It’s All Waiting to Be Engaged: An Interview with Jon Stommel

What's Kraken Lackin'?
What's Kraken Lackin'?, watercolor and pencil on paper

Jon Stommel’s doodles, drawings, and paintings are familiar; they portray the simplicity of the everyday—the catch is the fantastical way Stommel alters this reality. This alteration is how Stommel takes our ordinary surroundings and makes the once ubiquitous seldom. It is almost as though reality can be tweaked slightly enough for us to remain knowledgeable of our surroundings, while leaving us scratching our heads as to what happened to images we thought we knew. His work can be a line simply repeated to make an image radiate, the exaggeration of a person’s facial features, or even a crowd of characters and creatures, but all of his work is created in a world of reverie. It is never a basic representation of the self, but rather a reflection on society and what can truly be seen if we look close enough.

Crowd Diddly
Crowd Diddly, acrylic on masonite

“My work really isn’t very autobiographical, and actually is probably more so a result of actively trying not to talk about myself with my work, if I can avoid it.”

Doodlin' Some Noodles
Doodlin' Some Noodles, latex on drywall

Associate Art Editor Krista Drummond spoke with Stommel about his creative process and the progression of his work.

On Creative Process:

Sometimes there is a very specific image that pops into my head, which I feel compelled to recreate through drawing or painting, but this happens pretty rarely. Most of the time, my process is more like letting my mind wander on a line. It’s similar to meandering through a familiar part of town, impulsively turning down alleyways and streets on a whim, just to gaze at all of the ”things” there are to gaze at. I sometimes start with a curve of some sort, making the first line on a completely clean surface, and that curve either gets repeated or becomes the edge of some sort of object or shape. From there, it’s pretty much all stream of consciousness. I try not to think too far ahead as to where the overall piece might go, and instead I translate the images, shapes, symbols, patterns, or characters that appear in my mind as I go along. My art is primarily based on faith in my own intuition, and it doesn’t always work out well, but when it does the result is something of truth to me.

Stommel’s work has shifted from canvas and smaller drawings to mural-sized images. Here’s what he has to say about the progression of his art.

Symmetrighoul, sharpie on paper
It Goes On
It Goes On, sharpie on paper

“I try to draw without actively thinking about it, preferring an attempt at drudging up thoughts, feelings, or expressions that can’t be logically sorted out or rationally expressed. I have the feeling that most of our thinking happens below the surface, in a dark place where all experience, hopes, fears, dreams, etc. flow together like a jumbled river. It is where the separation of ideas is not as important, and where everything actually interconnects in a way that is invisible to us through our usual waking thoughts. I try to draw and paint from that place.”

On Progression:

There was a show in New York in 2006 that I went to with a few friends that changed the way I thought about painting forever. It was in a five-story building on the corner of Wooster and Spring Street. Around forty-five “street artists” had painted, pasted, or created installations on the walls, floors, and ceilings of the five floors. They transformed the entire space into one large collaborative art piece. It was the most overwhelming work of art that I had ever experienced.

I think maybe it had something to do with the freedom with which I imagined these artists must have worked, to be able to spread out and create huge pieces that paired right up against one another and filled the entirety of the space. It looked like they could have gone on forever if they had had more walls to work with. It made me realize the whole world of man-made structures could essentially be considered a blank canvas. It’s all just waiting to be engaged.

Once I started trying some mural painting myself, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with it. Standing and facing a blank wall, knowing that you have the potential to alter it, to add something to it that might not ever exist otherwise, it really pulls you from a fundamental place deep inside. I also enjoy the feeling of rubbing paint onto a wall, as well as the surface texture of brick, wood, concrete, or drywall. The sturdiness and solidity of the wall as a canvas does something for me as an artist; I’m not sure how to put it into words.

Day Trip
Day Trip, latex on brick
Down to Clown
Down to Clown, micron on paper
Dangle, watercolor and pencil on paper

When Stommel describes his characters he says, “Every time I draw a character it is similar to all of the ones I’ve drawn before, but I never allow myself to draw a character exactly the same way twice.” This enthrallment in slight, yet detailed adaptation of each persona is what has allowed Stommel to create an obscure family of figures. His images of people are derived from real observations of the human configuration, but his playful twist on anatomy and colorful experimentation with form make them seem uncommon. This change makes it as though we do not also see these people sitting downtown on a park bench or walking down the street, but we do.

A Few More Wild Things
A Few More Wild Things, watercolor on paper

Stommel is now primarily focusing on mural art. Since he has described it as the most rewarding and freeing of the forms and surfaces, it is no surprise he has attempted to indulge fully in this method. Don’t be surprised if this fine-artist-turned-street-muralist has art painted against a wall in your own city. After all, Stommel has been influenced and inspired by other muralist artistes such as Os Gêmeos, Blu, Escif, and Maya Hayuk, and the walls his art is being brushed and laid upon expand in numbers every year.