I recently met contemporary Canadian artist JOHNY DELUNA (below) whose colourful large acrylic-on-canvas paintings both inspire and intrigue me. He has a solo exhibition this summer (June 5-19) at the Art Square Gallery (opposite the AGO) in Toronto, and I wanted to give art fans an early heads-up so they do’t miss his extraordinary work. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Johny over a coffee, viewing his portfolio of mostly 3′ x 4′ canvases, each portraying deeper, darker stories beneath the exterior of bright, joyful images. Every masterwork has been thoroughly thought out, exploring abstract themes in Johny’s riotous palette of primary colours. I asked him a few questions about his work, his inspirations and the upcoming summer solo show….
You came late to painting professionally – what was your previous career focus and how did that inform your work? I always loved painting, but couldn’t make a living at it – I needed a decent job to pay the bills. The urge to paint never left me, but the responsibilities of looking after a family etc. took precedence. I didn’t return to painting for over 25 years. Whenever possible I took on projects that had a significant creative component. I worked on a wide variety of projects including scientific film production, script writing, advertising , marketing and digital product development. However the need to paint was always lurking close to the surface. I was always a closet painter.
I actually started painting as a child and worked actively on artistic experimentation and exploration until I was about 25. I was untrained so I tried all sorts of things – found materials, melted and painted plastics, wood burning (pyrography), wire sculptures, stone sculptures and acrylic paints. I mostly painted large semi-abstract canvases. I liked the expanses of color and motion.What has been the main inspiration for your style and colour palette? The main inspiration for my work is observing the human condition. I try to say things about, happiness, sadness confusion, hypocrisy, ignorance, cruelty, indifference and self delusion. I never put myself above these frailties – but I laugh at my own weaknesses more than I laugh at others. I try to embed my stories deep enough in the paintings so that each viewer can experience them in their own way.I was never a great admirer of pointillism; my style of painting was the result of experiments just to get myself painting again. I simply love bright colors – there are no bad ones. They are like kids in a park – laughing, running and playing together.
Upon initial viewing, your paintings are full of humour and lightness, however, behind each work there seems to be a darker meaning. Can you explain your artistic interpretations and share one such story from a particular painting? As I said, my paintings are mostly observations, parables or vignettes. These are the catalysts for the paintings. I try to present ideas obliquely. This gives me more freedom of expression and a wider visual lexicon to play with. It also gives the viewer more freedom of interpretation.
I try to entice the viewer into the work through color, energy, humor and curious or bizarre imagery. Behind all that is the story – the viewer is free to go as deep as they want. I hope everyone see’s the works differently.One of the more oblique works is about learning to accept people for who they are – not who we think they should be. My painting called I’d Love You If You Were Someone Else (below) for instance, is an argument between a table and a chair.You paint in a contemporary pointillism style in large format – how detailed and time-consuming is this compared with the bold brushstrokes of other artists? Each artist approaches their work differently. If an artist can create a stunning piece in ten minutes – that’s great. The piece works or it doesn’t no matter how long you labor over it. My paintings take about 3-5 weeks to complete. I don’t use a brush – I use a simple calligraphy pen and liquid ink. I can only work a few hours at a time – because I can’t focus any more.
Your upcoming solo exhibition is called Spontaneous Levitation – what inspired this title? Well – Spontaneous Levitation is a bit of a play on the word levity – humour. I hope the show feels fresh, free, and energizing.
At my last show, I met a painter from Brazil. He showed me some photos of his large canvases. They were wonderful. He had injured his shoulder badly in a car accident and had not painted for a number of years. He wandered around the show for about half an hour. On the way out he smiled and shook my hand…“Obrigado,” he said “your work makes me hungry to paint again”.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists looking to create a life as a professional painter? The only advice I can offer aspiring artists is
- Get a day job so you can afford to paint what you want.
- Try to be honest and express your inner voice – it’s scary but do it
- Open yourself to the unknown – the otherness
- Never give up.
I can’t wait to see Johny’s work in person, hanging on the walls of Art Square Gallery, 334 Dundas St West, Toronto (directly opp. the Art Gallery of Ontario) between June 5 – 19, 2017. I’ll be posting more details on the show closer to the date so stay tuned. In the interim, you can follow Johny on Twtr @johnydeluna or visit his website: www.johnydeluna.com