Josh Von Nonn is staring at one of his paintings trying to decide whether or not to set it on fire. He is sitting in a friend’s garage just outside of Los Angeles. Canvas, wooden frames, and paint are littered everywhere in this makeshift, temporary studio. He plays a few chords on his guitar, gets up and walks around, sits back down and stares at the painting in front of him. It was in an art show 14 months ago. People loved it. But Josh has decided it’s time for a change.
This is par for the course for Josh Von Nonn, whose style is practically defined by his willingness to paint over image after image on one canvas until he gets to the point where he is afraid to change anything else. “I guess I don’t really have this fear that I need to preserve everything,” Josh explains, “I mean, everything I paint on a canvas, it’s still there, and a lot of times shows up eventually.” Like the tire marks left behind after he runs over a painting with his truck. Or that stain from the time he parked on top of a painting and let transmission fluid leak all over it. For Josh, these aren’t untouchable masterpieces. “I’ll put a painting on the floor of my studio and walk all over it for months,” he admits. Because paintings aren’t static for him. They are instead the physical expression of a constant evolution, an ongoing experiment. All this makes more sense when you know a bit more about Josh who, as a child, lived in two houses—one governed by science, the other by art. His father, a cardiologist, instilled respect for the logical, the rational, the proven. Through his mother, a photographer, Josh developed an appreciation for beauty, expression, and the creative. He’s a reformed computer-science geek who studied architecture and civil and electrical engineering who, if you let him, will talk to you for five minutes about the beauty he sees in an electrical circuit. It’s no wonder then that long equations and circuitry diagrams sometimes surface in Josh’s paintings. And it makes sense that he mixes his paint with whatever he can get his hands on—grease, coagulants, wood stain, synthetic materials—just to see what will happen. This willingness to try anything has resulted in some surprises. “I had this one painting, Semper
Obscurum,” Josh remembers, “and I thought it was finished. It was on the wall for 4 months. And then I came home one day and I hated it. I tore it from the wall and just started pouring paint all over it, I think in an effort to destroy it. A friend was watching this whole thing. ‘You should light it on fire,’ he said to me. ‘Alright.’ I said.” The result was unlike anything Josh could have pictured—a post-apocalyptic landscape, bubbling and peeling off the canvas. Now, Josh lights paintings on fire all the time. Layers of acrylic paint coagulate, form bubbles, burst and cool. They can be peeled back to reveal ancient layers of the paintings, images painted on Josh’s second or third attempt, before his thoughts changed, his inspiration shifted, and he created new images on the canvas. This maniacal creative process started in 2009 in Delray Beach, when Josh quit his job, rented a tiny studio in Pineapple Grove, and started painting 14 hours a day. In that time, he produced an alarming amount of work, and eventually his paintings took over the entire studio. “And they kicked me out,” he says, with lingering bitterness. “I was painting too much. My paintings were taking up too much space.” So Josh did the next logical thing. He rented out a 500 square-foot commercial unit in a strip mall, made it his studio, and lived there. He had no shower and no kitchen. He bathed outside, bought a camping stove and a mini-fridge. He put curtains over the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on to the parking lot. And for a few years, all he did was paint. “But there was only one problem,” Josh says, “I don’t paint the kind of crap that tourists buy.” So three months ago, he packed his paints and his lighter fluid and migrated to Los Angeles in search of a market that nurtures his expression. Which is why he is set up in a friend’s garage for the moment, staring at a painting that he finished 18 months ago, wondering what more he wants to paint over it. “I’m just a little kid, playing,” he admits with joy. And when you talk to him, it’s clear—at heart he’s just a little boy getting his hands dirty in high-end acrylic paint. The end result just happens to be exceptional.
To view Josh’s paintings and learn more about him, visit his website at www.vonnonn.com. To witness his frenetic process, check this out: