The Boy Melancholy

The Barrow Artist using art to open a dialogue about mental health

Inks, watercolour and marker pens are used as tools of expression by Johnny Kavanagh aka The Boy Melancholy. He takes our collective emotions, feelings of love, joy, death and despair, and creates icons that could be described as images of contemporary queer mythology.

We have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from Johnny, we are already getting excited about queer art spaces in Barrow! For now though, we wanted to learn more about him and what inspires his work.

Johnny Kavanagh aka The Boy Melancholy is 33 years old, and uses he/him pronouns. He was born in Billinge, Wigan on January 31st 1990 and has been living in Barrow for just over a decade after moving here from Manchester.

Hi Johnny! Thanks for talking with us! Can you share any information that’s important about how you identify?

I identify as a queer cisgender male, whilst I’m attracted to the performance of masculinity, certain parts aren’t necessarily important to me.

Can you tell us a little about your art?

I’m a traditional artist who uses a range of materials such as acrylic paint, watercolours, inks, marker pens, and whatever else I can get my hands on. I enjoy mixing medias to create a piece, and occasionally dip in to photography. I basically created this blue skinned character called The Boy Melancholy as a way of opening a dialogue about mental health.

It seems very emotive, is it drawn from lived experience? 

Yes. Most of my art is an expression of my mental health. A vessel to process and discuss things that have happened to me, but also other people.

My whole life I have felt depressed, angry, and empty. A few months before covid I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder aka Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder which is caused by traumatic events experienced during childhood, it made a lot of sense the more I looked into it. I’m a highly sensitive person with a snarky exterior, but I take on board other people’s thoughts and feelings and ruminate on them, channelling it all into my art.

How much influence does being a queer person have on your art and the subjects it explores?

I get to draw and paint what I like, nude dudes haha. But in all seriousness, the society that we live in has told us for many years that men are not allowed to show emotion, that to show emotion is weakness. My queerness influences my art because it allows me to put my heart and soul and passion into it. Every piece I do comes from a thought, a feeling, an experience that I’ve had, that I’ve craved, that I want to forget. It’s an outlet for me to express it. We live in a society where we aren’t all fortunate enough to be able to express emotions and feelings.

What are your other influences and inspirations?

I’m inspired by a long range of creatives be they artists, authors, film directors or musicians such as Gustav Klimt, Frida Kahlo, Alex Pardee, Tim Burton, Dave McKean, Neil Gaiman, The Wachowski Siblings, Darren Aronofsky, Jonna Lee, FKA Twigs, Halsey, Meg Myers, Crosses, and The Used.  But also the human condition, the natural world, and mythology.

What would your dream commission be?

Ever since I was a teen and I saw the album art for The Used’s ‘In Love and Death’ by Alex Pardee I had wanted to do an album cover which was actually realised this year when Tambores En Benirras asked me to provide art for their latest album! So I guess I gotta come up with a new dream.

How was it moving to Barrow from Manchester?

Chaotic. I am averse to change. It felt like tectonic plates shifting and crashing inside me. The change in pace was difficult to get used to, but it was necessary to my growth as a queer person and as an artist.

How did moving to Cumbria effect you as an artist?

Moving to Cumbria allowed me the breathing space to process my trauma and thus The Boy Melancholy was born. If I hadn’t moved here then my current work would probably be non-existent. 

Do you consider Cumbria to be a supportive place for queer / young / contemporary artists?

I think it’s certainly coming along in leaps and bounds! But I also think it could do better.

How can it be improved?

Listen to what the people want rather than giving them what you think they want.

How can Queer Cumbria help to create a better environment for queer creative people?

By giving queer creatives a platform to share their work, where their voices can be heard and their stories can be told.

What does society need more and less of?

More understanding and less hate.

To be a queer artist in Cumbria is (three words)

1 Frustrating

2 Isolating

3 Liberating

A parting message to young queer folks of Cumbria? 

Love yourself. Be wild. Be feral. Be free.