Subjects in local artist's retrospective exhibition overcome hardships, celebrate imperfection

Joey Monsoon didn't plan any of this.

Here he is, a kid from Grove City, with a retrospective art show at a swanky hotel, put on by the gallery that represents him. “Evolution of Style, 2008-2018” places his latest work alongside art Monsoon has made throughout his formal career as a painter.

Growing up, Monsoon was influenced, as many young people are, by comic books and, later, graffiti. Always, he was compelled to draw figures, even when he began doing his own graffiti. Art was ever a thing for Monsoon, just not the thing.

“It was really just a function of not really having my shit together as a person until I was 30. Not that I was reckless or anything like that. I was just really unfocused. It took a while to get to the point where I was focused enough to say, ‘Maybe I should try this,'” Monsoon said of his active engagement with art-making.

Perhaps Monsoon meandered through his late teens and 20s, but he wasn't without an interest in art.

“I never stopped drawing, and I was always a great appreciator of art. I would go to see art, I was collecting art when I could, and I was a collector of art books. So without realizing it, I was putting myself on a self-taught path,” Monsoon said in an interview at a Clintonville cafe.

“I have that personality where if I'm really into something over a long period of time and become a fan or follower of it, the next step is to do that thing,” he said. “There was a time in my early 20s when I was into punk rock and garage music, and eventually some friends and I said, ‘We should do this,' and started a band. We weren't necessarily any good, but that seemed like the next step. So I had some skill with art, I had a style, I was an admirer of painting, so [I figured] why not paint?”

And just like that, in his late 30s, Monsoon became a painter. Encouraged by friends and connections he made at the former Chop Chop Gallery in Olde Towne East, as well as early patron (and Columbus artist) Dan Gerdeman, Monsoon continued down a painting path. He has experimented with materials, and he insists he's still learning and improving, but Monsoon kept his aesthetic consistent throughout his now decade-long painting career.

“I think the thread that runs throughout my work [is] figures and people who are imperfect, and who have endured real life, and that living of a life has left marks on them on the exterior and interior,” Monsoon said. “I look at them as triumphant figures. I know not everyone who looks at them sees that, but that's what they are to me. I see them as people who have lived life and are still standing.”

Monsoon insists his figures are not inspired by any real-world individuals or circumstances. “The conscious effort is to make a striking image. … It's not representative of any particular person or story,” he said. “I like to make an image that is … powerful to me, and leave enough mystery so that the viewer can decide if it's powerful to them, as well.”

That has borne out in the past 10 years, even if that's as close to a plan as Monsoon has come. He admits he takes painting much more seriously now, in no small part a response to becoming a father, which Monsoon said has made him a little more introspective about his work but hasn't introduced new pressure or raised the stakes in any tangible way.

“I still enjoy the process. I'm trying harder, and I want to make better work, but there's no pressure,” Monsoon said. “How [having a family] might have affected my art is for someone else to pick through. [Being a parent] affects everything!”

Monsoon said the show displays both his progression as an artist and a consistent through-line to his work.

“I have a point of view and can express it through a striking image. There is an evolution, maybe, but I'm nowhere near finished with this subject, which is perhaps even more important now in an age of social media and Photoshop, where people seem to only want to show the very best of themselves,” Monsoon said. “But it's our real-life imperfections that separate us from things that are artificial. I suppose I'm also acknowledging my own imperfections. But that's something that should not be covered up or hidden, but embraced.”