll look at all of the Illustration competitions and try to emulate a style that’s really hot right now, but I encourage them to explore all mediums and approaches.
What are some of the best responses you’ve gotten to your illustrations or paintings?
Since I’m primarily a commercial illustrator, clients typically don’t see the original painting, so there are quite a few instances where they’re surprised the work is not digitally created. I’m always kinda entertained by that. But the responses I enjoy the most are when people look at my paintings and discuss what the message is to them. Even if it’s not the message I intended to deliver, I hope that my work creates conversation.
When you’re not making or teaching art, what are you up to?
Well the biggest thing this past year is that I’m getting married, actually the Sunday after the opening of this show! But beyond that, I really enjoy running. It’s become my therapy. I’m trying become flawless at cooking ribs, too.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about your work in Prizes May Vary?
I hope that the takeaway people have from this show is to become more engaged in their community, and more knowledgeable about their past. Living in the present is important, but in order to understand how to handle adversity in trying times, we need to study the past.
You can learn more about Jon and his work here. Hope to see you all at the reception!