What is your main choice of medium and what motivated you to prefer it?
Painting is and has been my main medium since 2000/2001. Before that i never lifted a brush, it was exclusively pencil drawings and notebook marginals drawn during class.
Take us through your typical process of creating a work.
Well, usually i'll have ideas written down on receipts or some obscure piece of paper and jammed into my pocket or backpack. The idea could be something that i imagined, a story i heard, something from tv, the news, a memory...whatever. Usually these scraps of paper just find their way to the circular file, but sometimes they'll follow me to my work space.
I almost always paint representationally; so from there i'll try to find images that match my idea. Whether that means going outside and taking photos of things/people/places that fit the idea or lazily searching google for inspiring images.
After that i'll decide what will be the best material for the painting or series. I love smooth surfaces; so wood, paper and pre-made panels are stockpiled. Then i'll create a composition and start layering the colors.
Do you listen to music when you work on something? If so care to share?
A lot of times i'll put a movie on while doing a painting. I've thought about it and it could have something to do with stimulating me visually or keeping me better company since i normally paint in seclusion.Sometimes i listen to music, though. Usually i look for a long album so i don't have stop painting to pick new music all the time. Usually i'll weigh the nostalgic value of a song or band before anything else is considered. Some regular tunes for me are the Cranberries, Kool Keith, The Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and others. sometimes really emo, lameoid stuff; sometimes really happy upbeat tunes. depends on the day, the painting, the position of planets, etc.
Has any film or book inspired a painting?
Hmm, that's a tough one, it's hard for me to pinpoint where a lot of these "ideas" come from. I can think back to when home alone came out and i was always super super impressed with Kevin's diagram of how he'd defeat Harry and Marv and how well it ended up working. The schematics for that "booby trap" was awesome. In college i did some studies of like old maps and schematics and those types of diagrams and tried making it a series of work. I think only one of those paintings still exists.
Whats your earliest childhood memory of drawing?
Well, this isnt necessarily a memory of mine, but my parents have this drawing from when i was in preschool where all the kids were told to draw their families. My final product was a happy colorful sticked arm and leg family brightly colored. My dad stood tall and proud in a pair of rainbow pants in front of the house with my mom and turquoise dog. Then there was my older sister (5 years older).. drawn from head to toe with a black crayon and resembled a spider. To this day nobody knows why.
Scholastically, are there any particular teachers or Professors who intrigued you the most or helped shaped your eye in a real direct way?
Three come to mind. My high school art teacher, Linda Johnson was probably the reason for any understanding i have of art basics and why to do art in the first place. Without here i probably would have ever picked up a brush in my life. She set the ground work my Junior year of high school and i haven't really missed a beat since.
At West Chester my 1st year drawing teacher was really supportive of my work. I would show her lots of work i did outside of the classroom and she encouraged me to continue doing art for me. And lastly, my painting teacher Henry. We sort of butted heads at first. I remember having him for a drawing class and at the end of the semester you go back to the classroom to pick up your portfolio and your grade is in there, he gave me a sorta low grade which i'm sure i deserved and attached he wrote in huge letters "YOU NEED TO START TAKING THIS MORE SERIOUSLY" With words underlined and shit. Haha, after that i had 4 painting classes in a row with him. Once i started doing whatever i wanted and really doing a lot of new work i would constantly show him and ask for his input. I guess at some point we met in the middle and he ended up giving me some great advice artist to artist.
What kind of stuff/themes are you currently working on right now.
Right now i'm exploring EVERYTHING. For a while i was slacking pretty hard. I got a few things done over the summer, had a really slow fall and spent december preparing to move into a new house. I'm finally settled in Philadelphia and i've noticed a huge improvement in productivity and motivation.
I'm working on 2 series right now which may or may not end up intersecting. One is all highly detailed portraits on paper and the other is wood cut custom to the shape of a cigarette pack that i hand painted to look like the real thing. They're imperfect, like you can tell they're hand painted. From a distance they're kind of convincing just because you're so used to seeing the fonts and logos so often. I'm hoping the series will represent individuality and personal preference. My working title currently is "What's your brand?" Right now they're still incomplete thoughts. I've always focused on detail, but lately i've really been trying to step it up.
You skateboard right? Does skating influence your art in any way?
Yeah, i've been skating for almost 11 years but definitely plateaued 8 years ago. There's a lot of parallel aspects in skating and art. In my art it's more about the places i've gone because of skateboarding, the other side of the grocery store, abandoned places, all kinds of cutty shit. That's probably where i've pulled a lot of idea.
Speak a little on the West Collection. Does working for an art collection and an artist influence your personal art?
It does by keeping me on point. At first it was like an overload. I was worried it would hurt me to see all this new stuff at once. I kind of used to keep a blind eye to what was going on, allowing my ignorance to keep me from intentionally "biting". But now it helps me see the current art world more broadly. How artists are progressing. Knowing what galleries are doing is helpful too. Working with Lee (Stoetzel) in his studio has been a great learning experience, almost on a non-art tip. I've learned so much about tools and woodworking with him, also work ethic. I really respect for him for holding it down with work, family and making new art all at once. Being around artists all day keeps me from losing focus and slipping out. It's like skateboarding kinda, you see what your friends learned last week and you're jealous so you try to come back with a doper different trick that they can't do. It's totally like skating, at least the part that you never really talk about.
Are you excited to be in Philly?
Yeah man, i'm happier to be out of West Chester, i thought i was stuck. But i'm super happy to have changed scenery. Thrilled to be able to have more imediate access to city stuff. Right now i'm just in such awe of having a bedroom and workspace separate of each other that i hardly leave the house.
How many bikes have you crashed?
A bunch when i was little and my Bottecchia 4 times. The last time was the nail in the coffin. I ran into a car on Gerard and Drew says i got 10 feet of air. he was stoked.
Any upcoming travel plans?
Going to California at the end of February for work, but i'll have 3 or so free days in San Francisco i'm looking forward to.
Thanks John. To contact John Slaby you can email him at email@example.com or visit the West collection website at www.westcollection.org