Artist Interviews 2023

Juan José Martinez Canovas  
By Julia Siedenburg

Juan José Martinez Canovas is a true master of pencil drawings. His beautifully detailed images lure you into an eerie world full of fantastical creatures and concepts. His influences come from ancient myths yet his human-animal hybrids are different than anything you’ll have seen before.

His unique take on human portraits and narratives is what makes his work so extraordinary. I am so grateful that Juan agreed to give us a deeper insight into his work. Please enjoy our interview below, dear reader

What do you feel when you create your amazing drawings?

During the creation of a drawing, and as my creative process is slow, I feel or experience several different emotional phases. Normally when I finish a drawing I achieve a high degree of satisfaction, when one of them I don't like it or it doesn't go as I imagined it, I usually leave it half done or I break it. But the best moment for me is when I'm creating it in my mind, sometimes with the excitement it's hard for me to fall asleep at night. And then, once I start drawing, I experience a feeling of relaxation, as if it were a meditation because my creative process is slow, soft and delicate.

Your shading and attention to detail are impeccable. How did you start drawing and how long did it take you to craft that precision?

I've been drawing all my life. My mother tells me that even before I learned to walk I was drawing recognizable things. Later there were times when I drew more and others less, but I never stopped. Approximately half of my life has been dedicated to drawing and painting professionally, but it was during the pandemic when I began to work at home and therefore to make small formats to avoid space problems. The pandemic and being at home without being able to go out or combine my life with other jobs, made me ask myself: How far could I go with my precision and technique in drawing? And since then I have been enjoying that format and technique.

Your mystical pencil drawings mostly showcase human-animal hybrids. Where do you take your inspiration for your surreal images from?

As a lover of ancient culture, I am very inspired by mythological legends, in almost all cultures we can find metamorphoses between humans and animals that have fascinated me since I was a child. I am also a lover of science fiction and I find very interesting the theory of ancient astronauts and how they also maintain a direct relationship with these ancestral creatures.

Tell us a bit about your process. How long does it take from the idea to the finished piece?

I usually start visualizing what I want to draw in my mind. Once I have the idea, the next thing is to study the animal model, poses, and anatomy. Once I have looked at all this the next step would be to locate the human model. Many times the models are people around me and other times they are people I only know on social networks but they catch my attention because of their faces or expressions and I ask them if they would take certain pictures to be part of a work of art. After all this, I usually do the metamorphosis mentally and I start sketching very softly on the paper to see if I apparently like how the drawing looks like.

You draw not only lifelike animals but also humans. Are the human faces based on someone you know or based on your imagination?

No, I find it impossible or very difficult to make a very realistic human portrait drawn from imagination. I always use photographs that I usually take personally of people around me as I mentioned before or if the person lives far away from me, they usually take the photographs under some indications that I give them beforehand.

Which artist would you say is your biggest inspiration and influence?

For me, it is totally impossible to name an artist. Therefore I will name a few. Valdés Leal, José de Ribera “Spagnoletto”, Goya, Böcklin, Bouguereau, Sverre Malling, Lewis Chamberlain…

Tell us a bit about your childhood and upbringing.

My childhood in general, I consider having been quite normal. I was raised with conservative values and in a family with quite a few religious values. On weekends I used to visit my deceased grandfather's siblings who were a priest, a nun, and a friar. Therefore, I believe that visiting churches and monasteries on a regular basis, where I played hide and seek with my brother in these gloomy places and with paintings about death, I imagine that marked me quite a lot and I grew up with a considerable obsession with this theme that is still quite persistent in my work to this day. In my adolescence, I began to get into the world of cinema in science fiction, horror, and similar genres. I also started with extreme music like trash metal, black metal, and death metal, and artistically I became obsessed with the tattoo world when it was a particular world not like now. At 17 years old I started tattooing professionally in 1997 at the same time, I started my artistic studies of arts and crafts and later in early 2000, I started my time at the university studying fine arts.

Do you draw with specific paper and pencils? Are you planning to experiment with other materials in the future?

Yes, lately I have been drawing on Arches 300gr satin watercolor paper. In general, any thick paper that has no grain is fine for me. Now I'm thinking of doing mixed media and experimenting on this paper with acrylics, and watercolor graphite to see what happens. Most of your artworks are pencil on white paper though a few are standing out that are in color.

One of those colorful pieces you titled ‘Personal tribute to Böcklin’. Please tell us the story behind it and why this particular piece does not have an animal in it.

For the last few years, I have been combining several thematic lines in my work. From time to time, when I'm a bit saturated from working on the same theme, I return to another one to rest my mind. I have always been fascinated by all the versions that this author has done on this work, therefore I had pending a personal interpretation and it was not until a review of the film "Immortals" by director Tarsem Singh that I decided to make this interpretation when I saw a very nice scene about a funeral. All very mythological, symbolic, and mystical.

What is next? What is planned for the future?

I am currently talking about a possible exhibition in a wonderful gallery in Santa Monica (California), nothing is closed yet but it seems that everything is going well and I am with all my positive energy to make the exhibition happen. After the summer I will have an individual exhibition in my city in a very nice old convent of the SXVI century and a collective exhibition in Barcelona.

Copro Gallery in Santa Monica has announced Juan’s solo exhibition of 10 pieces for May 6th

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