How did you first get involved in art?
My grade school years were spent at a small parochial school in Litchfield, IL. There were eight grades in one small building with only three teachers; 1st and 2nd grade in one room, 3rd - 5th in another, and 6th - 8th in the third room. As a first grader, I was privy to the wonders of second grade in that first year. When I moved up in year two, which was to the other side of the room, I had heard it all and knew most of it. I found myself with time on my hands. For those who were able to finish work early, a pile of newsprint paper was provided in the back of the room to keep us busy. It was a Lutheran school – very ‘old school’ – and idle hands were discouraged. I drew a lot that year and found I had a knack for it. I stayed busy.
Do you have an academic history or any art-training?
Most of my family is in the medical field. I think it was always assumed that I would follow that path... in fact, I thought that myself. I had the fortunate opportunity to study one-on-one with our local art guy, a fellow named Harold Stokes. He had been an illustrator with International Paper and he taught me things I never would have picked up on my own. His forte was portraiture. I started studio sessions with him for once a week at age 15. I think we played with still lifes for maybe three weeks and then, thankfully, we jumped right into portraits. I’ve been hooked on figurative work ever since. After high school I went to a small liberal arts college with the intent of being a biologist. Two years of that was enough. I then made my way to Washington University to make something happen in the fine arts. I got my BFA in figure painting there. I went back to school in 2005 for a MFA at Fontbonne University.
Where & from whom do you draw inspiration?
I’m not sure that where I am now has anything to do with time spent in a school environment, but it was part of my life experiences so it can’t be discounted. Over the years I learned that an artist is the sum of his experiences; the information is out there and all one needs to do is go out to find it, throw it in the blender, and then drink it up. I look to painters who stretch the edges - those who are looking for a different vision. Robert Henri once said that there is no point in doing that which has already been done. I agree with that and, in my work, I am always asking myself if there is a point to what I am making. That’s the constant personal challenge. To be innovative, one needs to know what’s out there and then build upon it.
As for influences… well, Alex Kanevsky, Vincent Desiderio, Sophie Jodoin, Jenny Saville, Tony Scherman, Patrick Earl Hammie, Lucian Freud, for a start. It’s a long list. I’m also drawn to graphic novel artists such as Ashley Wood and William Wray. My work can only get better if I look to the top artists out there.
Tell me a little bit about your art-making process.
My figurative work relies almost exclusively on photography. I was a studio photographer for over 30 years before I went into painting full-time. That experience has influenced how I compose images and build narrative. I often do a photoshoot with only a nebulous idea as to where the subject may go. I do an edit and then run it through Photoshop to build my composition. I can stretch, distort, duplicate, crop, color adjust, etc. until I find an image that has my interest. Then I paint it. As the thing goes along, all sorts of changes happen that I can’t predict nor do I wish to. Surprises happen and it is my job to recognize and capitalize on those happy accidents. When the thing is near completion I can start looking at it as a viewer rather than as an artist. Then the questions arise. Why this? Why that? What does it mean? What’s the narrative? Does it have a secondary meaning? Does it have value and do I care to look at it? What’s the point?
How did you end up choosing your elongated canvas for your award-winning piece "Routine"?
"Routine" is painted on a hollow core door. Doors are flat, light weight, stable, and relatively inexpensive; I like them for their versatility. I built this image from several different photo images, composed in Photoshop. I like the forced awkward perspective and I was able to accomplish this by photo montage. I had painted this one as a vertical. Vertically, it was about the figure in the mirror. When turned horizontally, the emphasis moves away from the figure to give an equal balance to the other elements in the image. That shift in how we read an image says something about our sense of reality.
What are you currently working on?
I have been doing primarily plein air landscape work. Plein air gets me outdoors and, for the most part, it’s direct observation. Working from photographs is fine as far as it goes, but nothing is as valuable as having the subject right in front of you. Of course, there are challenges with changing light and changing weather - but who doesn’t love a challenge? I’m also working in collaboration with a dear friend from Louisville on a tarot deck. It has given me a venue to utilize images that have gone into the bins to collect dust. It’s great fun to breathe new life into these older paintings.
What is your connection with the Foundry Art Centre? How did you discover it?
I first saw the Foundry in the early days - the very early days. I got a call one day from an artist friend who was making a trip to St. Charles to pick up some flat-storage cabinets and I had a van. We got to this raw space - high ceilings, open on either end, and ringed by abandoned, cluttered offices on the mezzanine. It turned out to be the Foundry in transition. Over the years, I have had the good fortune to show work in the main gallery numerous times. I love the space! Work always shines in such an environment. In 2014, I had 45 feet of wall space all to myself to showcase work from that summer. It looked amazing!
How do you connect with people through your art? Why do you create art?
I make paintings and more paintings; so many paintings that storage space becomes an issue. The goal is to get these images out to the right people so sales can be made. It’s a business and to continue one needs to generate sales. I started doing art fairs several years ago. I’ve made some significant sales and have developed a client base but it has never been an end in itself. I have work in a few galleries and hope to expand on that in the near future. I am constantly working on developing and maintaining my brand. I think it is vitally important to have a presence in the marketplace that speaks to what one does and how one does it. Social media - like Facebook and Instagram - has been a good tool and has offered me a way to stay visible and relevant.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not painting or working on your art business?
Being an artist is not just a job - it’s an identity. I’m working all the time. My partner and life companion, Djuana Tucker, is also an artist and she has the same reality. We have had long discussions about how to relax and do something outside of making art. We have yet to come up with a good balance, but we’re working on it. We both like to go out to eat, spend time with close friends, and just spend quiet time together. We met through living history. Both of us have been re-enactors for a number of years (mid-18th century Nouvelle France) and we try to get out to events as time allows. It’s all good.
Lon is the Going Solo Show award winner from the FAC's current exhibition, Humankind. View more of Lon's work on his website and in the Foundry Art Centre's galleries through Friday, August 5, 2016. Be sure to like his page on Facebook & follow him on Instagram to see what he's working on.
Article by Jillian Schoettle.