Artist spotlight: John Hornsby
What inspired you to become an artist?
I was always the artistic kid in my social groups and school as I was growing up. So it was one of my natural talents that my family helped foster by getting me private lessons and encouraging my pursuit of it. I grew up watching Bob Ross and Commander Mark. People would always see me drawing and ask if I was an artist and for the longest time, I did not feel like I could claim that. I would say “I just like to draw.” In high school I had a great art teacher named Jacque Seaborn who helped nurture my love with the process of making art, learning to see, and being in communion with a creative force bigger than me. The magic of creating something out of bits and pieces and imagination has always had a hold on me. I was also rebellious and liked being able to explore weirdness and break rules in a relatively harmless way. I was initially inspired by the impressionists, expressionists, surrealists, old printmakers, album art, and comic books.
How does your personal history relate or show up in the art you produce?
It has been a combination of things. I did not have the happiest childhood because of my parents separating when I was young. There was plenty of love but also a lot of conflict between us all. I was an only child until age 16, so I had to entertain myself a lot in pre-internet days. There was a combination of escapism and exercising control over something while processing my experience and seeking validation. I am 46 now so that was all a long time ago and that’s not entirely where I’m at now, but that’s the root of it.
I grew up in two very different households one very patriarchal, evangelical, and “traditional” meaning: the white, cis-male-dominated, strict religious lifestyle steeped in the rejection of “worldly things”. I wasn’t allowed to listen to popular music or go dancing. A belief system including things like wives should submit to their husbands, homosexuality is a sin, we live in a world of spiritual warfare, going to church 3-4 times a week where they spoke in tongues and that sort of thing. Then my other childhood was an environment full of smoking, drinking, cussing, pro-military flag-waving, pro-gun and featured all the more adult and popular secular media that I was not allowed in my other house. In both, there were different versions of white supremacy culture at play that they wouldn’t see as such or admit to even now, but I realize that is the water I’ve been swimming in.
So I had a dual life that was very challenging but also extremely formative in that I realized that my two different values models couldn’t both be all correct but could both be somewhat wrong. So I’ve built my own value system taking the things that resonated with me and rejecting the others. For me, faith is doubt, certainty is misleading. I do not consider myself Christian at all. But I feel my values are more aligned with the teachings of Christ than what commonly passes for Christianity today. Just like I don’t consider myself to have a strong patriotic American sense of identity but I feel like my commitment to realizing our claimed ideals is more patriotic than what commonly passes for patriotism today.
Lately, I’ve started doing some portraits as part of my processing of our ongoing national racial tragedy, to both celebrate the good and acknowledge injustice. I do not shy away from making cracks in that shell of white fragility I come from.
What do you think are the most important characteristics of your art?
A sense of flow, connectedness, and capturing a feeling of curiosity. I wouldn’t say most of my artistic work is highly symbolic of anything. I like to do illustrative portraits, landscapes, lettering, and geometric art. But I have been using my art for reinforcing some of my actions for progressive causes, candidates, and inspirational people and ideas. For me, it’s all interconnected even if it’s not visible on the surface.
What is the main thing you want your art to communicate?
To break down dualistic and binary thinking that underpins “othering”. How can we manifest accepting ourselves, our connection to everything, and by extension to those whom we consider as others? This should not be confused with positive thinking, inspirational quote memes or “love and light” that is often invoked to spiritual bypass harsh realities or accountability. It’s more shadow work, facing fear with open eyes, and maintaining hope in the face of adversity. And really some of it is just silly, fun, and whimsical too.
My geometric art is mainly a meditative practice and coping skill. It points to interconnectedness as a fundamental quality of existence. That’s both a metaphor and a scientific reality. One can take that as deeply as they care to from the micro to the macro.
What makes your process and approach different from that of other artists?
I have a few personal styles that have been completely influenced by emulating people more talented and smarter than me. I follow the art and design principles I’ve been taught, bend and break them as I see fit, and cross-pollinate my life and world events into my creative pursuits. I work hard to stay curious and open and to keep a sense of humor and sarcasm. I refuse to commit to one style because I love variety and novelty. I’ve always shied away from labels or tying my identity to any one thing. I do many different things. Art is just one of them and probably not the most important. Still, life would not have as much meaning without it.