Photos by Jon Vogt
Two local colleges makes Denton the home to quite a few artists. Our hope, is that the many of them, good or bad, figure out a way to stay here and weave their talent into Denton culture. Enter Jon Vogt, an incredible print-maker from Iowa who earned his BFA in Printmaking from Iowa State University and his Professional Printer's Certification from the Tamarind Institute for Lithography in Albuquerque. He recently moved to Denton on the suggestion of a few friends (thanks Pan Ector dudes!) and has quickly made himself an invaluable part of the Denton arts community in his short time here. In addition, he's been simultaneously pursuing his masters at the University of North Texas. Read on to learn about his work, what influences him most, and his mad print skills.
Jon, what do you see as the biggest influence in your work?
The current influence in my work is music. I’ve lately been thinking of my work as musical compositions, asking myself what a visual image might sound like. Music has always been a passion of mine, whether playing or listening. I’ve played a handful of instruments over the years, starting with drums and most recently piano and a Moog synthesizer. Music has always been with me; I just never pursued it academically. I am hoping to learn animation next semester so that I can more literally bring music to my visual art.
How did you learn the printmaking processes that you employ?
Printmaking is very process oriented. In the beginning, I tried to learn as much as I could concerning the various techniques of printmaking. I attended the Southern Graphics Conference and the workshops offered in the summer at Frogman’s in Vermillion, South Dakota; these are events that I still attend today. I knew that two years of undergraduate focus would not be enough to prepare me for serious practice. In academia, you’re expected to develop your artistic concept along with exploring and perfecting your technique, which can be a lot to juggle. Tamarind was pleasant because I could work strictly on process and not have to worry about the content. Now in grad school, I’m still acquiring new modes of expression, but my artistic sensibilities have matured.
What drew you to printmaking over other mediums?
My undergraduate professor, April Katz, drew me to printmaking. There were a variety of studio areas I enjoyed and was able to choose from in my sophomore year at Iowa State. I connected most with April’s class and teaching style; it wasn’t about the work she was making. In fact, she never showed us any of her own work. She was invested in her students, and she gave me the right amount of criticism and encouragement to push me forward. I still look up to her today.
What is the first thing most people say when they see your work for the first time?
The initial response my work gets from most people is ‘That’s pretty’ or ‘I like the colors.’ These are really elementary things to say, but I’m flattered nonetheless. My work is very formal, and beauty is the message. If the work is pleasing, it serves its purpose. It’s powerful for someone to surrender and say ‘Yes, this is cool’, even if my personal relationship with the work goes deeper than that.
Walk us through your typical process of creating a print from conception to completion.
Each print is different, and the process changes with each new project. There is always the beginning stage of designing, whether it’s drawing with pencil or cutting out shapes of paper and arranging the pieces. From there a plan forms around what print processes I will use and in what order. I’m free to change the plan of execution at any step and alter the project as I see fit. Working in layers allows for this flexibility.
Why is the multiple so important to you?
The multiple is important as a tool, and I use it to achieve variation. With any layer, I can change the color from one print to the next or I can shift the placement of that layer on the paper to alter the image. I might also skip a layer on a particular print or print a layer more than once to achieve a different effect. In some cases, multiple prints can serve as modules to form a larger repeating pattern. This larger pattern can have visual changes and shifts in color from varying the printed layers on individual prints. It’s also nice to have extra prints and mistakes that can be cut up and rearranged as collage when the printing is done.
Can you discuss the relationship that your art has with contemporary craft? How do you feel that your work correlates with traditional, functional printmaking?
Printmaking has a diverse history and has been used in many ways: for production, reproduction, dispersal, fine art, low art, design, and advertisement. In academia, printmaking is employed as a creative medium for artists, and is also recognized as a technical skill set for collaborating with artists outside of printmaking. Printmaking occupies a strange territory, where it’s not readily accepted as craft, and it sometimes struggles to be viewed as high art. I personally identify myself as both an artist and a printmaker, viewing printmaking as a skill set. I don’t wish to limit my art making to print, but currently it’s my main mode of thinking creatively and expressing myself visually.
How do you overcome creative challenges?
The hardest part for me is beginning. I sometimes find myself thinking too much or forming a hypothetical plan of attack before anything has solidified. This can be burdensome. It usually takes committing myself to drawing a design. I have to get to the point where I decide this is what I’m doing. Once I get over that hump I have a better idea of how I want to work and what I want to achieve. From there on I typically feel confident in my abilities to work through problems and resolve an image.
How did you wind up in Denton?
I actually met some folks from Denton at Frogman’s Workshop in South Dakota, over two consecutive summers in 2008 and 2009. They all encouraged me to visit Denton, and I eventually came through during my move to Albuquerque. My program at Tamarind was either one or two years, and the deal with my Denton friends became that I would move to Denton if I didn’t make it to the second year; also I was invited to join their screen printing business that they had just started. A year later I found myself moving to Denton, and when I arrived I purchased my own press and began setting up a studio space in my garage. After settling in I realized that I wasn’t totally set on joining my friends at Pan Ector, and thankfully my decision didn’t create any hard feelings.
You’re a big part of the Hillcrest Hillfest event. What can you tell us about event’s history, as well as its future?
In early 2011 I joined a band called Goblins and played synth. By August, some of my band mates moved into my house on Hillcrest. At that time, I had already established my studio for printmaking in my garage. I was printing my own work, helping others print theirs, and creating collaborative works with friends. My band mates proposed to put on a day festival at the house. We had a huge back yard and a patio for music, and I figured we could also show artwork and make prints in the garage during the event. The first Hillfest that October got rained on and the bands played inside. It was a good turn out, with just enough people that it was comfortably packed inside and outside in the garage and carport. Josh Cinquemani and I held the second Hillfest the following spring and that time the weather cooperated. It was beautiful. The number of people had more than doubled and I was printing in the garage studio like mad. We were selling prints for cheap, and printing on personal items for a dollar. The whole event was better organized and ran smoothly, ending after sundown just as the cops showed up. I’ve since moved out of that house and in with my lady-friend, where my press now sits motionless, awaiting a break from school and the next Hillfest. The event will likely happen in the spring again after school lets out. Josh and I have talked about moving it to a different venue, but nothing is set in stone.