A couple weeks ago I had a chance to talk with James Jean about his new book REBUS which comes out this fall, and thanks to my generous friends at Chronicle Books I have a signed copy to give away to one of you!
JAMES JEAN INTERVIEW / REBUS GIVEAWAY
If I came out to LA to visit for a day, where would you recommend I go for my breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
Jeff, you will begin your day by having breakfast in bed with me, then El Taurino for lunch, and finally Gjelina for dinner. We will retire to my place to look at some fine etchings. If you play ball, you can enjoy croissants and fresh squeezed juice again the next morning.
Haha breakfast in bed first! Like the first date in Annie Hall when Woody Allen asks for his kiss before they eat so he can actually enjoy his meal. If you could be a character in any film who would you be?
Grizzly Man. Because I enjoy being consumed by the thing I love the most.
I have been following your work since 2004, around the time you started the Polite Winter project. That was one of the things that really inspired me when I thought about creating Booooooom. I like the idea of an on-going visual conversation between artists over several years. What was that experience like for you?
Wow, did I really have a hand in the creation of Booooooom? Polite Winter was a nice way for me to keep in contact with my friend, Kenichi Hoshine, who lives in New York. It was also a good outlet for me to experiment with images and materials. Looking back on it, the experience was kind of like playing Words with Friends: after sending my solution to Kenichi across the country, I impatiently waited for his response. But upon seeing it, I’d feel the pressure to come up with something worthy… I’ve been so confounded that it’s been my turn to respond for 5 years.
I had never seen Kenichi Hoshine’s work before that, and two years ago I curated my first art show and was able to bring Kenichi’s work to Vancouver! Also, I’m sure my friend is cheating at Words with Friends, last week he laid down the word OURARI. Smart people don’t even know that word and my friend is dumb!
Yeah, your friend is a horrible human being. My word of choice is QI. Compact but lethal.
Stylistically your work has changed a lot since then, but there seems to have been a big shift in your creative process too. What are you thinking about when you make work now?
I’m thinking about the nature of things. The process is much more philosophical, frequently elusive, and ultimately futile. One day I hope to come to accept the futility, so that my tears will evaporate into a vapor of inspiration.
Is there someone else’s work that you can always return to for inspiration?
Looking around my studio, I have new books by John Baldessari, Neo Rauch, Yohji Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen… I can’t point to once source, it’s constantly changing and evolving. Idolatry is forbidden.
Did you find it hard to switch from illustrating for other people to making work solely for yourself? I worked at Electronic Arts for awhile as a concept artist and now sometimes I have a hard time putting down that first bit of ink and feeling like it’s an honest line.
The switch was relatively easy for me — I had a backlog of images and ideas that were waiting to be brought to life. Thus, the craft of illustrating filtered into the work from Kindling in 2009. I guess it took me some time to get to the inherent nature of the mark, as opposed to being tasked to create the illusion of a mark. That’s why the work has changed so quickly. Once having exhausted the reservoir of images, I had to start investigating the nature of what it is that I have to express.
Over the past couple years I’ve shifted the focus of Booooooom quite a bit, luckily there are enough people willing to change as the site changes that it continues to grow. Do you feel like there is a similarity between that and the path you have taken, gaining a massive following in comics and now shifting to the kind of work you make now?
My website was gaining a fair bit of traction even before comics in 2000 – it was featured regularly on the big art and design blogs of the day like Pixelsurgeon, Design is Kinky, and others. The comic covers were but one aspect of a varied commercial art career . . . but I guess it makes for a good story. It’s an easy narrative to follow. But to be more accurate, my current paintings can be traced back to the sketchbook work I was making from 2000-2003. Since I stopped illustrating in 2008, I’m meeting people now who had no idea that I did comic covers. There’s some crossover, but I’m beginning to find that the audiences are distinct: the fans of art and design don’t necessarily care or know about the comic covers, and the comic fans don’t necessarily follow the art world. And that’s OK.
They sent me out an advance copy of your new book “Rebus”, it’s enormous! How do you feel when you go through this collection of your work?
Yes, it is big… swollen with images. If you tickle the spine, the cover gets extra hard. But it’s a terrific size, just the right scale and heft for a proper monograph. It gets the job done.
What’s next for you?
Checkout ovmlove.com for a few teaser images. Other than that, I’m always painting and teasing things on twitter.com/jamesjeanart
I’ve seen you do really quick drawings, I was hoping you could make a sketch in a minute or two that I could use for this interview? It could be a drawing of yourself or relate to something we talked about.
Thanks for talking with me James!
Hey, thanks for support and daily bits of inspiration!
If you’d like to win the signed copy of James Jean’s new book REBUS, leave a comment here with your best Scrabble word, if you don’t play just that’s ok, just make one up (it worked for my stupid friend).
I’ll pick a winner next Wednesday! Good luck!