Q&A with Jonni Cheatwood
California native, Jonni is a visual artist working across different disciplines including painting, photography, graphic design, and fashion. Usher discovered Jonni’s artwork and featured his paintings in a 2014 video. As friends and artists, Jonni’s work inspires Usher, and it inspired this collection. We sat down with Jonni to learn more about him, what inspires him, and what this partnership means to him!
When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
I graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in both secondary education and film and media production, with the goal of being a teacher. When I was about 22 or so I dropped out of school to work full-time. Around that time, I picked up painting as a hobby, and that hobby turned into a passion. That passion turned into a few extra bucks, and eventually it just turned into a career.
What was your inspiration behind the collaboration with Yoobi and Usher?
I doodled a lot in class so a lot of the line drawings that I do now have to do with those doodles. It's just a fun way for me to stay busy, watch lines, and see everything form. It's almost childlike but I put some fine art spin to it. Same with the paint, same with the drippies. It looks like it's easy. It looks fun, but for me it's a way to see colors mesh and blend together.
Who is your hero?
I don’t think I have any heroes really, which I guess is kind of weird. I really try to not put anyone or anything on a pedestal. With that being said, I do have influencers, and more people that influence me as a man and an artist. From an artist’s perspective, some of my major influencers would be John Baldessari, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richter, Urs Fischer, Matt Maust and Edward Ruscha.
When you were a kid, what was your favorite thing about school?
My favorite thing about school…? I was a really, really shy kid so I didn’t absolutely love school, but I looked forward to field trips. It gave me the opportunity to see something new, experience new things, and see new places, so I’d have to say that was my favorite thing.
What was your least favorite thing about school?
Waking up early. Absolutely, number one, waking up.
How did you choose what medium you wanted to use for your artwork?
At first, I started with acrylics because it was more of a readily available medium. I came back to my hometown in California for Christmas around the same time that I wanted to start painting. It just so happened that my sister had become friends with a guy who worked at an art supply store. I got some paints from his store, brought them back to Arizona with me, and I guess the rest is history. Once I was hooked on creating art, my curiosity for other mediums grew and I wanted to learn things like oils, oil sticks, watercolor, photography, spray paints, and then using fabrics and other unexpected mediums. It was all trial and error for me.
What challenges do you face when you create your work?
I think the biggest challenge is always going to be myself. When you’re creative, your biggest enemy is you. You think, ‘Where do I begin? How do I start? Why am I staring at a canvas for 30 minutes?’ Trying to constantly make good work is not easy, so the biggest challenge is definitely me. I am my biggest critic.
What was your first big accomplishment as an artist?
I guess it would be the first time I showed my artwork anywhere. Since I have always been a shyer person, I’m a little apprehensive to being vulnerable to people. I had a friend that encouraged me to put my work up somewhere though, and I found a small gallery in Mesa, Arizona that let me show my art in a group show. It was a very Southwestern gallery that shows mainly Navajo art with paintings of things like the Grand Canyon…and then there was my geometrical, abstract painting. I think that was my biggest accomplishment – putting my work in a show or gallery. I’ve definitely had greater accomplishments but my first “show” is the one that stands out to me. After that, I just enjoy being an artist.
How were you first discovered by Usher?
How did Usher and I get together ... someone had posted some of my work. I made this series called The Grace series. It's just the self-portrait with paint dripping down my face. Someone had posted it on this website called FFFound, it's like F-F-F-O-U-N-D, or something like that. I actually never heard of the website, and I just got a bunch of text messages from friends saying, "Hey man, you're on FFFound." I'm like, "Cool. I don't know what FFFound is." Then, probably a month or so later I want to say I get an email from a creative company out here in LA and then through a couple more emails, a couple conversations and a phone call, I got in contact with a lady who was working with Usher at the time and she said that he saw some of my stuff, was really interested in it, and had a potential opportunity for me. It was mind blowing, and there was a lot of initial shock, but it was just so fun. Just to have someone of such an influence take a liking to your work, it's still unreal and it's still fun.
Do you have anything exciting in store after your YoobixUsher collaboration?
Oh I have a lot. I don’t know what all I can say yet, but we have some more really big collaborations coming up with Usher and other music artists. There’s also something involving fashion in Canada...so there will be a big unveiling for all of that soon.
What’s your favorite item and pattern from the collaboration?
It's the binder, the one with the blue drips with the green on it. I think that one is the truest to my style. Simple, yet complicated and bold.
What does this partnership mean to you?
Honestly, I’ll just say this, it is the most excited I’ve ever been for a collaboration. My background is in Secondary Education and it’s just really cool because I assumed that after college I would end up in a classroom as a teacher. So, I get to pursue my dream as an artist, but I also get to give back to students, and also inspire students to give back in a classroom. That’s the best part of being an artist for me because in some terms, art is very selfish and sometimes it feels like you’re doing it for yourself—working alone in a studio for a show or whatever it may be—but this is for the students, and trying to make the world a more beautiful place…this one just means the world to me.
Learn more about our partnership with Usher HERE.
Follow Jonni’s work by visiting www.jonnicheatwood.com and check out his world at:
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