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Jon Burgerman makes things for a living. He is an artist, after all. An artist that excels in almost every department except, most likely, sleep.
Prodigious across a multitude of mediums including sculpture, canvases, murals, interior design, video, apparel, toys, tats and textiles, we can’t imagine the guy getting much rest. Nonetheless, Jon still finds time to teach, do performance art, lecture and make delightful books.
Jon studied Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University and graduated in 2001. He has collaborated with well-known brands including Samsung, Nike, Pepsi, Levi’s and MTV. Most closely aligned with the doodle art style, Jon has been based in New York City since 2010.
Being UK-born, however, Jon has strong opinions on the recent UK vote to leave the EU, and in light of that decision, offers a dire warning to Americans who are on the verge of voting for their next president.
Konbini is delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Jon. Read the full interview below!
Konbini: When did you realize that art was your calling? Did you intuitively know since childhood or did you have some kind of epiphany as an adult?
Jon Burgerman: My mother studied art for a short while but stopped very early on, sadly. She’s always been a happy creative. Everyone can be creative but not everyone is happy being so. I was lucky she encouraged me to draw when I was younger. After that, I was on my own trying to be an artist.
My parents would have preferred me to be a designer or something with an obvious job outcome but to be honest, I couldn’t handle the discipline required for that. I needed to be amongst the chaos and freaks in the art room. I have two brothers, one is a lawyer and the other an economist. The middle child is often the black sheep of the family, right?
You advocate “doodling” as a technique for creating art. Is doodling an art movement?
I don’t know if doodling is an art movement but it has some cultural cache at the moment. For me, a doodle is more than just a loose, quick drawing. It’s anything that’s made absentmindedly, through intuition, hope or dumb luck. It’s making without worrying about the end result.
The art is within the process of doodling. A doodle could be a sketch but could be an idea, a rap, a melody, a form, a dance.
"Doodling is making without worrying about the end result."
When I look at your art, I’m reminded of the bright colors and whimsical playfulness of Joan Miro or Keith Haring.
I was introduced to a lot of classic, traditional art growing up. All the stuff you get to see at school. I particularly liked Miro, Klee and Calder. When I studied art at college and university, I discovered a more broad collection of artists, along with designers, animators and those who kind of slip between the cracks of the disciplines.
I never liked (or properly understood) Haring until I saw the big show of his work at the Brooklyn Museum. It clicked when I saw his pieces in front of me and I could relate to his process and thoughts. I fancily thought that if we’d of ever met we’d of been friends and drawn together.
Creativity is really such a mystery. Take us through your creative process – where does it begin and how does it reach the final stage of becoming a completed painting, mural or toy?
The process continues even when the main system is at a standstill or rest. Which is to say my brain is constantly looking for things I could use in my work: ideas, inspirations, colors, etc.
As you absorb more and more good stuff (books, art, music, design, etc) certain ideas start to click into place. Then you just need the final spark to set it all off . . . and BOOM! You need to be thinking all the time about making things. That’s the single most important part of "creativity."
"I want to capture a pure creative moment, even if that moment isn’t perfect."
For a lot of my work, once I have some sort of idea, I just sit and draw. Inevitably, the ideas start to change as you work on them. Then, if it’s going to be a painting, I just paint it. If it’s going to be a mural, I just start to draw on the wall – no sketches or pencil lines. I want to capture a pure creative moment, even if that moment isn’t perfect. Especially if that moment isn’t going to be perfect. There are no perfect moments!
You have collaborated with some well-known companies including Sony, Nike, Pepsi, Levi’s and Samsung. What are the pros and cons of doing this kind of commissioned work and how does it inform your art?
The main pro is getting paid a lump sum of cash for your work. When you spend a long time preparing an art exhibition, it’s a gamble. With commercial work, at least you know you’ll (probably, most likely) get paid.
The cons are working with a big company who probably don’t morally align with your way of thinking. I’ve turned down more jobs than I’ve taken. I haven't sold my soul but I have licensed it a few times.
How do you feel about the recent British vote to leave the European Union?
The UK leaving the EU is without a doubt the biggest political tragedy of a generation. Everyone I know is utterly distraught. No more free trade, less investment, no more easy movement around the continent, boarders up and small island mentality ahoy.
The Leave campaign has sowed the seeds of bigotry, xenophobia and hate in British soil. The repercussions are going to be felt around the world.
"Pithy posts on Facebook and Twitter are not enough to convince people who might vote for Trump not to vote for him."
We should all heed the warning, Trump could become president! It could happen, and we must not let it. We should learn too that pithy posts on Facebook and Twitter are not enough to convince people who might vote for Trump not to vote for him. We have to get out and meet his would be voters and talk to them, explain our thoughts. They, like the Leave voters, have very real grievances that should be addressed.
You've created album covers for various musicians. Tell us about these collaborations.
That’s how my career started. I left studying fine art at university in 2001 and had no idea how I was going to pay off my huge student debt. Being an artist you’re predisposed to not earn any money. Then out of the blue a designer I knew asked me to make a painting for an LP cover for Charles Webster. I pitched some ideas, one was chosen and that was that.
My happiest achievement with the record sleeves isn’t actually a sleeve I designed. Apparently, the cover for the seminal LP "Untrue" by Burial was inspired by my first cover for Charles Webster. I know this because Will (Burial) told Charles. Amazing!
"Being an artist you’re predisposed to not earn any money."
Explain your "performance art."
When I paint live, large scale, it’s a performance. How I draw and move my body and interact with the crowd becomes part of the show. I used to be in a band and all our gigs were like funny performances. I like how in a live situation the creation process and "end product" happen at the same time.
There’s also an added sense of danger, because if you screw up everyone is going to see. That edge is exciting. There’s no point making stuff when it’s 100% safe that the work is going to be the same as it always is.
What is your most recent project, what are you working on now and what would you like to do next?
I just made a coloring book! It’s called "‘Jon Burgerman’s Burgerworld" and it’s full of the characters and places that exist in my doodler's world!
Next, I’d like to finish a book I’ve been working on this year about creativity and fun, easy things that anyone can make. I’d also like to do more animation and film work. I just made a short animated spot for Disney and a funny video for Sesame Street.