February 5, 2019 Artist to Watch: Jonathan Mayers
Jonathan “rat de bois farouche” Mayers
On the power and importance of stories
Visual artist Jonathan Mayers lives and works steeped in the culture of Louisiana. His art, heavily focused on folklore and mythologies, often depicts creatures of the south like the rougarou, mud monster, and brineback. He has dedicated his life and studio practice to learning and preserving these stories, as well as the languages of the region including Louisiana French and the lesser known creole language of Kouri-Vini through his Mythologies Louisianaises project . He’s also passionate about the potential for our artists in the region and he’d like to see our resources grow.
Were you an artsy kid?
Oh mais yeah, when I was only a few months old when I made my first expressionistic “mural” on the wall next to my crib with what I found in my diaper… haha! A few years into my adolescence I was using acrylics, pastels, pencils, etc. to create paintings and drawings influenced by Monet, Rodrigue, Cartoons such as Dino-Riders, Ren & Stimpy, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marvel comics, Magic: The Gathering TM trading cards, and of course Japanese kaiju films (Godzilla!). Around 12-13, I had the privilege to create a large mural (in acrylic this time) of a tropical forest with cave, bats, and mudskippers in my parents’ home in collaboration with my Memaw (grandmother), art teachers including Lee Randall and Marcia Eisworth, plus other friends, and family. I also liked to build forts and bridges in the woods behind my house with friends, play archaeologist by digging in coulees and ditches, and create odd architectural structures using LEGOs – like a sound and audio shop where (LEGO) people could go buy subwoofers and other equipment to have installed in their vehicles… !
Where did you seek out your formal training in the arts?
I sought formal training in the School of Art at LSU here in Istrouma (Bâton-Rouge), where I earned my BFA degree in Painting and Drawing in fall of 2007. After that, I studied at the University of New Orleans, where I earned my MFA in spring of 2011. I’m grateful to have gone to both of these universities and am happy to have worked with and made great connections with some incredible people as a result.
When did your personal artwork start to take on narrative themes?
That I am unsure of. I remember pockets in time where I was interested in telling stories through imagery in my paintings – even when I was a teenager. Though, I guess in the context of my professional work, I’d say it began to develop in my years LSU. In my intaglio, wood block, and lithography print courses I made narrative images addressing themes like: working in restaurants, pollution and dystopian future, relationships, and alchemy. My paintings were directly influenced by the print work I was making, but also the images in Juxtapoz and Art in America magazines. I gave gritty representational painting a shot, then completely painted over one of my works whose original image was of a man removing a tattoo by cheese grater in the bathroom.
After that, I stuck to telling narratives through cartoonesque representational imagery. I took a few different stylistics routes over the years, creating minimalist silverpoint and acrylic works on canvas, painting on Magic cards, etc… all of which I’m glad I did, because it brought forth the creatures, monsters, landscapes, and sediment that you see in my narrative work today, which addresses themes of climate change, the environment, invasive vs. native species, the human narrative in nature, language, and culture.
What projects are you working on now? What gets you excited?
I’m currently working on my second solo show for Arthur Roger Gallery, which I began shortly after my first, L’Éparpillage, in spring 2017. Along with that, I’m working on a commission featuring the first cityscape I’ve painted in quite some time, my first book featuring mostly images of the work in L’Éparpillage, producing and editing digital content for a new franco- and créolophone online broadcaster called Télé-Louisiane, to name a few.
What gets me excited? Dancing and listening to Créole, Zydeco, or Cajun music. When it starts playin’, I get pretty pumped. It’s the steady groove, richness of emotion, and language that I find intriguing. As a Louisiana Creole myself, it speaks to me on a level that many may not understand. Hell, I can’t explain it – the music has made me laugh, cry, and live. I usually listen to it when I paint more often now than when I was younger. Other than that, French and Creole language projects, meeting people and hearing stories in those languages, traveling, collaborating, playing music, singing, monster and sci-fi films, breaking barriers of the racial construct, nature, going out in my pirogue, the occasional night of video games (gotta have a vice, right?). I also love seeing my family and friends succeed. Without them I wouldn’t have a support system, nor an awesome creative community to be a part of.
What do you think of the resources available for visual artists in the region?
If we’re sticking to just the Greater Baton Rouge Region, I think there are some good resources out there, such as artist exhibition opportunities like Baton Rouge Gallery’s Surreal Salon, Ephemeral Gallery’s 1-night shows, LSU Glassell Gallery’s Summer Invitational, Stabbed in the Art, Treasures of Pointe Coupée, teaching artist programs, plus workshop possibilities in creative spaces and museums. That said, I’m not sure there’s enough funding sources for individual artists or artists groups seeking to create meaningful cultural projects. In the past, I saw that much of the resources were for organizations so when I was applying for grants I had to use one as an umbrella. I didn’t end up being a recipient, but that’s ok. I’m happy to see organizations use the money wisely and on the same token, I’d love to see a balance: more artist residencies, funding for creative projects that can be used in an array of sectors (art, history, language, public, culture, etc.), and affordable studio spaces.
Looking toward Canada and France’s appreciation for the arts, I think paying artists to be artists, make work, and exhibit in museums, among other activities is very important. Just as other people have a job to make money, many of us artists’ “jobs” are our careers and we’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of hours in our craft. Also, one things to consider is that most if not everything we see around us was designed by an artist, artisan, engineer, or creative – and much of the time that’s taken for granted.
Recognizing the exhibition opportunities I mentioned above as well as the Walls Project, Arts Fest at BRCC, Arts Fest at Perkins Rowe, the Baton Rouge Arts Market, White Light Night, Tim’s Garage, plus similar events and spaces whose names escape me, I think we have a lot of ground covered. Gallery representation and sales in this area are great if your work compliments corporate spaces, simple yet beautiful interior design, and things of the like. Pour faire les choses autrement, I encourage all gallery entrepreneurs and interior designers, both seasoned and fresh, to consider artists who create progressive, provocative, pertinent artwork that addresses ideas and concepts of the contemporary world, yet remains an accent, a talking point, in a space. In my opinion, if a work only compliments a space, then it may also fade into that space, eventually being taken for granted. I want more for our local artists.
Perhaps another time we can talk more broadly about resources that span the South Louisiana/Gulf coast region, like the most amazing artist residency that I had the pleasure of attending last fall at A Studio in the Woods in New Orleans. They’re currently accepting applications for their Adaptations: Living with Change residency, so I encourage artists, musicians, and writers whose work addresses the environment, living with changes in our environment, nature, science, biology, to apply.
Where can people see your work online or in person?
Well, they can find my work online at www.jonathanmayers.com, in person at Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans and currently at Crevasse 22 Riverhouse in St. Bernard Parish, plus they can follow me on Instagram: @feral_opossum, Twitter: @jonathanmayers, and Facebook.
I’ll have one work, Une Journée calme au Lac Peigneur, which is the precursor to Cornes de Brouillasse venant du Lac Peigneur (Mythologies Louisianaises), in this month’s Stabbed in the Art.
Also, a segment featuring me and Clif St. Laurent discussing Mythologies Louisianaises is featured on this months’ Art Rocks! on Louisiana Public Broadcasting, Episode 615. For francophones, they can find an interview of me discussing my work on Charrer-Veiller, the new franco-louisianais podcast out of Lafayette. Plus, later this month Télé-Louisiane will be releasing the presentation of Mythologies Louisianaises that Clif and I gave at the American Council for Québec Studies Bienniel Conference 2018.