John Jansky brought his blank canvas and paint to the corner of the court at State Farm Center during Illinois’ game against Northwestern two weeks ago. Less than seven minutes after paint touched the white backdrop, he flipped it over and displayed his portrait of Lou Henson to the crowd, including the former Illini coach himself, who was sitting in front of him. The local artist opened up to The News-Gazette’s Anthony Zilis about his performance in front of thousands of fans, his history with speed painting and more.
How’d you get started?
“Becoming a speed painter came about completely accidental. For me it was the result of a bet I lost. I painted someone really fast and people liked it. They shared it. People enjoyed it from an entertainment perspective. I am capable of art with more detail but people wanted to see the speed painting performances. I was told about Speed painter Denny Dent. I watched a trailer with him in it and knew that was what I was my destiny. I fell in love with the idea of performing art live with music. Friends of mine introduced me to the Peter Blackmon of Portal Entertainment. We were decorating the children’s room before the Festival of Trees in Danville. I volunteered for a fundraiser with Duck Dynasty (also in Danville) and Peter helped make it happen. I performed in front of 4,000 people. One photo of me leaving the stage receiving a celebratory fist bump from Jase Robertson of the hit show Duck Dynasty was placed on Facebook taken by JPhoto. The response to that one photo put me on the map. I went home to invitations to do more benefits with several celebrities.”
How did you approach painting Lou Henson?
“I usually go through many photos and choose head shots. I pick out a few and I simplify the images from those original references. Not everyone or every photo is a great subject for the simplicity of a speed painting. I prefer to chose the photograph that I use as a reference because I know the pros and cons of the right reference. I usually paint large faces. You can recognize them far away, you can spend more time on the parts people recognize and it allows me to move more during the performance. In this case, they wanted a specific pose with more torso. It cuts into the time. However, I agreed because the orange jacket is iconic.”
What was the reaction like?
“I originally thought someone in the crowd was booing me. It was actually someone was yelling “LOU!’ When I turned around Lou was behind me with his wife. Their reaction was priceless. So sweet. Lou reached out for a thank you handshake. My hands were full of paint so we first bumped each other (above). Someone took a photo and sent that moment to me. Just like the first time I performed live. That amazing moment was captured. That photo is priceless to me. Aside from the applause from the 15,000 or so attendees, the video that the Big Ten Network posted has reached over a million views. I am so grateful for all of the response.”
What skills does it require to be a speed painter?
“Be fast. Be willing to get messy. What makes me good at it is simple: I love doing it. I only do it when I want to. Lots of work for a six minute performance.”
What have been some of your favorite speed paintings?
“Dick Van Dyke’s 90th celebration in Malibu. So amazing. Performing at the Society of American Magicians convention with my mind reading speed painting performance thanks to Andy Dallas and Mike Miller. Largest regret? Turning down a gig with Motörhead on the Motörhead Cruise. Then shortly after Lemmy passed away from Cancer.”
What other types of art do you specialize in?
“I draw detailed portraits in pencil. I have drawn with chocolate cookies, blood and a variety of other mediums. I perform up-close magic and mentalism. I am also a trained tattoo artist.”