Cue the farewell songs — one of our own is packing up his art supplies and heading west. Jonathan McAfee, Herron painting graduate and mastermind behind the Vonnegut portraits last summer, has been in Indy for the last five years. Now he is moving to Denver. In the midst of searching for a place to live, packing and putting the final touches on his last show, McAfee found the time to sit down and chat with me in his studio basement.
NUVO: What kind of challenges are you looking for in this move?
Jonathan McAfee: It's going to be starting from scratch out there. I don't have the network like I have worked so hard to build here. ... That's part of the reason I have been working so hard on this body of work. Because I don't know what my studio situation is going to be like out there so I want to bring as much strong work with me as possible to show right when I get there.
NUVO: What has your experience been like working in the art scene here?
McAfee: It's been positive. I think Indy has a pretty vibrant art scene. I think that if you are willing to ask for things then people usually are pretty receptive. ... The scene here is improving in the sense that younger people are purchasing original artwork; where before I think that maybe people my age or younger would be a little more intimidated by making a big purchase. But fortunately art in Indianapolis is relatively affordable. And that's another thing, it seems that in Denver prices are higher but people maybe value the price of expensive art more than they do here. Indianapolis I think is encouraging because, for the most part, artists, musicians, creative types want to see one another excel and succeed. There are a lot of great things happening right now. So I am leaving at a bittersweet time.
NUVO: What was the change that you witnessed being here for the last five years?
McAfee: For me personally, I have been able to focus all of my time on my art. I left my full time job at a marketing agency downtown in January of this year to focus solely on a career as an artists full time. ... That's not really something that Herron teaches you. You don't really graduate from Herron feeling equipped to know how to manage an art career and how to be a professional artist. And how I have seen it change in the city and as a scene, I think there are more and more opportunities. For instance, you will see more public art than in years past. ... It seems if you want to do something great here there are opportunities to do it.
NUVO: Tell me about this body of work.
McAfee: This body is focusing again on portraits, ... [faces are] something I have been interested in for about a year or two now. ... So this body of work is a collection of 16 paintings all done this year, and all done since early this year. Eight of them were done exclusively for this show. So you got the four local hip-hop musicians: John Stamps, Oreo Jones, Grey Granite and Sirius Blvck who are four members of ... Ghost Gun. They will be performing at Chreece. ... I have been watching the local Indy music scene take off. And I have been fascinated with hip-hop culture anyway, in my own personal life, that's a lot of the music I am listening to when I am down here painting (see playlist below). ... There is something a little more intimate about painting someone you know or that other people know locally and recognize. That has been a rewarding part of this process. ... I am really proud of this work. With each body of paintings I feel like I can see myself improving, but this is one I really stand behind because I am really figuring some things out with how I apply my paint. I am doing things differently like I am still using brushes but I am also using putty knives to move the paint around. So it has more texture than some of my paintings and has more emotion and more expression.
NUVO: What made you decide to focus on local musicians?
McAfee: Because I think they inspire me. They have a certain aesthetic to them. ... I have enjoyed painting celebrities and iconic people but I am kind of over it right now. I want to focus on less recognizable people that I believe will some day be iconic. In this way I am capturing their – not legacy – but their, well, it's snapshot in time. Who knows what these guys are going to go on to do. I feel like I am capturing them right when things are getting exciting.
Jonathan also gave this farewell statement:
"I am leaving Indy with so many exciting things happening all around this city. It feels good knowing that my departure is more for a change of scenery and for new opportunities rather than running away from something here. Indy has always been my home and will always play a special role in my life."