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Exit Interview: ABN Chats With John

July 2, 2010

(c) Bravo

In the last “Work of Art” episode, the judges were less than impressed with some artists’ supposedly shocking pieces. Ultimately, John Parot was eliminated for playing it too safe, along with Nao Bustamante (click here to read ABN’s exit interview with Nao).  In a conversation with ABN, John shares his thoughts on the judging process and how it felt to be sent home just one week after winning the book cover challenge.

John is currently an art studio manager in Los Angeles, and he has obtained commissions for T-shirt designs, gallery logos, record labels, and most notably, to create a piece of original artwork for the rooftop of a Mini Cooper to be auctioned off for charity. He has shown his work in over 40 group exhibitions and in 10 solo exhibitions, including a solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He seeks to integrate the gay community as a theme in much of his work and experiments with the use of color and pattern through combination of material. John is presently working on a solo show for the Western Exhibitions gallery in Chicago.

-Interview by Catherine Klene, ABN Editor
ABN: The challenge was to make a piece that shocked the judges.  What did you think of the challenge and were you shocked by any of the pieces?

John: The judges asked us to make something shocking this challenge.  I didn’t really like this challenge at all because I think in this day and age, it is too difficult to shock our viewers. And a lot of artists I know, established and up-and-coming, don’t go to the gallery and sit down behind a blank canvas and say, “I’m going to shock my viewer.”  It’s unnatural to shock on command.  That’s what was going through my head when I received the challenge. I think all the artists struggled with the challenge, and I didn’t think anybody had a particularly strong piece.

My tactic was to try and make a cliché shocking image and make it a little poignant and connect it with a story to give it multiple layers. That’s how my piece came about. I took a rift off the classic Greek myth, Narcissus, and kind of updated it to modern times.  Instead of staring at his reflection for all eternity and forgetting about his lover and family, I made my Narcissus a gay man who is endlessly performing auto-fellacio to the point where his friends and family fade away. Which is kind of a true story, because I did have a friend I knew, I think I mentioned that in the show.

It may have been not shocking to the panel of judges, but I’m a gay man who just turned 40, and the panel was all completely straight and in their 50s, except for China, I don’t know how old she is.  So I felt like I had my work cut out for me.  I think we all felt like, “How are we going to shock this panel?”  I particularly had a difficult time with this challenge.

(c) Bravo

ABN: It did seem like it would be difficult to shock those particular individuals (Jerry Saltz, Andreas Serrano, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn), considering how much they have seen and done in the art world.

John:  Jerry Saltz has been covering art for the last 25 years.  He’s seen it all.  And Andreas Serrano?  How the hell are we going to shock him?  He changed the way America looked at artwork today and kind of seasoned the American art viewer with his arresting images.  He paved the way for us younger artists, what we could put, and he kind of said, “I did this before.  It’s not shocking to me.”  And I was like, “Of course it’s not shocking to you.  How could we shock you?  You’ve done it all in the 80s.”

I think Jerry said, “None of this artwork is shocking to me. None of it. You know, why didn’t somebody do a blank canvas?  That would shock us.”  Can you imagine if somebody put a blank sheet of paper on the wall?  We would have gotten killed by the press, viewers and possibly the judges for not doing anything, for not making any effort.  So it was sort of like a catch-22.  You have to play along with the game even though you know you’re going to lose.

ABN: Jerry Saltz said you should have taken a photograph of yourself instead of a painting for your piece.  Is that something you considered, and in hindsight, would you have gone that far?

John:  I think this is interesting because two judges mentioned that. Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn also mentioned that I should’ve done the image myself, as well as Jerry Saltz.  But if you watched the episode last night, Jerry Saltz major complaint of my work was that I defaulted to humor and gave a humorous interpretation of this act rather than a serious one.  And my question to him was, “If I took a picture of myself in this ridiculous pose, don’t you think that would have come across as more humorous just as much as the painting would?”  I think it would be hysterical if, being my nature and the awkwardness of me trying to get into this pose, I think it would be much more humorous and not disturbing.  So I did think of trying to get into the pose for like a minute, but I thought it would have been more powerful if I had the painting of it instead.

(c) Bravo

ABN: To go from winning to losing in one week surprised us.  What went through your mind during the critique and when you heard the judges’ decision, especially considering your victory last week?

John:  I was completely blown away.  I know Jaime and Erik had both been in the bottom two a couple of times.  Erik was in the bottom two twice, and I know Jaime Lynn was in the bottom two twice before.  I had just won a challenge.  My critique wasn’t as harsh as theirs were.  My critique was unfavorable, but it seems like Erik’s piece was completely a fail in all the judges’ eyes, and Jaime Lynn’s was a little less than effective and not convincing as a shocking piece.

So I was really shocked when I got kicked off, and I was sitting there wondering what happened, why the judges didn’t give me another chance.  I was like, “God, I misspelled that word.  Was that it? What put them over the edge?”  I know my piece wasn’t one of the more successful pieces, but I think it had some real oomph to it, and you could have a worthy discussion about it.  A million things go into you head. Maybe I didn’t defend my piece enough.  Maybe they just didn’t like me.  Maybe they thought oh, he won the challenge, let’s get rid of him, he won the challenge last week.  Let’s make this interesting.

It was a really hard thing to process because sometimes in life we go through these moments of being top of the world and in the next hour you’re in the depths of hell, and that’s kind of what I was feeling.  I thought, “This is one of those crazy life moments when one minute you’re super happy and the next you can’t believe that life works like that.”  And everyone has had that experience at one point, it’s just that I don’t know why I had to have mine on national television.

ABN:  I know when the editors at Art Business News discussed the show while we were watching, we said the thing that shocked us the most was the results as opposed to the pieces.

John:  And that was another thing.  I thought, this is a shocking episode.  We’re going to shock our one million viewers by sending someone who really didn’t need to go home. I thought was that a little producers’ trick to get you to watch the next episode?  So that was another thing I was thinking of.  They shocked everyone in the shocking episode.

ABN: A lot of our readers are artists, and they wanted to know, how do you promote yourself as an artist?

John: I’m fascinated by the art culture and the art world. I go to a lot of gallery openings, a lot of museum shows, and I like talking to people.  If there’s an artist that I truly admire, I’ll seek him out and I’ll make a point of talking to him. That’s worked for me in the past to develop a community of artist friends.  It’s not always getting in the gallery.  It’s not always sitting in the studio making your mind-blowing art.  Being an artist also has another job and it’s creating a community, going up to these artists that you totally admire and kind of taking that risk of chatting with them, going to the lectures, just being present in whatever art community your at. That’s kind of worked for me.

You know, I know artists who only go to their own art openings, and the rest of the time they toil away in their attic studio, and I think that to be a well-rounded artist, you have to really go out and explore the community and talk with other artists around you.  I think that creates a lot of buzz, you get invited to more shows, and you get a chance to meet more people, and you expose yourself to more artwork, more projects and so forth.

ABN:  Anything else about your work, thoughts on the show or anything else you haven’t had the opportunity to share?

John: I just want to point out that the artist’s career is very long. Being an artist, I feel like “Work of Art” was a great thing that I did.  I was incredibly happy that I won the book challenge. The art career is so long that this is just one stop in a lot of things. So yeah, it was shocking that I was kicked off, and I would have liked to have been on the show longer, but in the end, I got to work with Penguin and I made that beautiful book cover and that’s really important to me.

For me, I like the fact that my artwork lives within a gallery and collectors and has shown in museums, but then on the other side I really like the fact that Joe Public can go out to a Borders, buy a little piece of my artwork on a great book and have it on their bookshelf for a very long time.  To me, that’s a great reward.  That’s better than winning any shocking challenge. It kind of shocked me that my artwork is connected with this American masterpiece of writing.

I’m glad I went on the show.  All my friends wanted me to go on the show, but some of them said, “This is going to ruin your life,” and there were times when I had my doubts, but I’m definitely glad that I did it, and it was a great experience.

ABN: I thought the book cover was beautiful, and take a book cover over immunity, I suppose, right?

John: Yeah, in two weeks you can tell there was the artwork I enjoyed doing, and then the artwork I had to do.  You can tell that I’m really into the previous week’s artwork, not so much this shocking piece. But I tried my best, and that’s what you have to do.

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