Exclusive Interview with Jon Burgerman, Part OneJuxtapoz // Tuesday, 11 Aug 2009
Interview by Cheree Franco
Jon Burgerman is a Nottingham-based sculptor and illustrator. Sometimes he’s a designer or a painter. Recently, he’s a musician. But most notably, Jon is a doodler—an avid, highly reputed doodler. And those doodles have been reborn as toys, tattoos, clothes, wallpaper, snowboards and iPhone cases—which is ironic, considering that Jon owns the most basic Nokia model available. His client roster includes Levis, Adidas, Pepsi, and the clothing company Miss Sixty, for whom he’s painted ceiling-to-floor murals in both their Riccione hotel and their Amsterdam showroom.
Jon talked to Juxtapoz about his serendipitous America summer, learning to play the ukulele and the “intestinal jam” that holds his drawings together.
Do you plan your murals before you start?
I don’t necessarily have a composition on a piece of paper that I transfer on a wall, but I might think about it in my head, think about how it will work, and then obviously when you go back to practice, it’s different than in your head—the same way that when it’s on a piece of paper, it doesn’t always follow through. The paper is this big, the wall is this big, and you think ‘oh I should copy that,’ but walls have their own laws of how things will appear on them. So I work intuitively, I improvise. But I do have a rough idea. And working for a week on something, that [rough idea] can change. After a few days you go, ‘wait a minute, it’s starting to go another way.’ I change my mind. I’m contrarian.
Your work seems so spontaneous. Do you ever go back and correct mistakes?
In paintings, maybe. I’ve painted and drawn over bits of stuff…but on the cleaner work [the ink drawings], I never do that. You have to adapt and integrate.
Do you use reoccurring characters in your work?
I have reoccurring forms. I wouldn’t say I often put the same characters in a work, but there are types of characters. Maybe they’re all related—cousins of cousins of brothers of uncles. So they look, you know—‘there’s another one of those characters with the funny knees or there’s another one of those guys with the elongated noses and such,’ but they don’t have names. Some of the toys have their own names and backgrounds, but some of the shapes in the murals I do [even those with] eyes and noses, they’re just inhabitants of my world. But if I find myself redrawing the same guy over and over and thinking about him, then he develops a self. But that incubation time takes awhile, and a lot of characters get lost by the wayside and not redrawn. Certain characters from the stickers will graduate and be given the chance to become a toy or maybe a politician [the latter, delivered entirely straight-faced].
Your Giant Robot show is called “My American Summer.” Talk about your American summer.
I flew into L.A. I was there for two weeks. I think I arrived early June—it seems like a long time ago—and there was a group show at Seven Degrees [in Laguna]. It was live painting and music and video.
I was stationed in Laguna Beach. It’s not even really L.A. I know people in L.A., so I very kindly went on a little tour of sofas and spare rooms and floors. I slept around different peoples’ places and hung out, and at the end of the two weeks I went back down to Laguna, which is a beautiful beach, but there’s not much to do. I thought I should stay in America for the summer. I had no other trips planned, so I thought I’d go to New York, where I had a great time in February but was really busy [with a Factory Fresh show and a book signing at Giant Robot]. So I thought I’d come back and meet up with a lot of the people and go to galleries and museums
What was the Seven Degrees thing about?
I did a piece a few days earlier which was just line drawings, which people could color in on the night, and next to that piece was an empty panel where I spent a few hours at the event, just creating a new piece. Which people couldn’t color in, although I’m sure they’d really like to. People really like to color in, I don’t understand…for me, all the fun bits are done at that point. The drawing is where you make all the decisions, how things can be, how they fit together. Then the coloring in, you decide quite quickly, and it’s like, okay I know where all the black’s going to go, I just have to stand here now and paint all the black very carefully. It’s just legwork.
What kind of pieces can we expect at Giant Robot?
The Giant Robot show is a little different because I’ve been on the road, so predominately all the works are on paper. They’re somewhere in between a painting and a sketch. They’re not finished like a painting, but they’re more than just sketches. They reference things I’ve seen and done—my experience being here and in L.A. dictated the kind of stuff I was going to make. It’s like when you get back from school on summer holiday and the first thing you do is write what you did that summer. It’s a take on that, it’s kind of playful.
The plush toys are the other things that are in the exhibition, and they’re called The Brooklyn Hipsters. They’re seven characters, soft sculptures, which I designed and my friend Louise [Felt Mistress], she made them in Wales and Alex [his brother] brought them over in his luggage.
Does the work reference or straightforwardly illustrate your experiences?
Some of it illustrates, almost like diary pages. Some is a bit more abstract. And it’s not the whole holiday, it’s just various key points, you know, mundane daily things like one day I went out and it rained, and I went down the street and I came back. Not every day of being here has been an adventure. So it’s also about demystifying my work. My presence online is quite visible. I have lots of people follow me on twitter or facebook and know I’m in America doing stuff. I get the impression that people think its pretty exciting, that I lead an exciting lifestyle—I’m going to L.A., I’m going to New York. And it does sound good, and it generally is good, but it’s not rock and roll or anything. So I think its kind of fun to show that I went out and got an ice cream, and it fell on the floor.
What, sleeping on a couch or not having a car isn’t not rock and roll?
Yeah, begging people for lifts, feeling like you’re a young teenager again—you know, can someone pick me up from Laguna and take me back to Silverlake and vice versa. So it’s kind of honest in its account.
Makes me think of zines.
A lot of the pieces start off as drawings in my sketchbook, and I worked out some stuff beforehand. My idea was to make a zine once I get back to the U.K., and it’ll be some of the work you’ll recognize from the [Giant Robot] show. I took pages from the zine and fleshed them into full-fledged pieces. I’ve done about 30 or 40 pages so far, and that will chronicle leaving Nottingham, going to London, getting on the plane, going to L.A., going to New York, and back again.
Stay tuned for the second part of our exclusive interview with Jon and gain insight into the New York leg of his American summer.
For more on Jon Burgerman, you can visit his website here...
Check out another interview with Jon at Heeb Magazine.