Denver-based artist John Van Horn formed his style through trial and error. His characters are full of expression and the occasional male pattern baldness, for his own amusement. And although his subjects are inspired by little made up background stories in his mind, he encourages the viewer to read into the meaning on their own. John often presents melancholic imagery in contrast with a deliberate sense of humorous absurdity, poking fun at sorrow, adversity, and misfortune as a form of catharsis.
Words to live by?
Enjoy the little things.
Best pizza topping?
Last movie you watched?
I just rewatched the French film Delicatessen by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro a couple of days ago.
Eating a whole large pizza alone.
I don’t know how talented I am at it, but I do a lot of mechanical stuff as a hobby to take a break from art. The past few years I’ve been fixing up old mopeds and riding around the city a lot with friends.
How did you get your start as an artist?
I was always really into drawing growing up. When I got out of high school I really didn’t have much of a plan for myself. I tried going to art school, but I’m a terrible student so I decided it wasn’t worth the money and instead I rented an art studio space at a gallery that was north of downtown called Helikon. I pretty much did nothing but focus on improving as an artist with any free time I had. I worked in that studio space for about 7 years and probably completed a few hundred pieces. I learned a ton from trial and error, and from the other artists around me and eventually through repetition my style sort of just naturally formed.
How do you describe your style of art?
I would describe my style as a kind of lowbrow cartoonish form of character illustration. I try to make work that never takes itself too seriously. Even when the subject matter is a bit dark or almost sad, there is always a hint of humor or absurdity mixed in.
Tell us a little bit about your characters.
Mostly my characters are just oddball type people that I come up with in my sketching. I tend to gravitate towards older looking characters because it’s fun to make up little backstories for them in my head and wrinkles make for a good expressive face. I’ve always been fond of strange people, so I try to avoid creating characters that look too normal. For some reason most of my male characters are at some level of male pattern baldness, which I find aesthetically interesting and fun to draw.
What are the tools you work with the most?
About half of my work is painted with holbein acryla gouache. I usually paint on wood and a lot of my pieces are painted on pieces of wood I cut into shapes using a scroll saw. I use procreate a lot for sketching ideas because I find that it liberates me from feeling like I’m wasting paper when I scrap ideas 2 minutes in.
What is something that every artist should have?
I think it’s very important for artists to have other artists around them to bounce ideas off of and get inspired by. I really value the input of my artist friends, and it’s always exciting to see the things that they can come up with.
What time of day do you feel most creative?
Whenever I’m trying to go to sleep, usually.
What have been the pros and cons of being a professional artist?
Pros: For the most part you get to make your own schedule, being able to do what you love, and learning new things all the time.
Cons: Not always knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, having to be really disciplined in making yourself work when nobody is really there to tell you to.
What’s the best part of the Colorado art scene, in your opinion?
Pre Covid, I was much more involved with the Denver art scene, and sadly because of covid and the closing of my old studio space where I used to hang out with a ton of Denver artists, I have gotten out of the habit of interacting as much with the Denver art scene. One thing that was always great was hanging out with DIS (Denver Illustration Salon). We would meet regularly to have drinks and sketch, do life drawing sessions, and go out plein air painting. Hopefully in the near future that kind of thing can start back up again.
What’s next for you?
I am hoping to move a little more into mainly painting large scale murals going forward. I have been working the past couple years with another Denver artist named Kaitlin Ziesmer on collaborative murals and we are really hoping that we can land some more mural gigs around the city moving forward. This summer, we will be collaborating on a mural project in Anchorage, Alaska that we are both really looking forward to.