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Jonni Cheatwood | Studio Visit

Phoenix, AZ

March 2014


Jonni Cheatwood was born in Thousand Oaks, California but has spent the duration of his adulthood living and working in the Phoenix area. He received his BA from Arizona State University, where he picked up painting. The majority of Jonni's thought process is dedicated to deconstruction, making mistakes, and coming alive through chance and the abstract. He has chosen to step into a seemingly destructive composition of layers, shape and lines, along with aggressive colors to relay parts of a story. Jonni is deeply interested in the process of creating an aesthetic piece and how one gets there; understanding the reception of art, objects, and how influences influence the work he makes. Cheatwood is also interested in how creativity cultivates hope, revival, and the restoration of what was nothing into something beautiful and pleasing. Cheatwood's work, at its core, is an interdisciplinary experimentation in urban subculture, composition, color, shape, and form through a variety of mixed media. Jonni and his wife, Amy, currently live in metro Phoenix, Arizona.


Why do you create?

I create to come alive. It's the one thing that I am passionate about and I feel like it's what I'm supposed to do, plain and simple. I can't imagine living my life without making art.

Tell us a little bit about what you're doing in your work now. 

Currently, I'm trying to mature, stretch, and grow as a creative. I get bored easily, I suppose. Personally, I don't want to go through my entire career as an artist pounding the same key. I realized this last year that I can get very comfortable making a certain type of art. If I'm being honest, sometimes I'm terrified that I will never meet my full potential as an artist so I'm taking the time now to sort out new mediums and styles to make my own. My studio has become a mess, and I love it. 

Did you have breakfast today?

Coffee, yeah. 

Which is your favorite quote?

"Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour. Do this despite fear. For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage, courage to risk rejection, ridicule and failure. As you follow the quest for stories told with meaning and beauty, study thoughtfully but write boldly. Then, like the hero of the fable, your dance will dazzle the world." Robert McKee said that.

What kind of medium are you using these days?

For now, photography, oils, oil sticks, oil pastels, screen printing ink, house paints, unprimed canvases, archival paper, and other stuff. 

When do you make your best work? 

I'm yet to figure this out. I can go to my studio any time of the day and feel like I'm making a good work, but I feel like when my work comes naturally or when there is no thought going into what I'm doing, it is something worth keeping around. I can't premeditate my work. I noticed that if I try really hard to make it work in the studio, it won't work. At all. It has to be organic and true. 

What is your favorite color?

Gold, probably. 

What is your favorite instrument?

Bass & drums, man. I actually grew up playing the trumpet, but there's something special about the cello. 

What do you think photography does to a moment or place?

To me, it's a visual reference of a moment that I'll never get back. I think I take my personal photos in an unconventional way. Say you see a really cool building, the general idea is to take a photo of the whole building right? I'm more interested in the cracks in the wall or any imperfections that building has. That's what I want to take a picture of. Now, I use a lot of photography in my work as it gives me a way to broaden my options when I approach a piece and I get to interact with a moment that is gone. 

What is your least favorite sound?

Metal scrapping against metal. It makes me cringe. 

What is the one thing you wouldn't eat?

I absolutely hate cherries. Even the smell of cherries gives me a headache. 

What is your biggest demon? 

I don't really know. I don't have any wild vices that hold me back, but I have a few insecurities.

What is your happy place? 

My studio has become my happy place. I can turn my music up as loud as I want, make as big of a mess as I want and it's my safe place. Yeah, it's my little safe haven.

What do you love most about traveling?

I feel free, like I'm living out a Kerouac story. I love the idea of walking around a city where you don't know anything and no one really knows you. When I first moved to Arizona, I would take the train back to Los Angeles for Christmas and different breaks from school and I would stare out of the window for the entire trip, just because I'm watching America go by and I get to see places that you can't in a car.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? 

"Power of Love" by Huey Lewis and the News. It's my wife's alarm. 

What puts you to sleep at night?

I'm a night processor, so it takes me a while to fall asleep. It's a waiting game. 

What would you draw a lover? 

Her portrait, then drip paint all over it. 

Whats your ideal life at 60?

I imagine I'll be a professor somewhere and a grandparent by then. Maybe live in rural America. I don't see retirement being a feasible option for me. I think I'll be a lot like John Baldessari. Grey-haired, wise, a creative that can look back over the past 30 years knowing that I made a good amount of work and met every milestone I've set for myself. It's hard to project my life at 60 when I don't know what 28 looks like yet. 

Where is your ideal life?

I grew up around the Los Angeles area and I would absolutely love to be back in LA full-time, but Phoenix is home. It's very comfortable here and I enjoy the pace. My wife is from a tiny town here and she absolutely loves the desert. We'll see. I know that there is more opportunity for an artist in Los Angeles and New York, but it was my own decision to stay here. 

What do you most admire in a man?

Everyone I've ever looked up to has had something noble to say and has been a gentleman and courageous. I strive for that. 

What do you most admire in a woman?

I've learned a lot about women in my first year of marriage. I specifically admire my wife's ability to be my teammate and my backbone at times. I admire a classy hard working woman, working to make moves. That takes courage to me.

Who is your favorite artist?

I have a few. Pollock, Makoto Fujimura, John Baldessari, Basquiat, Richter, Cy Twombly, Kevin Appel, Robert Motherwell, Jaybo Monk.

Why do you make art?

I first started making art because I needed a creative outlet in a platonic way. I had dropped out of school to work full-time and it was killing me, so I picked up painting, with no dream or expectations of is becoming a career path; fast forward four years and art has become so much of who I am. I'm not a very vocal person, kind of soft spoken, so having the ability to speak through art is my greatest form of communication. All the work I make is true and there is so much thought and conviction into everything I do and I'm trying to get people to look at things a little bit different with my work by reconfiguring pre-existing imagery and creating new realities.

Who is your hero?

Jesus, straight up. 


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