When you get into a conversation with Johnny about his artistic influences, he delves into a long monologue, taking you down twisted alleyways tucked with memories. From days spent exploring new literature in school to discovering his love for theatre and acting, every little event in his life subconsciously led him to the art he makes today. For a man who fills up page after page with chimerical, fantastic worlds, it’s hard to imagine that he never really picked up a brush as a kid. Instead, he found theatre and music, and for a long time, they shaped his life. For 10 years, his life oscillated between two lands—India, his native and Oman, his birthplace. It was during his years growing up that he met and befriended a shy British boy called Sam Northcote, and that went on to become Johnny’s first encounter with art. Sam, at 15, was already writing creative war-fiction, coupling it with illustrations. ‘I had never met a person as artistic as him.’ He traces his creative influences to the memories of Sam, in the hostel room at their boarding school.
Today, Johnny whips up imagined worlds, awash with flaming red pelicans, towering giraffes, moody monkeys and floating astronauts. In his illustrations, everything is larger than life, assuming a whole new identity. What may seem whimsical to the layman is carefully curated work for Johnny. ‘If you are looking at my art, you are seeing a mirage of layers; each one picked for its own story.’ His most recent work for Sid Vashi’s album Azuma Kazuma underscores his curious illustrative style. ‘Sid wanted to weave a space-opera narrative into the project, one that had been hankering him since he was 15. The challenge was to instill a sense of anticipated adventure and exploration and to keep that in the mind of the listener for the duration of the album. We wanted to deal with Death, what it means to die to the self and for the sake of finding a greater truth. Ludek Pesek’s The Moon and the Planets and Dune were the sort of visual influences we had. Vintage space illustrations and old digital-matte-painting techniques allowed us to create the surreal space-scales we see in Azuma Kazuma. Individual illustrations, chosen with purpose, were hand-cut from their former domain, to then re-emerge as a 21st century metamorphosis.’
For Johnny, the creative process is led by intuition. Every artwork is like embarking on a journey of self-reflection. ‘I view the process not as a regime, but as a discovery—it is motion.’
Text Ritupriya Basu