Art comes alive at Resin in Hermosa Beach
Jonmar’s art embraces all media
by Bondo Wyszpolski
“Pierce the Veil” has been billed as a transdimensional art exhibit, and at last Saturday’s opening at Resin in Hermosa Beach this proved to be no exaggeration. Jonmar (John Marr) has also been referred to as a modern-day Renaissance man, and this, too, seems entirely true.
Here’s what Resin’s Rafael McMaster has to say about the show: “Jonmar’s work is an amazing and transformative experience in person; it transports you to another world through his Augmented Reality technology. The artwork and technology create a sense of “awe” for the viewer. Those are the moments where we drop out of the rational world and into another realm that sits below the surface. Which is where the term “Pierce the Veil” came from: John and I were discussing this concept and trying to figure out how to summarize that into a show title.”
Here is the unabridged version of the interview that ran in the January 24, 2019 edition of the Easy Reader.
Easy Reader: I believe that you grew up in Maine during the late 1970s. Could you tell me just a little about your background and then how you ended up on the West Coast?
Jonmar: I was born in Rockland, Maine in 1971. I was a kid who hated to sleep. My mind would be at its peak in the wee hours, so I’d sneak out of bed and write short stories or draw comic strips that I’d pass around at school the next day. I could live happily on little to no sleep on one condition: when I woke up and read whatever I’d written the night before, if it my made my guts tingle, if it was good; then I had endless energy for the day. But if it was crap, then all my efforts were crap, and life itself was crap, and this day above all was going to be crap. So I learned quickly that I better write my best, and draw my best, or life was going to be unendurable.
But a funny thing happened in high school. I got a job. And I had money to buy my own clothes. And then I was suddenly cool. Strange. All that changed was my clothing, but I guess that was enough. I graduated as Senior Class President, and then went into the military in search of adventure. And that all landed me on the West Coast.
And I’m guessing that living on the East Coast influenced much of your personal aesthetic and shaped your sensibilities?
I’m sure it did. My grandmother was super talented. She lived in a smaller than small town on the coast of Maine. I loved to spend time at her home. She encouraged my artistic nature, and even helped me build a C3PO robot suit out of construction paper and tape (with working elbow pistons). She was a fierce woman. She had a congressional medal of honor. She got it for spending decades of collecting and cleaning up toys that she’d give to needy families every Christmas. Her name was Thelma, and she was called the “Toy Lady of Thomaston”. You can google her and see what I mean. Anyway, her charm, her fire, her talent, and her diligence certainly impacted me, and she was East Coast all the way.
I first realized I was talented when I was three years old. I was coloring in a coloring book under the kitchen table with some other kids. I was having fun gently smudging black crayon around the edges of Mickey Mouse’s white gloves to create shading. And I happened to look at what the other kids were doing and I was appalled. There were coloring anything, anywhere, for any reason — or for no reason at all. That’s when I knew something was different.
I taught myself to draw (with yearly Christmas bundles of art supplies from my grandmother).
Then I got into writing. I’d write a short story almost every night. I loved picking up Stephen King novels and reading the first sentence. He could grab me and sell me on the idea of the whole book in that first sentence. Every time. And I tried to do the same with my stories. But some of my stories disturbed people. I mean, for real. A little too much Stephen King, perhaps.
Then I tackled poetry. I’d write sonnets in iambic pentameter, and other meters, as knights rushed around me in their fevered quests to slay dragons. I even wrote poems to a beautiful young woman (when I was at my nerdiest, and she was untouchably cool.) Man, I’d pour my heart into those sonnets. But (I came) to find out she was reading them out loud to her class, and laughing so hard that she’d cry, which made me cry too. So I eased off the poetry.
I got into software development when the first Personal Computers came out. I had an Atari 600xl with 16 kilobytes of memory, which is basically no memory at all. I’d spend days writing programs — like ninjas fighting on a rooftop, or flight simulators, or text adventures — but then when I turned off the computer it would all be erased. I loved it, though. I was thrilled by the logic, and the language. It stirred something deep inside of me.
Then came music. I was listening to Cat Stevens one day and thought I’d like to give that a try. So I got a guitar and started writing songs. Songs with one chord, then songs with two, and eventually songs with three and four chords. Real songs. It was pure magic for me. Otherworldly. One of the first songs I wrote was called Peanuts. It’s on my recent album (a 33 song album called “33” that’s on Spotify and iTunes now.) And it’s the inspiration of one of the art pieces at Resin.
After this I got into video production, which led me into cartooning and animation. Many of my own songs now have some pretty intense videos, because I love to make them. It’s like directing mini-movies.
And then the iPhone came out. I remember the day I held the first one. I decided in that moment I had to be a part of this. I was a holding a little window to the world: 640 x 480 pixels of glory. So I spent, without exaggeration, two solid years coding all night every night. There was no documentation for Apple developers at the time, so it was blind effort and mental warfare every step of the way. But I was compelled as if by a storming wind. And I eventually wrote a number of apps (music creation apps) that became number one globally. They were free apps — so I didn’t become a millionaire or anything, but man was it fun. All of my creativity and all of my logic was pouring into a single activity for the first time in my life.
These apps got me noticed by Nike. So I became a lead developer and designer at their world headquarters, working on their innovation team. I did that for about six years until Augmented Reality got a hold of me… and here I am.
Somewhere in the mix I wrote and published a few short novels. One of them is called Little Yukka. It’s available via Kindle and iBooks right now, and I’m nearly done with the audio book. I do all the voices (including female Scottish-accented Barbarians.) Way too much fun.
In all of these things I am self-taught, and most of the time with little to no encouragement, and perhaps heaping portions of discouragement. I always believed I could do whatever was in my heart to do, but that was not a view shared by those around me.
In the end I feel like I have only one gift — creativity. I can spend it in any direction, on anything I choose to. And I know that if I put in the hard work, the inspiration will come and take whatever I’m doing into a place that feels like magic to me. That old tickle in the gut, I still get it, and it still makes my day. I’m wondering about the videos you’ve created, which seem to combine all your abilities and interests. How did all this originally come about? I’m assuming you were painting and writing and playing music before you began applying technology to your repertoire in order to enhance and expand your ideas?
Exactly right. The video work started happening when I found it was the best way to communicate what I was trying to say with music, art, and writing. Videos are the books of our generation. Few people read, but everyone watches videos. Like, all the time. I’m having crazy fun right now working video into my Augmented Reality Art. I figured out something that I find simply amazing. You can play a video a flat surface in 3D space — nothing new there — but then you can warp that flat surface into something else … like a cube … or a sculpture … and still play the video on it. I’ve just gotten into it these past few weeks and I can’t get enough. Playing videos on three-dimensional surfaces that intelligently accent what’s happening in the video… (I’m seriously giddy right now.)
How would you describe your animated story-songs? With something like “Uncle Larry Can Fly” how did you go about conceiving and then putting this together? Did you do all the filming, the editing, and the music as well? I think that the song is quite beautiful. Was the song and the video created together or did one of them emerge from the other?
(Our music references are no doubt different, but I am reminded of Peter Gabriel at times, listening to the songs)
I didn’t make any music for many years — busy raising a family of four kids. And then I decided I’d better record one more time, as if it were my last, to get these stories out of me before it’s too late. It became an album of 33 songs, all the songs I wished I’d recorded all those years. And “Uncle Larry Can Fly” was the first one I recorded. And it was the first music video I ever made. Well, the second. The first was for a friend of mine who recorded a song I wrote for him, but that’s another story. (He was the lead singer for the Crickets after the death of Buddy Holly. Look for “I Still Love You, Peggy Sue” on YouTube. That’s my first music video, and my first animation, come to think of it.)
But “Uncle Larry Can Fly” was the first music video I ever did for my own music. So I meticulously planned everything to make it as authentic as possible. I picked friends/actors who look like the people they’re portraying, and then went for it. I created the video in two days, between filming and editing. And I was pretty weepy a lot of the time.
And hey, I’m really glad you like the song. That means a lot to me!
To a small extent, the illustrated vignettes (“The Portrait,” “The Wave”) remind me of William Kentridge, but of course have their own individuality. This body of work seems to embody the best of what you do, and I wonder if you’re hoping to venture further in this direction?
You took the words right out of my mouth. Boy, do I. I want to seriously innovate in this space, where stories and art and music and code become a singularity of bliss.
Or, to put this another way, where are you hoping or planning to go with your art from here?
Well, right now it’s the Three-dimensional video stuff that has my attention. But I have a lot of ideas that push much further into well-animated, three-dimensional experiences. And it’s all ahead of the curve in this regard — Apple will someday release glasses or goggles that make everything I’m doing now truly come to life. I’m making all of this for then, whenever that is. It’s freakishly cool (to me) as it is, but it’ll be far beyond that when we’re wearing glasses and the stuff looks absolutely real.
What would you like to say about your show at Resin in Hermosa Beach?
It all comes down to storytelling. All of the technology, all of the music, and all of the artwork. So come and experience the stories. They’ll touch your heart. And if you have an iOS device, you can download the AR.Gallery app before you go to the show. If you really want to be hip, tap the AR icon in the top left corner of the main screen, then tap the Download button that appears at the bottom of the screen. You can download all the videos so that you won’t get hung up on bad internet or have to use cell towers.
I met Rafael through some App-related business affairs. He astonished me. The guy is pure creativity mixed with equal portions of coolness, capability, charisma, and a bunch of other stuff that would take too long to describe. Rafael is probably the single most productive person I’ve ever met. If he calls me with an idea, that means something’s about to happen. As opposed to most people who call me with ideas that will always be ideas. So anyway, I think the world of him. He was one of the major inspirations in my heart to create all of this art and music. I hope to work with him in the Augmented Reality Art space.
Though I’ve lived in L.A., and in Monterey, I’m up in Oregon right now. But I have family in L.A. and am in town often. So I joined the Hermosa Beach Artists Collective just to be part of a creative family. And, wow, these are some amazing people.
I know I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but please add any other thoughts (on influences, philosophies, inspiration, etc.) that you’d like me to include, and that would give a better picture of who you are not only as an artist but as an interesting individual in the early 21st century.
I’d say my inspirations are pretty limited. Cat Stevens got me into music. And Robert Smith. And Bono. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Johnny Ives got me into software development. Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas got me into videography. Stephen King, Douglas Adams, and J.K. Rowling got me into writing. Walt Whitman got me into poetry. Shakespeare got me into sonnets. Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno got me into music production. Jim Dale got me into audio book narration. Einstein and Tesla got me into the unshakeable belief that magic is everywhere. Mr. Rogers made me want to be nice to people along the way. And Encyclopedia Brown taught me to never answer a question too quickly, even if you know the answer, or you’ll sound like a smarty pants.
Oh, and I’m considering getting my first tattoo gun. My first tattoo will be on my own left forearm. So that should be fun.
Pierce the Veil, with multimedia work by Jonmar, is on view Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a closing reception on Saturday (Jan. 26) from 4 to 9 p.m., at Resin, 618 Cypress Ave., Hermosa Beach. The artist will be present. (310) 713-0560 or go to resinhb.com. ER