“People kind of grabbed onto my work when I really didn’t know what I was doing, so in the public’s eye you see my work kind of evolve and grow from a very infant stage to where it’s starting to mature now and I’m just excited to see where it’s going to be 5, 6, 20 years from now, hopefully.”
We’re excited too. At the end of October, Nothing Too Fancy’s Print Shop got a bit of a makeover in the form of a brand new original mural by our friend and incredible artist John Paul O’Grodnick, aka JPO. I sat down with JPO to learn how he went from working as an electrician to live painting at GAP’s flagship store in the span of a mere few years, and what the evolution of his career looks like between the painting of two murals on a print shop in little ol’ Knoxville.
Artist JPO & Nothing Too Fancy owner Dustin Burnett stand in front of the new original mural painted by JPO at the Nothing Too Fancy print shop.
Hailing originally from Bridgeport, CT, JPO moved around his home state quite a bit before making the bigger move to Knoxville in 2006, where our story starts. He met future Nothing Too Fancy owners Dustin and Lisa Burnett when they all worked together for a music events business based in Knoxville. Dustin and JPO hit it off over a mutual love of music from the Grateful Dead and Umphrey's McGee and thus, a beautiful friendship blossomed.
JPO cites 2013 as the year his artist career began, but he has certainly worn his fair share of hats before finding success in the art world. Rather than art school, he attended a technical school and worked as an electrician for 15 years - project managing, doing foreman work. Then, he broke his foot.
“I was out of work for awhile and I picked up some paints and some canvas again and put it out there. My friend on Facebook said ‘oh John that’s pretty good, you should show your work!’ So I answered an ad on Craigslist for a pop-up show in New York. It was a pay to play kinda thing, so I think I paid $100 to show at that one. From there I just networked and met some really awesome and supportive artists that have been in the game for a long time that I’m still friends with to this day from meeting them at that first show. It kind of snowballed. Doing something you love and trying to keep that hustle going, you know? Constantly your mind is going on projects you can do, collaborations you can do and just getting exposure out there in the beginning was the most important thing. Then out of nowhere I just started getting emails from brands and it’s weird - on social media, you don’t know who’s looking at your work. I think the biggest thing in the beginning of my career in 2014 was that GAP hit me up. It was literally 2am, I get this email that wakes me up out of a dead sleep. They wanted to know if I was interested in doing some limited edition hand painted jeans, and I was like - ‘uh, yeah.’ I got interviewed on the news for it in NY and that kind of catapulted me a bit. I started staying busy.”
For the GAP collaboration, JPO hand painted ten pairs of jeans and then did a live painting event for the launch at the GAP flagship store. After a few more projects with GAP, JPO worked his way into some other high-profile brand collaborations: “I worked with Puma recently, and I was on MTV which was really cool. It was a childhood dream but also I was scared sh*tless, you know?” he laughs. He’s also worked on projects with Lululemon, The Grammy’s, Saks 5th Ave, and Maxim Magazine - “snowballed,” indeed.
Whether you’re an artist yourself or you wouldn’t know spray paint from oil paint, you’re likely to notice JPO’s signature use of color before anything else in his work. Even though the first mural he painted on our print shop door and this most recent one showcase a style evolution in many ways, the rainbow bright color scheme remains.
JPO's first NTF Print Shop mural, painted in 2016
Our new JPO mural, painted 2019
“I like bold contrast, looking at a piece and thinking ‘I think this could use a little more contrast here, what color will contrast that color?’ A lot of people are pushed out of their comfort zone by a lot of color, but for me it’s the opposite. Staying in one color palette pushes me. When I did the windows at Saks 5th Ave, they wanted my work, but only in pinks. I was like ‘what?! You’re crazy dude!’ but it worked and it was great. It makes you rethink everything.”
Though he loves his bold colors, JPO isn’t one to shy away from a challenge, and embraces opportunity for new types of projects and the chance to dip into a different medium.
“I love the versatility of my work. I can paint on pretty much anything, my style would work on anything that can take the paint. So I don’t say no too often to projects… I’m flexible and I like challenging myself because I get bored really easily. No isn’t used in my vocabulary very often. You have to keep as many irons in the fire as possible because a lot of them don’t strike.”
To go from being an electrician with a broken foot painting in his living room to a confident working artist partnering with largely influential (not to mention international) brands in the span of a few years sounds all but impossible, everything has to start somewhere. I asked JPO about his childhood relationship to art, and if some seed of this work had started way back when.
“I was always drawing when I was a kid. My dad saved some of my drawings from when I was young and it’s cool because you can actually see from my childhood drawings what I do here now. I don’t plan anything so it’s all kind of subconsciously done, it’s mostly color work - I try to play off of each color and just take it step by step. When you’re dwelling in that subconscious, there’s no time there I feel like. So you can pull from anywhere in the timeline of your life, unknowingly anyway.”
JPO references the role of the subconscious frequently as he explains his process - pre-planning is not a step in that process, rather he goes to a more reflective and introspective place as he works on a piece.
“I like to think of myself as a spiritual person, and it’s a work in progress but my meditation does come into play with my work a lot. My meditation comes from my yearning for knowledge and searching within and I think that’s the core of it all. In life, everybody looks outward for answers when everything is already within you and through meditation you find that source, and once you find that source it’s a never ending reservoir of inspiration, of love, of passion, of all the feelings you want in life and you learn to understand that ups and downs aren’t really ups and downs, they’re just learning periods and once you get that the easier life is to ride...I have so much to learn and I always combat in my mind about linear and non-linear time but meditation brings you back and makes you focus on the present moment, where nothing exists but right now and that’s inspirational for me. That’s where my work comes from, on the spot with no sketching or pre-planning, that doesn’t work for me. My work just comes free-flowing and just happens -now- and sometimes I don’t even realize that I’ve done it. I force myself to turn around and walk, and look at a piece from a distance for the first time when I feel it’s done and it’s always a wow for me, and that’s how life is for me, you should have those wow moments as often as possible.”
In 2015, JPO went to dinner with some friends one evening in Brooklyn, and that dinner became another “wow moment” within his career: the birth of SOLD magazine, an ongoing project with fellow artistsGreg Frederick & BD White.
“I wanted to create something really cool, a free, print-only magazine that promotes artists that need to be promoted outside of the art world. Greg had a background in magazine work and it’s so nice to be around creatives that want to do cool things. You have so many ideas as a creative and most of them never see the light of day because you don’t put the energy behind them or you don’t have the support around you to refine the idea but at that time I really did, the universe lined everything up for me and for us. The first issue we did was all women artists, we called it ‘Queens of Art’. I like curating, so that was my job. I feel like there was a lot of cool innovative stuff going on in that first issue. We did this launch party for and we didn’t know what to expect, but we had the full support of the art world. It was the dead of winter in New York City and there was a line down the street to get into the launch party, it was crazy. We had an art show with about 50 artists, a liquor sponsor, DJ, live body painting, and didn’t make a dime for the next issue after venue fees and all that. You live and you learn.”
In 2017, JPO and team realized it was time to “keep up with the times” and take things online for SOLD. “I opened the doors to every photographer, writer, videographer I knew in the street art world that I thought would be good to bring aboard to relaunch the brand. Right now we have a team of about 15 and we’ve got contributors around the states and around the world, which is really cool. We started a podcast, we’ve interviewed so many awesome artists. It’s getting bigger and better and I love watching it, it’s been like watching your child grow, it’s so much bigger now.”
Ultimately, something that JPO iterated more than anything in our short time together for this interview was that everything so far has been a journey and he’s looking forward to seeing where it goes next, as if his process for a painting is much the same as his process for his career and his life - always staying open to the next thing, boldly staring every challenge in the face, even if it limits him to shades of pink. We want to say a huge congratulations to JPO on all the cool projects he has going on and coming up as he finishes out 2019 in Miami at Art Basel, and THANK YOU for our beautiful print shop mural, it makes coming to work every morning way more colorful and bright. We can’t wait to see what he does next.
You can find JPO and his work online @jpoart on instagram, or at jpoart.com. You can find SOLD magazine at soldmagny.com.
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BLOG AND PHOTOS BY SHELBY SPARKS OF NOTHING TOO FANCY, TIME LAPSE VIDEO AND EDITING BY DUSTIN BURNETT.