Art, Food, Sex and Trauma: Mark Maynard shoots the shit with the most important artists of our day… Episode 1: John Maggie

Since I started interviewing musicians about their favorite vacations, there’s been quite a bit of pressure on me to somehow incorporate visual artists. Well, after thinking about it for the past several months, I came up what I hope is a fruitful new series. It’s called “Art, Food, Sex and Trauma: Mark Maynard shoots the shit with the most important artists of our day,” and the first episode is with our friend John Maggie (née Johnny Apricot, née Pink Maggie).

[This is his secret workspace in Hamtramck.]


MARK: Over the time I’ve known you, you’ve had had least four names. For the purposes of this interview, what would you like for me to call you?

JOHN: I recently considered changing it again, to Jonny Deeper. We can stick to John for now, though.

MARK: Why is it that you work under an alias? Is it because of the content of your work? Are you embarrassed? Do you fear retribution?

JOHN: I had an experience around 2010, where, after showing one of my animations (made partially with pornography) to a good size audience, I was approached by a parent of one of my mother’s students. (My mother is a schoolteacher.) It scared me. I’m so self-centered that I began to imagine my art somehow destroying my mother’s professional life. And I was consumed with guilt.

tumblr_mm3gqaQA1I1qmbvh7o1_500MARK: How would your work be different if you had no shame?

JOHN: I’d probably make the same stuff… I just wouldn’t worry so much.

MARK: Have you ever discussed your work with your mother?

JOHN: She laughs.

MARK: Nervously? Like she’s terrified of you?

JOHN: Maybe she laughs because the joy of her life, her first born son, is spending all of his time making foolish art.

MARK: Or maybe she’s laughing the way people in movies do when they realize that they’re trapped in a room with a psychopath… I’m not suggesting that’s the case. I’m just asking if it’s a possibility.

JOHN: Or maybe, shes laughing because she’s trapped in the closet with R. Kelly….

MARK: Seriously, what does she think of your work?

JOHN: Not sure. The last couple of holidays I’ve given everyone in my family a new flipbook, which invariably includes both nudity and poop. I think my parents are proud of me, even though they think I’m a weirdo. I think they also believe I could have used my talents for something more widely appreciated.

MARK: What are these talents that you speak of?

JOHN: Artistic talents. Maybe I could have been a successful portrait artist, or something like that.

MARK: Regarding their acceptance, I imagine it helps that your work is starting to attract some positive critical attention… It’s one thing to have a son who makes flipbooks of wizards pooping. It’s another to have a son whose work is finding its way into galleries, and whose wizard pooping flipbooks are sold at the MOCAD.

JOHN: I think it’s nice to have a little validation sometimes. They ask me questions about what I’m working on, etc. They’re proud. It’s not their particular taste in art, but they recognize that other people like it.

MARK: In addition to the MOCAD, where else are your flipbooks being sold these days?

JOHN: They’re sold at Printed Matter in New York. I also have things at Desert Island Books in Brooklyn. Here in Ann Arbor, Vault of Midnight has sold a lot of them

MARK: Were you brought up Catholic, or is that an aesthetic that you’ve purposefully cultivated?

JOHN: As far as the guilt aesthetic?

MARK: Yeah, the guilt, but I think there’s more to it than just that. I can’t quite articulate it. There’s a Catholicism about you… Maybe it’s just the haircut.

JOHN: You can tell? Yes, I was raised catholic.

MARK: How, if at all, do you think that manifests itself in your art?

JOHN: Well, I love the violent imagery. Of course I’ve always been a fan of artists like Matthias Grünewald and Hieronymus Bosch. Outside of that, I’m not sure.


MARK: Tell me about your artwork?

JOHN: I can tell you who my heroes are… Currently I’m in love with Heather Benjamin, Allison Schulnik and Andre Butzer. I think of their work often. I had the chance to meet Heather Benjamin at the New York Art Book Fair in 2013. I’m impressed by her disregard of decency. Her work is unapologetically perverted. I asked her, when I met her, how she lives with the idea that a lot of people probably dislike, or may even hate, her art. She responded by saying something like, “I stopped caring.” I wish I could do that. Allison Schulnik and Andre Butzer are both oil painters that use enormous amounts of paint on their canvases. I’ve been able to see a few of their paintings in person and have since become fascinated with the process of sculpting oil paint.

MARK: It’s not a question exactly, but I feel compelled to share… I tend to have a visceral reaction to seeing works where a great deal of paint has been used. I just think about how much money paint costs and it pains me. Is that weird? It’s like, if you’re watching a movie, and something happens that shocks you out of the moment, so you’re no longer inside the film, participating in it. When I see large globs of paint, I’m snatched out of the moment. I just can’t get beyond it. It’s an OCD thing.

JOHN: I use some cheap paint mixed in with the regular stuff. I can’t imagine I use more than $30 of paint per painting. Making art costs a lot of money. It’s interesting for me to the think about your perspective. I feel that, on some level, artists are purposely being wasteful. At least that’s a vague notion that I have when I’m creating art.

MARK: Wasteful in what way? Do you mean just in terms of materials, or do you mean that the whole endeavor is wasteful, self-indulgent, essentially meaningless?

JOHN: Yeah, exactly. Wasteful, self-indulgent and meaningless. I was reading a good comic the other day. In one panel, we see an artist busily solving some creative dilemma. And, in the next, we see a cityscape. The caption beneath reads, “meanwhile, nobody cares.”

JOhnZ4MARK: But yet you continue to do it… Why?

JOHN: Sculpting paint has currently captured my imagination. I could probably avoid it if I wanted to, though.

MARK: What would you do if you gave up art?

JOHN: Remain depressed, maybe get really depressed.

MARK: Do you think the artwork keeps the depression at bay?

JOHN: Maybe. It gives me something to focus on, and it gives me energy. But, it also seems to cause a lot of distress as well. The worst feeling in the world is when I am frustrated with a painting, or a project, and convince myself that I’m a failure. Then I see the reality, that, at best, I’m only slightly above average.

MARK: What food is it that you’re best at making? What do you consider your signature dish?

JOHN: I don’t know how to cook very well. I eat a lot of pizza. I abuse pizza when I have the opportunity, like when I don’t have to work the next day. I use it to change my mood and to escape. It works pretty well. I’ll wake up sometimes in the middle of the night after a heavy pizza party and swear never to do it again. But I always go back.

MARK: I’ve never heard of a situation where someone eats so much pizza that he can’t work the following day. How much pizza are we talking about? Are you literally bed-ridden?

JOHN: I can eat a large pizza, no problem. I try not to. It’s best if other people are around, who can monitor my intake. If I eat too much, I’ll definitely feel hungover the next day.

MARK: I’m thinking about all of my favorite artists, and their various demons, and I don’t recall any of them struggling with pizza… A lot of alcoholics and addicts, but I can’t think of a single one who couldn’t be left alone with a large pizza.

Johnz5JOHN: It’s history!

MARK: I’m looking forward to the bio-pic… Who would you like to have play you? When you close your eyes, what actor do you imagine in your part, looking intently from across the room at the large pizza, trying his best to summon the strength necessary to resist?

JOHN: I’m thinking Keanu Reeves.

MARK: Why? What is it about him?

JOHN: I see myself in him… Mostly his sex appeal is why I would chose him.

MARK: I knew an artist in Georgia. We weren’t friends, but we were kind of in the same scene. I remember him telling me that his girlfriend would have to tell him when to eat. If not for her, he said, he’d keep working until he just passed out from starvation. I didn’t believe him, but I guess it’s conceivable that some people can get so far into the zone that they could forget to eat, poop themselves, etc. Do you ever find yourself entering a trance-like state? Do you ever finish a painting to find that you’re shat yourself?

JOHN: Artistically, when I’m feeling inspired, and in “the zone,” I can get a little irritable. I don’t like interruptions when I’m like that. But I can only manage it for a couple of hours at a time. It’s really not very glamorous. When I come out of isolation, my wife will call me a dick, and I’ll inevitably feel like a failure.

MARK: When’s the last time you had food poisoning?

JOHN: I’m not sure that I’ve ever had it. I’ve had the stomach flu, which was pretty impressive. I’ll never forget the dream I had right before I woke up vomiting.

MARK: What can you tell us about it?

JOHN: Images of ground beef drifting at the bottom of a pool.

MARK: Do you dream a lot?

JOHN: Constant nightmares. Not really bad ones, but uncomfortable.

MARK: When I originally pitched this interview to you, I said that I wanted to write about “Art, Food, Sex and Death,” and you suggested that I change Death to Trauma. Why?

JOHN: Trauma seems more fun. Death doesn’t seem real.

MARK: What do you you mean when you say that death doesn’t seem real?

JOHN: I prefer to ignore it, and forget about it.


MARK: Do you remember your first experience with death?

JOHN: My great grandfather’s funeral was probably my first experience. I’ve had lots of pets die, grandparents, friends and family. I don’t think about it much.

MARK: When I look at your work, I see a lot of decay… humans opening up, spilling out… flesh rotting away from the bone… Has this always been a theme for you, or did it just start once you began working in health care, surrounded by individuals who were fighting disease, wasting away, etc?

JOHN: I think I’ve always been attracted to disturbing imagery. My work from college was pretty dark and depressing. My wife was just making fun of me this morning about how pretentious I was back then. Before that, I was into drugs, and didn’t make anything interesting.

tumblr_mnui8fP3Lw1qmbvh7o1_500MARK: What’s your favorite work-related poop story? I’m told by a mutual friend that there are many.

JOHN: A long time ago, at one of my old jobs, I found a piece of poop in the toilet the size and shape of a softball. Myself and a co-worker had to use a coat hanger to cut it into pieces so we could flush it down the toilet.

MARK: What were you like as a kid?

JOHN: I loved Batman. I was afraid of everything. Still am. Still love Batman too.

MARK: What were you most afraid of as a kid? And does that same fear plague you today?

JOHN: I have had so many. They change with life circumstances. I always have new ones that haunt me.

MARK: I wouldn’t have answered either… I don’t talk about my fears publicly. I don’t want anyone to know what it is that terrifies me.

JOHN: Smart.

MARK: You also suggested, when discussing the title for this new interview series, that I change Sex to Marriage. Are you uncomfortable talking about sex, even from behind your alias?

JOHN: Marriage has that sexy edge to it. Sex is played out. It’s more exciting to discuss living in a relationship, working out your issues over time, and building a history with an awesome partner, than talking about butt sex.

MARK: I just said sex, but if you’d like to say something about butt sex, I’m all ears.

JOHN: I was always told, “the anal zone is the best zone.”

MARK: By whom were you told this?

JOHN: My parents. They always said that. Not sure why… But I’ve found it to be true.

MARK: Speaking of relationships, would I be right to assume that, on occasion, your wife feels as though she’s competing with your art for your time and attention? If so, I’m curious as to how you navigate that.

JOHN: We fight about it sometimes. There’s a time commitment involved with both. My schedule allows me to set aside time for both home life and art. My wife is very supportive, and I’d probably be homeless without her. I’d also likely be a worse artist.

MARK: Is anything off limits for you content-wise when it comes to your art?

JOHN: I’m not sure. My wife helps me curate my content. She’s essentially become my editor, saving me from some of my more stupid ideas. She reminds me of what I was supposed to have learned in school; that restraint can be valuable.

MARK: Can you give me an example of her editing?

JOHN: I remember one painting I’d wanted to do, in 3D, using 3D glasses. It involved a woman giving birth. The baby would literally be flying out at the viewer. With things like that, she’ll tell me that I need to chill out. She, by they way, thinks this is a bad example.

MARK: Today, I’m told, would have been Edgar Allan Poe’s 250th birthday. If you could travel back in time with a sandwich for him, what kind of sandwich would it be?

JOHN: I would bring him a sandwich from Publican Quality Meats in Chicago.

MARK: Is there one sandwich in particular that you think he’d enjoy?

JOHN: “Return of the Gyro” …braised pork belly, raita, escalivada, pea shoots and calabrian chili vinaigrette on griddled flatbread – $11.


MARK: Let’s talk process… How has your creative process evolved over time?

JOHN: I think of myself as a portrait artist. Over the years, I’ve always started with a photo of someone that I want to embellish, and, from there, make a narrative. I find pictures in magazines that strike my eye and start out to try and tell a story about my version of this person. Most people end up in their underwear. I start with an idea of where I want to go with the painting, but often find myself, in the end, somewhere completely different. I paint over paintings and change original concepts. I’m usually frustrated with the whole middle part of the process, and it isn’t until some undisclosed time, after working and re-working, when I come up with a resolution to the image, that I’m finally happy with it. My hope is that, in the end, the picture will surprise me.

MARK: Given that you like to, as you put it, “tell a story,” I’m curious if you’ve ever experimented with video or animation, beyond what you do in the flipbooks… Do you at all feel limited by the canvas?

JOHN: I’ve made quite a few animated pieces over the years. I would love to be an animator, but I can only put so much energy into it. It’s fun to use other mediums, but I love painting the most.

MARK: Describe your workspace to us?

JOHN: I rent a studio at Klinger Street Studios in Hamtramck from Jonathan Rajewski (one of my favorite Detroit artists). There are about seven artists there, each with their own space. The building has been used for studio space since the late ‘60s, I think. Many artists have worked there over the years. My space is pretty simple. I have my paints, a few paintings that I’m working on, and some pictures of young half naked men pinned on the wall. I also have space at home where I work.

MARK: I’m curious as to why just half naked men. What is it that you find more compelling about men as subjects?

JOHN: I’ve had periods where I focused on women as subjects. The last couple years, though, it’s been men. I read a lot of superhero comic books. I find the idea of really muscular men kind of funny. I like violence, and men seem more violent. The male penis is kind of funny too.

MARK: Why Hamtramck instead of closer to home? Would I be right to assume that it has to do with the community of artists working there? How do you benefit from being a part of that community?

JOHN: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun being out in that environment. It’s visually so much different from Ann Arbor. There also seems to be a fairly large community of artists that take the pursuit of making art very seriously. I’ve met a bunch of people that I look up to, and I’ve learned a lot in the short time I’ve been working out there.

MARK: Can you give me an example of something that you learned?

JOHN: Its hard to say specifics, but, maybe it’s that am learning to be more professional as an artist. I have more to compare myself against, and, as a result, I hold myself to a higher standard.

johnkanye2MARK: Do you think that some people feel threatened by you because you make sense?

JOHN: It may be a good sign if people had such a strong reaction to a piece of art, that would mean I am challenging my audience. Though, I would prefer not to cause anyone any discomfort if possible.

MARK: I stole that last question from Interview magazine. It comes from a discussion between director Steve McQueen and Kanye West. Your response will be measured against that of Kanye… Are you often compared to Kanye West?

JOHN: My self esteem doesn’t measure up to Kanye West’s. I could learn a lot from him….

MARK: You should go to him and ask him to be your master, like in a Kung Fu movie.

JOHN: I haven’t been able to get past his assistants.

MARK: Anything else you’d like to discuss?

JOHN: Do you exfoliate?

MARK: Why do you want know? Do you want a bag of my skin cells to sculpt with, or to carry around your neck in a little bag, or to snort? Keith Richards snorted his father. Did you know that? Is there anyone, either living or dead, that you’d snort?

JOHN: It would be easy to snort someones skin flakes, or someones dandruff. I can’t think of anyone I would snort though.

[Video of a new John Maggie flipbook being demonstrated by Vinnie Massimino at the recent In Print show at the University of Michigan’s Work Gallery in Detroit. Video by Melissa Dettloff.]

[The very last image is a photo of the artist taken by his wife, who, for obvious reasons, prefers to remain anonymous. It was inspired by an image of Kanye West which recently appeared in Interview Magazine. It’s my understanding that the effect was accomplished with a red lightbulb, the afterbirth of a swine, and a pound of gold glitter.]

Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Food, OCD, sex, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Clicks over Quality…. Will the Ann Arbor News follow The Oregonian, demanding that all reporters post three stories a day?

Advance Publications, the owners of the Ann Arbor News, made the national news a few days ago when New York Times columnist David Carr announced that, in an attempt to drive increased web traffic to the website of their Portland paper, The Oregonian, they were requiring all of their reporters to post three stories per day, and assessing them on the their individual readership metrics… Here’s a clip:

…The Portland, Ore., newspaper The Oregonian, the much heralded home of many Pulitzer Prize-winning projects, is in the midst of a reorganization driven by the desire for more web traffic, according to internal documents obtained by Willamette Week, a weekly newspaper in Portland. A year after big layoffs and a reduction in home delivery to four times a week, The Oregonian, owned by Newhouse’s Advance Publications, is focusing on digital journalism — and the people who produce it — with a great deal of specificity.

Beginning immediately, according to the documents, the company’s leadership will require reporters to post new articles three times a day, and to post the first comment under any significant article. It’s part of a companywide initiative to increase page views by 27.7 percent in the coming year. Beyond that, reporters are expected to increase their average number of daily posts by 25 percent by the middle of the year and an additional 15 percent in the second half of the year.

If that sounds like it won’t leave much time for serious work, the new initiative also calls for reporters to “produce top-flight journalistic and digitally oriented enterprise as measured by two major projects a quarter,” which will include “goals by projects on page views and engagement.” In the more-with-less annals of corporate mandates, this one is a doozy. Contacted by email, Peter Bhatia, who is departing as editor of The Oregonian, scheduled an interview, but then declined to comment…

To state the obvious, it’s difficult to win a Pulitzer when you’re expected to publish three stories per day, and engage in online discussions with readers.

There’s not been any word, at least that I’ve heard, that a similar “three-stories-a-day” mandate has been handed down at the Ann Arbor News, or at any of the other M-Live outlets, all of which are owned by the Newhouse family, but clearly there’s a move in that direction.

I should add that this post wasn’t meant to be an indictment of our local reporters, or, for that matter, their immediate supervisors at the Ann Arbor News. These decisions are being made at the corporate level, and the local folks with M-Live are being forced to do the best they can in an increasingly difficult environment. I don’t envy them. They’re busting their asses to turn out quality journalism, but, given the time constraints they’re under, that’s getting harder every day. (It’s near impossible to develop meaningful investigative features when, by and large, you’re relying on relatively young reporters who don’t have established contacts, and you’re not giving them the time necessary to run down leads, etc.)

As much as I’d like to lay all of this at the feet of the Newhouse family, it’s worth noting that the public at large deserves some of the blame as well. It’s largely because we stopped paying for papers that this is happening. You can argue that, if the product was better, we would have kept paying our annual subscription fees, but, the truth is, we’ve come to expect our news in the post-internet world to be free. One hopes that changes in time, and people begin to see a value in underwriting the work of professional journalists, but, as of right now, that’s clearly not the case… And, as a result, circulations continue to dwindle, and, with them, advertising revenue.

And, because of this, we’re in this weird place right now, where, sans subscribers, the owners of newspapers need to demonstrate to their remaining advertisers that they have online readers. And, thanks to sophisticated analytics, they know exactly what kinds of articles drive those numbers. So, as a result, we’re seeing more divisive content from our local news sources. We’re seeing more sensationalistic, social media-friendly headlines. We’re seeing the stoking of more Comment Section Shitstorms (CSS)… It’s not about disseminating news. It’s not about building communities. It’s about desperately chasing clicks, however you can get them.

One last thing… I know that the newspaper business has always been a business. I’m not under any illusions in that regard. I know that there’s always been sensationalism. I know that journalists have always been rewarded by how well their work was liked in the community. I just think that, when we started driving our most senior reporters from the industry, and demanding that their replacements write three stories with click-worthy headlines a day, we crossed a line. And I think we’re all going to pay a big price for it.

Democracy cannot function without a free and aggressive independent press. And we’re about to discover that firsthand.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Media, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments

This was a lot better before I noticed that she had a dog


I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add “pooping jewels” to my list of tags.

[photo credit: Kristin Schrader]

Posted in Other | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Rape Culture click bait

A few days ago the folks at Boing Boing rebroadcast an imagine that they’d picked up from politics editor Elias Isquith. The image, which has now been shared by over 8,000 people on Facebook alone, started showing up in my social media feeds this morning, accompanied by words like, “horrifying.” On the face of it, the image really is horrifying, as it appears to show that a surprising number of both men and women alike in this country believe there are instances when rape is “OK.” Fortunately, though, the image doesn’t tell the whole story… Here it is.


The thing is, the image comes from a study of only 432 adolescents, in a very distinct geographic area (Los Angles).

And… by the way… the study was conducted 35 years ago.

Oh, and the results can, to a large extent, be explained by the fact that the UCLA researchers conducting the study in 1978 had people respond on a 5-point scale, and counted everyone who didn’t respond with a 1 as a “yes.”

In other words, these 432 adolescents were asked something along the lines of, “If a woman gets a man sexually excited, is non-consensual intercourse justified? Please answer on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 meaning the act would absolutely not be justified, and 5 meaning that it absolutely would be justified.” And, if a person responded with a 2, as people are generally inclined not to responds with absolutes (1s and 5s) in such cases, it was counted as a “yes.”

The folks at Salon and Boing Boing should be ashamed of themselves for sharing this without the proper context. My hope is that it was just an oversight on their part, and not purposefully done to drive web traffic.

[note: More on the study can be found at]

Posted in Observations, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Throwing compost in the face of the soulless, self-interested and pathologically sociopathic Cadillac demographic… Ford demonstrates why it is that they’ll destroy GM

As I’ve never had an opportunity to use the YouTube Doubler, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass.

On the left is Cadillac’s universally derided “Poolside” ad, which Car and Driver, as you may recall, said was tailor made for “xenophobic nationalists.” And, on the right, is a parody commercial released online today by Ford’s local ad agency, Team Detroit, featuring Pashon Murray, the founder of the urban compost company Detroit Dirt. (I’m told it has Ford’s tacit approval.) It’s totally brilliant.

YouTube Doubler

[If you can’t see both videos playing simultaneously, given the width of this column, click here and watch it at YouTube Doubler. It’s really cool to see them running side by side.]

I have to hand it to Cadillac. They know their (pasty, old and angry) audience. They know that, in order to sell “green” vehicles to rich, old, white men, they can’t rely on images of smiling bi-racial kids and pollution-free skies. They know that, to be successful in this space, they need to reposition environmentalism as pure self-interest. And that’s what they did with the “Poolside” campaign. They distilled the id of the narcissistic American CEO and put him behind the wheel of an electric vehicle spouting nonsense about how all the other countries in the world aren’t fit to wax the taint of the United States. It was roundly mocked, but I suspect that it accomplished what they’d wanted it to. It got people talking about Cadillac, and it conveyed the notion that their new line of electric cars weren’t for the tree-hugging pansies of the world, but the brash and the powerful. In so doing, though, they set Ford up beautifully, and that’s what we saw today with Team Detroit’s “Anything is Possible” ad, featuring a black, female CEO who actually gives a fuck about the world she inhabits. And this, my friends, is why Ford is going to win. They understand the demographic shift taking place in America, and they’re targeting the next generation.

And here are the individual ads.



It’s worth pointing out, I think, that GM, the owner of the Cadillac brand, took the U.S. taxpayer bailout, while Ford did not. Judging from these two very different campaigns, you’d never guess that, right?

Posted in Media, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments


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