I became aware of John MacConnell's Instagram account this summer and was quickly hooked (flip through the slideshow attached to this post and you'll understand why). I was finally able to meet with MacConnell recently and we discussed how he finds his volunteers and the importance of community to his work.
Phillip M. Miner (PM): I became aware of you through a t-shirt a friend was wearing.
John MacConnell (JM): Really? That's awesome. I opened my online store in 2013. I was just selling paintings and drawings. I became aware of these t-shirt and pillow printing services and for fun I mocked some up and posted them on Instagram. I got so much positive feedback I was like, well, I guess I have to do this.
I never intended for them to be such a great marketing tool, but they were. A lot of people blogged about them and they ended up in some magazines. It's great that people find my art through these crazy t-shirts, but buy my art instead.
PM: You draw and paint so many gorgeous men. How do you find your models?
JM: Most of them find me through Instagram, which is great. I have the sexiest followers in the world [laughs]. Instagram really is a community. My followers seem to be as interested in me as a person as the art I'm producing. I think that's why I get so many volunteers. There's a relationship there.
I'm lucky. I have photographer friends who have to reach out for new models, but people reach out to me. I'm kind of shy, so I have no idea how I'd approach guys to take their clothes off for me.
PM: So you're work is shaped by the volunteers you get.
JM: Absolutely. Believe it or not, I've never gotten a female volunteer. But, at this point, my work, these classic male nudes, are the work I want to be doing.
I want to stay true to my roots and work with my fan base, so I'm going to stick to this body type before I throw everyone a curveball.
PM: True to your roots?
JM: [Laughs] Growing up, I was this nerdy kid who loved comic books and loved drawing super heroes. That's how I got into art.
PM: [Laughs] So your work really hasn't changed.
JM: Not at all!
PM: Tell me more about these volunteers.
JM: It's great working with people that are fans of my work. Everyone is always really excited to pose and see how they're translated into my style. Their positive energy is great to be around. I have a few different types of people who volunteer, though. Some are big fans or art lovers and are excited by the prospect of becoming art, some guys are exhibitionists and love showing off, and some of them just want to sleep with me [Laughs].
PM: Your work never shows men erect. If guys are coming over thinking they're going to get laid...well, what do you do about their boners?
JM: It does happen, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose. I don't want to be making erotic art. Nothing against it, it's just not what I want to be making. I give myself 21 minutes for a watercolor. So, if they are excited at the beginning of the pose, they probably aren't by the end. I wait them out [Laughs]. It's intimate. I work from home. I make people lay on my bed--that's where most, um, problems arise. I've become especially good at changing the subject to something not sexy.
PM: For the readers at home, we're sitting in the room where John draws his models and it really is an intimate space.
JM: It is! I used to borrow a great studio space to work, but it's no longer available. I had to get rid of my desk because with it in my room the models had to stand on my bed. Then I cleared a space on my wall so they could lean against it if they wanted to, but now I'm working on these life-sized drawings and need that space, so they can't lean anymore.
I love working from home but I'd love to have a studio. Please put that in there. John MacConnell is looking for benefactors. [Laughs]
PM: Let it be known Phillip Miner is also looking for benefactors [laughs]. It sounds like you have these great connections with your subjects. Are you part of a greater art community?
JM: Beyond my amazingly talented friends, I actually belong to a couple drawing groups. They're great. Artists get to socialize, network and, most importantly, get inspired by other people's work. Sometimes you learn new techniques from watching other artists. You also get informed critiques.
I'm a member of the Leslie Lohman Museum. They have a drawing group on Wednesdays. A friend of mine, Mark Beard has a private group that I attend. He's been hosting it for 15 years with his friends. He gets beautiful models and he has a model stand and professional lighting, so it's great. I used to go to a drawing group in Fire Island called the Pines Nude Drawing Group, but that's when I wasn't drawing regularly in the city. I still go here and there, but now when I go out there, I'm on vacation.
PM: I love Fire Island.
JM: This will be my fifth summer with a share. Some of my friends who are in the house have been going out there for 10 or more summers, so I quickly built network out there through them. There're parties if you want them. We play a lot of beach volleyball--I love wearing Speedo's, so it's perfect [laughs].
The way I feel in Fire Island is the way I felt in my first gay club. You go in and all the sudden you realize literally EVERYONE is gay. There's no questioning if the cute guy on the other side of the room is gay or straight. You can just flirt freely. You wonder if this is the real world. It was jarring for me. And really great.
Please check out MacConnell's work in the slideshow below or at his website.