“This is a photo of my desk in my midtown Kansas City studio that I’ve had for about a year. It is a space that is off the digital grid: no internet and no computer. The photo was taken as the sun was setting and the lighting became softened and moody. It was one of many areas that I could have consider my desk. Any flat surface will do. Heck, a not-so-flat surface will do.”
Johnny Naugahyde was born in Madison, Wisconsin and currently lives in Kansas City, Missouri. He has had one-person exhibitions at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the University of Central Missouri and Inova at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Johnny is represented by The Dolphin Gallery in Kansas City and Pierogi in Brooklyn.
FYD: How do you work?
JOHNNY NAUGAHYDE: There isn’t one way or location in which I work. The thought process behind the work is usually more important than the execution of the piece. I compare it to the time it takes to think up a good joke verses the time it takes to tell that joke. Both are important to the process.
FYD: What is your favorite sentimental object at your workspace and why?
JN: I tend to fill up spaces very quickly with lots of stuff, so there isn’t one thing that sticks out as the most important. Each object or scrap can be a memento, a souvenir or part of a future work. Locations and objects change since I work at home and in my studio. At home, it can be the kitchen table, the basement, the front porch or the back yard. The project determines the location.
FYD: What is your favorite or most required work tool?
JN: My favorite is a watercolor brush: #6 Scharff. A beautiful brush that holds a great tip. I love tools of all sorts from a table saw to knives.
FYD: You wear two hats; your day job hat and artist hat. Do you keep them separate like Church and State?
JN: When I was working in museums, I kept the two sides of my life quite separate. I didn’t want any perceived conflict of interest in being both a museum director and an artist. Thankfully I am out of the museum field now, and it is easier to not be fractured.
The thought process behind the work is usually more important than the execution of the piece.
FYD: Your real name is Mark Spencer. How did your alter-ego Johnny Naugahyde come about?
JN: The name was first used soon after I finished my Masters in Art History and started my first professional job as the gallery director at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Even though I was making art throughout grad school, I wanted to be taken seriously in my career as an art historian. My main medium during those years was mail art. I would make hundreds of pieces a year and mail them to friends and to mail art shows that were popular then. It wasn’t until I began to make non-mail art that I considered developing an alter-ego. As a trained art historian but an untrained studio artist, I didn’t want to be known as a frustrated artist among my stuffy colleagues in the art department.
FYD: Do you blend the worlds of Johnny and Mark?
JN: After many years in Kansas City, I am comfortable with both personas. It still makes me smile when people I have known professionally for years didn’t realize I was Johnny Naugahyde. Equally as amusing is when people don’t know my real name and only know me as Johnny.
FYD: Do you think we all have alter-egos? I have one but can’t out myself….yet.
JN: I think alter-egos are more common than we think or know. Sometimes they are out in the open (examples: Lemony Snicket or the Irish artist Patrick Ireland) and other times still hidden like yours. It is good to have an alter-ego–and a second social security number and passport if you can swing it.
JN: In looking at my art work over the years, the inspiration is primarily in the areas of sex, relationships, religion, and politics. One would be lying if they didn’t admit that other artists inspire them too. An artist who continue to influence me is Marcel Duchamp.
FYD: I’m biased as a native Kansas Citian; but the art scene feels pretty legit. Any thoughts?
JN: The Kansas City art scene is a wonderful mix of young and old, funky and traditional. It is place to take risks, so in that regard it is edgy. Within the people that I consider my community, it is a town that is excepting of change and new ideas.
It still makes me smile when people I have known professionally for years didn’t realize I was Johnny Naugahyde.
FYD: How did you concept your “Text Messages to Dead Artists?”
JN: My friend Bruce Knackert and I text each other often with photos of art and beer. I bounced the idea off of him first but texting him one about Mark Rothko. It made him laugh–and that inspired me to try some other ones. Other confidants smiled too. I often tend to do work for myself, but for specific friends too. I love the intimacy of making art for someone, but I digress.
FYD: What keeps your art motivated?
JN: A luxury to be able to make a wide variety of art that doesn’t necessarily have to be commercial. A recent example was a tribute that I did for John Puscheck, a Kansas City artist who died a few years ago. I made work in his honor and gave it away throughout the night at a wonderful barbecue held in his memory. The “Text Messages to Dead Artists” is another example of art for free. A lot of it goes back to the idea of mail art that is meant to be given away and shared along the way. For many reasons, it makes me happy to make art, so the motivation is easy.