We welcome back  to the ranks of our contributors John Wellington a New Yorker whose art finds its inspiration in Old Master paintings, religious and pop icons, cinema, music, and his fascination with devotion, idolatry and the use of male and female imagery in art and life. He has shown in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Paris and London. His paintings may be seen on the website: johnwellington.com
YOU AND ME
oil on aluminum, 68 x 48 inches
John Wellington in his studio
John Wellington has recently released the first three volumes of Idols Demons Saints, a series of e-books based on his sketchbooks, showing the process of creating from the first inked line to a finished work of art. (See John Wellington : Idols, Demons and Saints by James F. Cooper)
John leads painting groups to Paris.
In the following article, John relates his friendship with Jean Giraud (1938-2012), the renowned French comic-book creator known also by his pseudonyms Mœbius and Gir.
In 1977 a French comic – Métal Hurlant – was translated and reproduced for the American market as Heavy Metal Magazine. At sixteen years old, looking through issue number one, I was visually transported by the storytelling of a number of European artists that I, like my friends, had never heard of. There was one artist, whose masterful line work and surreal story stood out for me, even above the other exceptionally talented illustrators collected in that first issue. His contribution was a wordless tale titled Arzach and he signed it “Moebius.” That was my introduction to Jean Giraud’s world – a lone rider, flying a saddled Pterodactyl-like bird across an apocalyptic landscape to rescue what he believed to be a damsel in distress. As a teenager I copied Jean’s drawings using Rapidograph pens and coloring my attempts with Dr. Martin’s Dyes or watercolors. I spent hours trying to understand and unravel Jean’s magic of showing form and texture through the elegance of his line. It would be a few years later at art school, that when looking at the engravings of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Albrecht Dürer, and Hendrick Goltzius that I would begin to understand the genesis of Jean’s hatch marks.
A decade later in 1988, two incidents brought me to France, both involving my creative life. The first was my participation in a show at Centre George Pompidou. The second was my involvement in both the pulp and graphic novel versions of a story for Marvel Comics.
Jean Dethier, the then Director of Architecture at Pompidou, visited my studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn after seeing my painting Der Erzengle . Monsieur Dethier invited me to be a part of the large scale show he was curating: Chateau Bordeaux. Asking what I would need in order to participate in the exhibition I requested to be embedded in a winery to paint, sketch and find my inspiration. Weeks later Jean proposed that I stay at Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande for five weeks as the guest of General and Madame de Lencquesaing. They would provide a studio, car, and of course, room and board in their château. For five weeks in the summer of 1988, I drove through the vineyards of Pauillac and neighboring villages, painted, ate, and of course drank the grand vins of the local wineries.
To support myself during this time, I worked as a colorist for Marvel Comics. A few months before the Bordeaux trip, the editors at Epic Comics (an imprint of Marvel) asked if I would color a two-part pulp comic of The Silver Surfer. “Pulp” was the term we used for low quality comics printed on newspaper and usually sold in newsstands. The story was written by Stan Lee, the creator of many of Marvel's greatest superheroes, including Spider-Man, The Hulk, and Thor, but what made this job the best of my career in comics was that it was illustrated by Jean Giraud – Moebius – my teenage art idol.
Jean sent color notes to the Marvel offices at lower Park Avenue in Manhattan, consisting not of
actual colors, but rather the numeric and letter codes that were used to identify colors for comic books printed on pulp paper. Jean marked up black and white xeroxed pages of his art with arrows pointing to letters and numbers like Y2R2, Y2BR3 and every other combination of Y (yellow), B (blue) and R (red) that could be made from 25% (2), 50% (3) and 100% of the dot pattern of those colors. American pulp comics had a VERY limited color palette (the majority of the color choices looked a muddied greenish brown) and I don’t think Jean was ever happy with the results of the reductive and poor reproduction values of the final product. Still, the two part pulp version of The Silver Surfer sold well and that summer as I was preparing to leave for Bordeaux, I was asked to paint the pages of a high quality graphic novel version of the Stan Lee/Moebius The Silver Surfer. This process was called “blue-line” as Jean’s pages were printed on large art board as blue, rather than black lines. These could then be painted over in gouache or washed with watercolor where the pages would be scanned and photographed as original art with the black line work of Jean’s drawings overlaid on top of the painted pages.
Before starting my five weeks of painting at Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac, I spent a week in Paris to meet with Jean Dethier and some of the other artists and architects that would be contributing work to Chateau Bordeaux. Jean Giraud had agreed to meet me that week so that I could show him some of my finished pages for the graphic novel. As excited as I was to finally meet the artist whose line work I tried to emulate a decade earlier, it was also my hope that he would not be disappointed in these painted pages as he had been in the already published pulp version. And so it was with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation that I went off to meet Jean Giraud for a drink at Le Select on Boulevard Montparnasse on August 15th of 1988.
I was already sitting on the terrace of the café when Jean Giraud approached me. I was 27 years old and he had recently turned 50. He seemed to my young eyes both boyish and old. Jean’s hair was wild, receding and greying, his face showing deep furrows around the brow of his forehead and along the creases of his mouth, but his eyes, framed by thin wired oval glasses, twinkled with youth. After we ordered drinks from the waiter, I produced the pages I had colored. He studied each one carefully and smiled when he returned them to the portfolio. Relieved that he approved of my work, we turned our conversation to art. He was working on a new series of abstract paintings that he was planning to show at Pompidou at some point. He joked that he would avoid his opening as he feared the reaction to a body of work that was far different from what he was famous for.
After drinks, Jean invited me for dinner around the corner at a vegetarian restaurant called Dietetic Shop on Rue Delambre. The bright green facade and large yellow lettering made this petite bistro near impossible to miss on the tranquil street behind Boulevard Montparnasse. At the time, Jean was a practicing “rawist” and Dietetic Shop prepared all his food uncooked as to his wishes. At dinner we showed each other the drawings in our sketchbooks as we both always kept one with us. Jean was one of those artists that could draw anything from imagination. I have met a few more artists like him in the decades since, especially in the world of concept illustration and comic book art, but the type of visual memory skill that Jean possessed, has to this day, felt as much to me like a super power as a talent.
Earlier that evening, before our rendezvous, I had watched an interview show on television to help improve my poor French. I described to Jean the strange man that was being interviewed; disheveled, unshaven, his eyelids heavy and swollen, and chain smoking Gitanes.
This man, wearing a denim jump suit, went out of his way to antagonize the host, and when a photo was shown of him looking both straight at the camera, and in profile – an American ‘perp” photo – I was sure he was a criminal. Well, a criminal that could sing, as the show then played a video of this man performing the ballade Mon Legionnaire. Jean Giraud laughed and knew exactly who I had seen on TV a few hours earlier, not a criminal, but the great singer and song writer Serge Gainsbourg, promoting his latest album You're Under Arrest. To Jean’s astonishment I still had no idea who this person was, so after our dinner, Jean took me to a record shop on Montparnasse where I bought two cassettes for my Walkman. And so that evening was not only the occasion of my meeting one of the great artists of my youth but also my introduction to Serge Gainsbourg. I became the proud owner of the cassettes, Melody Nelson, and You’re Under Arrest. Within a year I would own many more of Gainsbourg’s albums, and become such a fan as to mourn his loss on March 2, 1991.
Two days later Jean invited me to his studio to hang out with him while he painted his abstract paintings. I pulled out my gouache paints and started a small portrait of him working over the drafting table, while he made his acrylic paints and brush do magical things on the page. We talked of fame, comics, films, and the struggles of being an artist. And most importantly, we began a friendship.
Over the years, Jean would visit me in New York City. Once he came at my invitation to lecture at the New York Academy of Art. Another time, after drinks, we drew in each other’s sketchbooks where till this day I know I got the better part of the deal. His drawing depicted two cowboys of the future meeting in a desert called Providence, references both to the city where I went to college and, I imagine, to our friendship. Above the drawing, he penned the letters “GG,” a reference to the black Siamese cat I had at that time. To this day I treasure the sketch for many reasons. But one is because of his love of America and specifically of “the Wild West.” He once talked about his earlier comic book work done under the nom de plume “Gir.” Blueberry depicted with astonishing accuracy, cowboys and indians, Winchester rifles, and every other accoutrement of that genre, and like Sergio Leone and his “Spaghetti Western” films, Jean illustrated these comic books before ever visiting the United States.
A decade almost to the week after our first meeting, in the summer of 1998 I painted my last portrait of Jean. We had finished dinner at his Paris studio on rue Falguiere behind the Gare Montparnasse, and our sons went down to the courtyard to play. While drinking wine, Jean and I talked about art, children, women and life, stopping our conversations only when I needed to paint his mouth. That portrait of Jean, painted in simple bold hatch marks, might have impressed him more than any other work I had done up to that moment. When it was completed, he held the painting in his hands and said “magic.” That was what art and the act of creating was for him. Decades later, it is still what the act of creating is for me. Magic.
[*] YOU AND ME, one of twenty-one paintings from the IDOLS, DEMONS and SAINTS series, references John Wellington’s travels to Asia. The stuffed toys, burning on top of the Great Wall of China, are based on a character created by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Other paintings from this series may be seen at https://johnwellington.com/demons.htm
[**] John Wellington - Studio Visit (6:51 minutes)
New York Academy of Art © 2013
 John's previous contribution: "12 August - the day Jean-Michel Basquiat died 27 years ago at the age of 27"
 The Archangel, in German.