Mike Quon has been creating art and design for over 3 decades. With clients like Summer Olympics, AT&T, AOL, Time Warner, UNICEF, NBC, Coca-Cola, New York State Lottery and Dupont, his work has reached millions. Born to artist and former Disney animator Milton Quon in Los Angeles, he now resides in New Jersey, where a career-spanning retrospective of his work was held at Monmouth University in the DiMattio Gallery. I interviewed Quon about his life and career.
You grew up in an artistic household. What was that like?
Growing up in Los Angeles was sunny, bright, colorful, and I was surrounded by art. My dad was an artist and animator for Walt Disney and later, an advertising art director. So there were always drawings and artwork around. Mom tells me I was drawing and making things at a very young age. Even though my dad had a career in art, he wanted me to go into medicine, or dentistry, or something like that. Quite a cruel turn of events…since I had no natural affinity for math, chemistry, physics, and the like.
Mike’s father Milton’s watercolor. Milton is still creating art at age 105
Were you encouraged to go into the field?
Not all all. Even though I would draw pictures, my Dad was my biggest critic—always correcting me on my hand drawings, etc. I found my style eventually. Without taking many art courses in middle school or high school, I did manage doing publicity and posters for high school plays and was doing cartoons for the UCLA Daily Bruin and sports newspaper cover illustrations in college, as well as campus humor magazines. It seems that drawing and poster art was something I could do well, and it came naturally to me.
I studied art at UCLA, after entering as a pre-medicine major. Following the shortest stint at the famed, Nobel Prize-winning Chemistry department, after a test to review High School chemistry, a professor approached me and ended my medical career before it began, by saying, ‘Young man, you do not belong here.” I happily walked across campus to the Art Department studying advertising design and illustration. I did have two well known teachers in the fine arts…the abstract expressionist giant Richard Diebenkorn, and the pop artist Ed Ruscha. Their lessons still speak to me even to this day.
I started working as a designer then moved into art directing. Since I had a love for illustration and creating artwork, I was highly sought after for my abilities to draw, work with layouts, compositions, sales, and promotion. I had an instinct for marketing and getting people’s attention.
What was it like to start your own studio?
I always had an interest in working on my own, after stints working for other people. I was always worried about getting side tracked in a long term job. I kept moving, and was able to continuously get work throughout my career. I like the variety of projects and always felt I had a variety of skills. It was hard managing a studio, since I had to oversee designers that worked for me, and I was not a naturally great business person – an artist designer basically. I had secured some large clients and accounts had grown too large. Always hard to manage a sensible workload, and it was hard for me to turn work away.
How does it feel to have a career retrospective?
I first thought, am I old enough to have a retrospective? All kidding aside, Gallery Director Scott Knauer and Monmouth University honored me with this unique exhibition since it covers my work in the 1970s up until today….from graphic design and advertising, and promotion….to my transitioning into personal and fine art painting. It is especially satisfying to show the students how early student work can begin an adventure/ journey that only time, talent, practice, and hard work can reveal or uncover.
Any advice for anyone entering into the field today?
Well, entering the field today, you have youth, energy, some talent, hopefully, and a zest for a career in art. Like any field, you have to find your own way. So much of art is self taught, and the art field is a social world. Meet people, ask questions, learn as much as you can. Study art history. Meeting people is crucial—even one person can set you on an idea or direction to change your life. Of course you have to do the hard work, have the ideas and thinking, and figure out what you can bring to the design and art world. Take time to be a social media whiz across all platforms, and getting as many new followers as you can, by showing off your work, since Instagram is the new art gallery.
What’s next for Mike Quon?
Mostly, keep creating masterpieces…seriously, my job is to keep thinking up ideas, and improving my craft. I have a museum graphics project scheduled in Los Angeles in the spring and also interior graphics for a supermarket here in the greater New York area. I have some outdoor banners debuting this spring in Fair Haven, and a big show at the Whitney Museum or MoMA would be nice.