Meet the Artist: Joan Deborah Ganon

Joan Deborah Ganon insists she is not an artist. “More a rather good copier,” she contends, describing her practice of transplanting iconic images from modern masterpieces onto footwear. The line between artisanship and artistry has always been nebulous—but definitions aside—Ganon’s work is consistently fun, accessible, and innately functional, bringing fine art into the everyday.

Ganon’s foray into painting began as a way to pass time between gigs as a script supervisor. Inspired by her creative husband and the Matisse poster hanging in their bedroom, Ganon took up an old pair of sneakers as her canvas and began to paint. The result was impressive, revealing Ganon’s talent for color-matching and mimicry, and quickly leading to several requests from members of her family. In the years since, Ganon has built up a flourishing small business painting custom shoes, taking on artists from Picasso, to Hilma af Klint, to Jamaal Eversley, the ringleader of Beacon Gallery’s fall exhibition, Real F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

Painted by JDG shoes come in all sizes, for me women and kids! All designs by Jamaal Eversley (models: Jamaal Eversley and family).  Photo credit Greg Caparell, Caparell Photography

Her first real challenge, however, was designing a collection of shoes for the Matisse exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in 2017. Daunted, but committed, she decided there was “nothing to do in that case but hold my nose and jump,” continuing, “happily there was water in the pool and I learned that I could not only copy but adapt artists’ work.” The designs were a success, leading to another commission from the MFA in 2019 for their Henri de Toulouse Lautrec show.

Painted by JDG shoes with a pattern by Jamaal Eversley
Painted by JDG shoes

Optimizing the adaptation of two-dimensional, rectangular works to the textured and confined vamp of a shoe was, of course, a learning process. Of her experience, Ganon shared, “It did take me a while figure out what/who translates well to my shoes. Jamaal is a perfect example of great pieces to do on shoes whereas Degas, for example, is impossible for me because his style, which I certainly appreciate, has images that are too “muddy” for the shoes. For Seurat’s A Sunday On La Grande Jatte, I did incorporate as many dots as possible, but I can’t do Van Gogh because his strokes look more sculptural than I can mimic. I also realized that vertical images do not work nearly as well as horizontal when I try to lay them out in a way I am happy with.” 

The most enduring collaboration in her work so far has been with Jamaal Eversley, an abstract artist based in the greater Boston area known for his vibrant series “Nerd Meets World.” Employing bold colors and sharp geometry, Eversley’s work is especially well suited to the medium, allowing Ganon more flexibility in her adaptations. Their partnership was serendipitous.

Canvas shoes (porcelain models) designed by Jamaal Eversley, painted by JDG. Photo credit Greg Caparell, Caparell Photography

“We got together a few years ago after he saw a pair of my shoes on set, got my number from the person wearing them and we eventually met for coffee. At that point, he was curious about the technical stuff I might have figured out about painting shoes. He was thinking about maybe doing something like that and I passed along as much info as I could. I think we both enjoyed that get-together and that was that. As he decided to branch out with his brand of apparel/ accessories he got back in touch and we began our current partnership. I loved his art and he had seen enough of my work to trust me with his designs.  Truthfully, and I think Jamaal would agree with this, it was the business equivalent of love at first sight and I think this will be a long and happy relationship.”

Bespoke heels designed by Jamaal Eversley, painted by JDG. Photo credit Greg Caparell, Caparell Photography

The collaboration between Ganon and Eversley is among many featured in Beacon Gallery’s Real F.R.I.E.N.D.S. exhibition opening on September 4th this fall. To get a preview of their shared work and experience more of Ganon’s brilliant designs, visit her Instagram @paintedbyjdg.

As for her recommendation, “Right now I am streaming the lightest of light entertainment available as an antidote to reality. May I recommend The Great British Baking Show to everyone. Interest in baking not at all a necessity.  That said, I do love baking but according to my scale was doing that a lot more than I should so I have cut back much to the dismay of our mailman Charlie and our garbage collectors! They are having to settled for popsicles!”

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