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John Beck McConnico: Making Art For Good

By December 21, 2011Interviews

Artist & designer John Beck McConnico ruminates on the visually mundane, the beauty of rust, and what fuels him to create art nuggets every day for his latest project.

John Beck McConnico: Making art for Good.

Throughout a continuous 90-day period, John produced an average of one painting, sketch, or doodle per day—resulting in an exhibit entitled “90 Days of Art.” Each piece is available as a limited-edition print or framed piece of art, with 90% of the proceeds being donated to the Red Cross. To date the exhibit has funded 90 Meals, 90 Family Water Containers, and 9 Days of Shelter for disaster victims. The artwork can be viewed and purchased online at http://www.90daysofart.com

Can you tell us about yourself and where you live and work?
I’ve been an Art Director and Designer for more than 15 years, and also produce paintings and mixed media art. I live and work in Oakland, California; a stone’s throw from the Gourmet Ghetto of Berkeley and a small coffee ride from downtown San Francisco. My studio is located behind my 1926 Craftsman bungalow.

What is your background? Where did you go to school?
Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, I studied fine art at The Memphis College of Art, with the intention of being a working artist and gallery owner. After interning for a couple of galleries and museums, I realized that I enjoyed the process of problem solving and configuring three-dimensional space. I then transferred to Otis-Parsons College of Art & Design in Los Angeles, where I majored in Environmental Design. After graduation I found myself coming back full circle to print design and fine art. Since that time I have designed furniture, identity systems, websites, and interactive interfaces.

What made you decide to do a self-initiated exhibit for charity?
Shortly after the Japan earthquake and tornadoes in the American South, I began brainstorming ideas on how to offer assistance. It seemed appropriate to produce something creative and tangible to support the charitable efforts.John Beck McConnico: Making art for Good. After creating an initial series of sketches and paintings, I decided to give myself the challenge of executing an average of one item a day. I guess you could consider it a creative marathon…

What is your creative process? How did you determine the subject matter for your work?
I intentionally wanted to keep this exhibit free-form and conceptually loose, seeing what came to mind as I started to create. Charles Eames always believed in learning through “doing”. My goal was to play jazz with themes as they arose, then allow myself the freedom to move on to new ones. For the most part, the process of execution was using one of my sketches or photographs as a starting point, then evolving into a mixed media piece if appropriate.

Is it obvious when you’re done with a painting?
No piece of art is truly “done.” The artist just needs to decide when it should be shared—and when he or she should stop touching it.

What visual artists influence you the most?
I’ve always loved the playful layered quality of Rauschenberg’s work, as well as the Precisionist architectural landscapes of Charles Sheeler in the 1930’s and ’40’s. One of the most prolific artist couples was Bernd and Hilla Becher, German photographers who documented thousands of industrial structures over a 40-year period. Their systematic photography of functionalist architecture captured the personality and history of each structure, as well as introduced conceptual art within the realm of documentary photography.

I notice that quite a few automotive themes are present in the collection. How did this come about?
Hey, I’m a guy—it’s part of my DNA. Ever since I was young I’ve had an affinity for sports cars, especially German and Italian brands. For me it was not just the idea of the “car” that was cool, but also its individual components, engine parts, and graphic details.

What has been the overall response to the “90 Days of Art” exhibit?
I’ve received a lot of kind words from folks worldwide, as well as much-appreciated exposure on design blogs such as Swiss-Miss and Design Milk. I was also invited to do a three-day sale on the flash sale site Fab.com. This resulted in a big boost of website traffic. As of December, my current donations to the Red Cross has resulted in 90 Meals, 90 Family Water Containers, and 9 Days of Shelter for disaster victims. My goal is to double this amount within the next few months.

“The under-appreciated details of everyday life—a rusty door, a crack in a wall—can speak volumes. This unconventional beauty functions as a visual fingerprint for a specific time and place.”

What are your favorite places to visit for creative inspiration?
Believe it or not, I’m really happy wandering the back streets of an industrial city or town. I love museums and galleries, but find there is a lot of creative discovery when looking for beauty in unexpected places.

Obviously travel is something important to your work. How relevant is location to each of the pieces?
Travel and location are extremely important. Each piece is intended to capture a moment, a precise location, and a state of being. Regardless of subject matter, my unifying theme is always the manipulation of context and perception. Most pieces include a time stamp and location in the title, which is meant to signify that it would be a completely different subject one second earlier or later (just as we are biologically no longer the same person from one moment to the next). When looking at the “90 Days” pieces, it’s interesting to see the contrast of works done in Geneva and Lyon, in comparison to those done in the U.S.

What are the essential items you always take with you on a trip?
Equal parts necessity and luxury: A digital camera with two lenses, a compact Rhodia sketchbook, my trusty S.T. Dupont Défi pen, and the indestructible Brooks saddle leather shoulder bag.

John Beck McConnico: Making art for Good.

What were your favorite bands growing up? Music you like listen to nowadays?
Wow, that’s a hard question to answer. I’ve always liked a wide array of music, from Delta Blues and Classic Jazz to experimental Electronic music. However my rebellious heart in the 80’s would always beat a bit faster to Brit bands such as New Order, The Cure, and Depeche Mode. Something about the combination of lyrical drama, musical experimentation, and danceability made them satisfying to listen to. These days I find myself listening to the likes of Ulrich Schnauss, The Editors, and Tycho—outstanding musicians carrying the same torch.

What are you working on now? What are your upcoming plans?
I’m currently working on a new series (to be announced), partnering with a charity cause. I will also be having another sale on Fab.com, which will coincide with this exhibit. Please follow me on Twitter for the latest details: http://twitter.com/jMcConnico

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