John Magnus Champlin
Artists Heart ROC
Interview No. 64
We have amazing natural resources here—a huge lake that’s practically a freshwater ocean, Finger Lakes carved by glaciers, a waterfall downtown—and people as diverse as the landscape.
What part of Rochester are you from?
I grew up on a farm in the countryside in West Bloomfield. My whole family is still on the farm.
What made you want to stay in the Rochester area?
When I moved to the city, I started meeting some of the coolest people I’ve ever encountered. I really love the city and the people here. Every time I travel, I come back to my city and find more and more to love.
What was your favorite part of living in Rochester?
If you want to make something happen in this city, you can, within three months. It’s a super supportive community—you’ll have a whole team of people on board. It seems like around here our attention span lasts for a season; it’s a “fall project” or a “winter project,” usually. You know, with our winters lasting about six months and our summers lasting two.
Describe your dream Rochester day.
Floating through Rochester is kind of how I operate. I’d wake up late and have breakfast with friends. Then I’d go check out some small stores like Little Button—where you know the owner is there making things better. Afterwards, I’d go help people! I love helping people and connecting people. In the evening, I’d see some different friends, maybe bring food over to someone’s house to cook a meal together. I just like to go with the flow. I always find that I hit the exact right places I’m supposed to be. I’m like Gandalf—a wizard is there when he’s supposed to be there.
Do you have a favorite local nonprofit/charity you like to support?
I did PR/marketing for WALL/THERAPY for awhile—and that was partially selfishly motivated, because I want to have a pretty city. I’m all about the visual. I love the murals in our city—it’s basically the artist’s mind on a canvas that everyone can see!
Seedfolk is another one of my favorites—it teaches urban kids about where their food comes from.
What is your personal coping mechanism for cold/gray weather?
Well, my neighbors call me “The Viking” because I don’t get cold a lot. But one good strategy for me is to surround myself with creative people. Having good conversations about art, laughing with friends, and making art all help too. I host a weekly bad movie night and that’s a lot of fun.
If you leave for six months and then come back, you’ll just think: “Oh my God, this city is fucking amazing.”
What makes Rochester unique?
We have amazing natural resources here—a huge lake that’s practically a freshwater ocean, Finger Lakes carved by glaciers, a waterfall downtown—and people as diverse as the landscape. If you leave for six months and then come back, you’ll just think: “Oh my God, this city is fucking amazing.”
What do you think could be improved?
We are really segregated, and can be close-minded. Culver is like an invisible wall—I can walk around in my neighborhood and go from hearing gunshots and spying needles on the ground, to waving at a friendly 12 year old boy walking a golden retriever, a mere 1,800 feet apart from each other!
Tell me a little bit about your involvement in the Rochester art scene.
I participate in an artists’ collective called Dudes Night Out—a formal collective of informal people. It’s been around for about three years now, almost four. We have a show at Nox right now that is inspired by our favorite authors. It’s called “A Novel Approach.” We also host regular Drink & Draw events, where people can show up, drink a beer, and draw. It’s a great way to gather together and enjoy each other’s company and some good beer. We usually have them at Roc Brewing.
I really just like to help any artist do cool stuff. I don’t have an ego about it—I’ll carry paints, hold a ladder, or help making connections by networking and socializing. I want awesome people to know other awesome people. Being friendly and helping others is one of my favorite things. I like to sing people’s praises and help them see the positives in their own work—I’ll be their cheerleader!
What inspires you?
It fluctuates. I didn’t take a lot of art classes growing up, I just started doodling. I used to doodle on postcards, and someone spotted one and asked me to be in an art show! All of a sudden I was in two art shows in three weeks time. I just like to make stuff. I’m inspired by the creative process itself.
I like to enhance found art, that’s a lot of fun for me! Sometimes I’ll walk around the Browncroft area and find huge pieces of art at the curb, and then I’ll just paint my own stuff into them. People know that I do it now, so they’ll leave art on my doorstep! It’s awesome. I also hide my art all over—I’ll tuck little doodles into holes in walls and hope people find them and enjoy the weird experience of finding hidden art.
Where are your favorite places to go to get inspired?
Long walks and new places. I don’t repeat myself a lot. My favorite place is my next new place. I also love exploring abandoned places. The most inspirational places, for me, are ones I haven’t been to yet.
Any advice for other artists/creatives in the area?
Just create stuff—seriously, just do it. People have a weird fear of staring at a blank canvas. Don’t worry about it. Personally, I don’t take myself seriously. Well, I’m not flippant about it, but I don’t put pressure on myself either.
That spark of creativity is what sets us apart in the known universe. Surround yourself with good people. Expand your art and your perceptions through collaboration.