First the basic introduction – Can you tell me who are you, what are you doing, where are coming from?
My name is John Whitlock. I’m an artist from Brooklyn, NY working primarily in collage, assemblage, and more recently, painting. I also run an on-again, off-again small-press publishing label called Specious Arts, provide art direction for a cassette label called Puremagnetik and contribute collage work to the New York Times.
Being one of the heavy-hitters of the collage game with your very recognizable work, how would you describe your style? And how quickly you found your ”style”?
First of all, thank you for saying that.
Despite my use of recognizable imagery, I think of my work as being firmly rooted in abstraction. A lot of the process is about trying to make order out of chaos. Although the end results may seem organized, things usually aren’t mapped out in advance. With collages, I tend to jump in somewhat haphazardly; maybe based on the color or texture of an image or a simple shape that my hand makes with the scissors. Things begin messy. There’s usually a point where I get frustrated and consumed with the composition before I find a rhythm and begin to work things out. With paintings, it’s really the exact same thing, although everything takes longer.
I’ve made collages my entire life, but the work I’ve been known for has been going on for probably the past 12 years. Aesthetically, things clicked for me pretty immediately in that time. I’ve had periods of deviation, but usually find myself back in the same relative sphere. I think it’s important to try new things, if you have a strong point of view, your sensibilities will usually guide you back to where you belong and you’ll have broadened your vocabulary along the way.
Can you describe your relationship to old paper as a working material?
I love old printed ephemera. I collect old magazines, books, comics, posters, illustrations, etc. so working with this stuff as source material allows me to interact with the things I love in a very direct way. It’s a way to give new life to otherwise forgotten material.
What’s the best part of the collaging process?
The feeling of satisfaction when you see the thing that you’ve been wrestling with begins to take shape.
And then, what’s the hardest part?
The feeling when you know something is overworked and you still haven’t found your way out of it.
Your artistic guilty pleasures?
Collecting. I recently realized that when I’m not making art regularly, my collecting habits get out of hand. Making art scratches that same compulsive itch in my brain, I guess.
Your works are very puzzle-like, so in your artworks, what are the most important things/elements to yourself?
Rhythm in the shapes, balance in the colors, the mystery in the imagery. There’s a feng shui-like harmony I‘m looking for with composition, hah.
How do your own artworks make you feel when you look them ready?
It depends. The stuff I struggled with the most usually gets shelved for a long time before I can look at it again in a positive light, but then becomes the stuff I’m the most proud of later. The stuff that came together quickly is usually like a sugar-high, it feels good right away, but the euphoria wears off quickly after that immediate rush.
“Collage is a grounding way of exercising my senses.”
What keeps you collaging? What excites you about it?
I like how immediate collage is. Even as I’m starting to focus more on painting, collage is a grounding way of exercising my senses. The paintings I’m making mimic my collage process, but there’s so much more time involved in reproducing photographic snippets with charcoal, or waiting for paint to dry. Mistakes in a painting can cost a day. With collage I can work extremely fast, and there are no consequences to mistakes.
If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?