Designer Finds Inspiration Everywhere

John Mahoney’s Art Could Hang In Your Home

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Mahoney isn’t into diamonds. He prefers silk.
AB: It must be unique for an artist to know that not only is their work so accessible – granted the papers and floor coverings are being bought by a specific economic class – but they’re readily available. It’s not as if it’s a $122 million skull covered in diamonds. That must be pretty unique as an artist, I would imagine. You’re putting your art into somebody’s house for them to live within, rather than creating something that one person could horde away.

JM: That’s one thing that really inspired me to make that transition. I strongly believe that art is not something you put in a gold frame and put behind glass. It’s something you should live with. It’s something that you should live with and it’s something that should be part of the fabric of everyday life. I love the fact that my carpets are getting used. I love the idea that puppies and children and toys are tearing them up, adding patina and history and stories to these textiles. I think that’s really important. I hate this idea of art as a sacrosanct object that is totally divorced from our everyday lives. Making carpets and wallpapers is a way to bring my ideas, my aesthetic and my vision to a much larger audience. Like you said, it’s not a precious, diamond covered skull that gets horded away. It’s something to live with and enjoy and use up. It bothered me when I was showing at galleries that a lot of my work was getting boxed and put into storage bins in New Jersey. I wanted people to really live with my work. And I also wanted access to a larger audience, too. There are only 250 prominent contemporary art collectors in the world. That’s it. I felt that if you really want to have an impact on American culture, you’ve got to find a larger audience and make your work a little more accessible. Granted, my work at the moment is limited to a high-end clientele, but it’s much larger than it was in the art world.

AB: So, Dennis wrote me an email which reads “Have John explain to how the Mota Shang stripes work”. So?
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JM: [Laughs] Let me try to explain. There’s no horizontal repeat on that pattern, so each strip, when it connects with another, there’s no prescribed place for it to go. This is inspired by Japanese kimonos. The repeat patterns on a kimono were the same way, because they would take the kimonos apart to wash them, so anytime you sewed them back together, the seams would be in a slightly different place and they’d rotate the seams to shift the wear of the kimono. The fact that it didn’t match going from left to right was kind of the charm of the pattern, so I wanted to create this design because every time it falls, it looks different. The more variations when you hang that pattern, the better.

AB: What do you think of the art machine – I know you worked at the Guggenheim and you’d rather have your art hanging in a home than a gallery – so what’s your opinion of the art scene today?

JM: Oh, gosh, that’s a loaded question. Um, I’m very heartened to see the definition of art getting broadened a lot in my generation. If you look at the history of art – it’s been so amorphic up until the 20th century. Art was painting and sculptures and art was what you saw in a gallery – period. I’m very much inspired to see artists, designers and curators exploring the very fertile area between utilitarian and non-utilitarian objects that have been beautifully designed, artistically inspired and created by artisans.