STEAM Influencer: Jonni Cheatwood
Jonni Cheatwood’s body of work is an exploration of nostalgia and tension. Combining materials — found, gifted, and custom-made — Cheatwood creates a patchwork backdrop of sewn fabric as the basis for his expressionist canvases. The backgrounds for his new works are comprised of found fabrics with nostalgic prints, Los Angeles fashion district finds, and old photographs printed on fabric. Read more about his CV and exhibits here.
Q: What is your education and professional background?
A: I got my Bachelor of Arts degree from Arizona State in Interdisciplinary Studies, focusing on film & media production & secondary education. Currently, I am a full-time artist.
Q: What did you want to become when you were young?
A: In no order - astronaut, drummer in a punk band, basketball player, DJ, movie producer, teacher.
Q: How did you arrive at your current career?
A: It kind of just pulled me in. I became a big fan of Shepard Fairey’s Obey movement and from there I wanted to know a lot more about street art. I was too afraid to actually graffiti walls, because I was too poor to get in trouble then so I never painted, but I was obsessed with art. The more I kept reading about artists, the more I learned about other movements in art and I just dove head first into abstract expressionism. At this point I had dropped out of school for maybe two years and I was working in a restaurant in downtown Phoenix, which I hated it. I almost had no life outside of work and I needed an outlet, so I just started painting one day and really didn’t think it would be an actual job. I just wanted to learn how Pollock or Basquiat painted. I haven’t stopped since
Q: Why is art education important?
A: I’ve only taken two classes in my life. One AP art class in high school because I needed the credit and another one my freshman year in college. I never took school too seriously and that’s something I would go back and change if I could because I know first hand now that what you put into your education is what you get out. I was a terrible painter because I never cared to learn technique, so I had to teach myself later on how to properly paint.
There’s also a weird almost pecking order in the art world that revolves around where an artist went to school and who their professors were, so I’ve had to get into the art world through the back door, which is an entirely different story. My career would just be easier if I had gone to art school. Also, art therapy is intensely important. It works, it’s the most therapeutic thing for me - it’s such a shame that so many schools have removed art programs that really bums me out
Q: What do you think the STEAM workforce could look like 5 years from now?
A: In today’s current art market I can see STEM very clearly. Daniel Arsham uses science to make his work, that gorgeous performance piece with Alexander McQueen and his spray painting robotic arms in 1999 is technology used as art, kinetic sculptures by Chris Burden or Jordan Wolfson is pretty much engineering and you can identify and authenticate a Jackson Pollock by using math and fractals. I see art and STEM being very connected and with the art market changing as fast as technology changes it will be so cool to see what can and will be made, outside of art too
Q: In what ways have you inspired/impacted youth to become future artisans?
A: I’ve done a few classroom visits with elementary kids. I usually just ends up being a mess and it’s fun to just let loose, but I never assumed that I going to inspire anyone. I kind of just have a mindset that I’m a young artist, I don’t know much but I’m going to look up to my favorite artists and get inspiration from them and just do my work. But then, I’ll get messages from those students on Instagram thanking me and more than that I get email after email about students being taught my work in their lectures and how inspiring my work has been and it blows my mind. I just sit there and think “me? You’re being taught my work?” It doesn’t make sense to me but I’m humbled by it. Absolutely blown away by it. I just hope I can keep making inspiring work.
The art world is dark, I just want to be one of the good guys in it.