Those who have seen Jon MacNair’s work might be surprised to learn that he is greatly inspired by popular children’s literature, fairytales, and Renaissance art. The Portland based artist is well known for his fantastical, quirky ink drawings, often labeled as “dark”, and we don’t mean his monochromatic palette. “Some of my most distinct memories as a kid were of looking at picture books and being entranced by the images,” he says. “Even though most of these books were for kids, there were some pretty dark undertones in the illustrations that stuck with me.” These eventually led to his current body of work which turns classically ominous imagery on its head.
Though highly-stylized and simplistic, MacNair’s work today is informed by a never-ending list of influences, all with the intent of inspiring that same sense of enchantment he felt as a child. MacNair says that he most values the mystery in his art, which open the door for storytelling. His drawings of horned monsters and other mythological creatures share an aesthetic with their medieval predecessors but underneath their scary exteriors, are not so different from us: under starry night skies, they go sailing, take naps in trees, send each other letters, and have lots of misadventures together. It’s a wonderfully weird and whimsical world they live in.
MacNair shares: “All the characters were kind of a gradual evolution. They developed over a number of years and underwent a lot of changes. I don’t consider these creatures much different from terrestrial beings. They just live in a different environment… I think the fusion of humans and animals is actually a pretty logical one because we’re not as different as we think. We all have some inherent animal instincts somewhere deep down that strive for self-preservation.” Jon MacNair’s recent series “Apologue” is on view at Antler Gallery in Portland through May 24th.