Posted by Gregory Johnson on

What makes an artist's style? Why do we choose one way to work as opposed to another? The answer is, of course, influences. Literally every work of art you may come across exists because the artist was inspired by other artists. As Leo Kottke, (an American folk guitarist}, said, "Everything moves through something else".

When I was in high school art class, we were given an assignment to pick a famous artist, write a report about that artist, and create a work inspired by him or her. For whatever reason, I chose Vincent Van Gogh. Oh my. I don't remember what I wrote in the report, but I clearly remember how I was transported by his paintings. At the time the Cleveland Museum of Art had one of his paintings on display. I was able to get within 6 inches of it, (there were no guards to keep you away back then), and I could feel the passion pouring from it. The paint was thickly applied with a palette knife in a controlled, precise frenzy which filled me with wonder; I almost felt like he was right there. I did a "Starry Night" inspired painting for the project, and I still remember gushing on the paint, trying to match the passion. It was then, I think, that an understanding of my place in art began to take shape.

Vincent Van Gogh was a misunderstood genius, alcoholic and probably delusional. It's a shame that many people think of him cutting off his ear before they think of the genuinely deep and incredibly emotional paintings he so lovingly created. He sold one in his lifetime. How many people did he inspire over years, including a pimply, insecure and confused seventeen year old?

Over the years I had many influences that shaped my work, and not all visual artists: de Kooning, Picasso, Pollack, O'Keefe, Kottke, Joe Pass, Gary Larson, Kliban, (who inspired Larson), William Bouroughs, Kerouack, Hopper, and many more, too numerous to mention. As I sit here writing, I'm struck by how deep and miraculous human culture truly is, and continues to be. With the internet, which has changed the world, there has been a tsunami of art of all kinds, available to everyone.

But the main theme through all the artists that have inspired me is one thing: attitude. Van Gogh struggled to paint against all odds, sick and alone. Pollack took a leap of faith and courage to splash paint across the floor, I'm sure knowing that his work would be cut apart as nothing more than a drop cloth. Picasso hid his cubism paintings for years, for fear of the backlash. And so on.

Now I see more and more artists doing simply what they want, using the freedom of the internet to expose their work to many more people than was possible just twenty years ago, relishing in the possible. When I see these artists' work I wonder what their influences were. Pollack and Basquiat have obviously made a huge impact even to this day. Basquiat was self-taught, and Pollack dropped out of art school. Two perfect examples of the true essence of  art, which is that true art comes from the soul, and not always an art degree.

The art that I'm producing these days reflects dozens of influences, and to be honest, I'm not really sure exactly which ones combined to create what you see here. Everything moves through something else.



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