Jon Burgerman: The Q&A

By Peggy Roalf   Monday December 16, 2013

Q: Originally from England, as an artist, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in New York? 

A: I like the freaks in New York. There are many things America gets completely right and the weirdos and nocturnal night crawlers that lurk around the subways and streets in New York are some of them. Others include pizza slices, stupid food hybrids (cronuts), 24-hour public transport (NYC) and smelly taxis (also NYC). They're always surprising, often gross but equally engrossing. 

Being a stranger is important for an artist I think. I like being a foreigner here and an outsider. There are many comforting, cerebral and cultural feasts to enjoy here too, not necessarily because they are better than what I'd experience in the UK but because they are different from what I'm used to.

How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?

I studied fine art in England and as a child art was always "my" subject. It was the only lesson at school I actually looked forward to and didn't make myself sick to avoid.

I didn't study illustration at all, I have no idea what I'm really doing in that field, other than over the years people have come to me to provide drawings for them. I try and treat each illustration job as if it wasn't a job but my own project. That's the only way I can really work well. When the illustration job is too prescriptive and I'm just trying to appease a client, it ends up tasting odd. I have to have my heart in the project for my pens to dance freely.

Work on display until February 2014, at the Southbank Center, London.

What was your first commercial assignment?

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I met you. I was picked out and shook up and turned around, turned into someone new. Which is to say I was asked, out of the blue, to come up with some ideas for an album cover shortly after leaving university. I wasn't really sure what I was meant to do, but due to the lure of being paid (I was laden with a huge student debt of course) I gave it a go. A week later I painted the cover and a couple of months after that it was in all the record shops (remember those?) and in lots of newspapers and magazine reviews.

The album was Charles Webster's excellent Born on the 24th of July. After that I started being offered to make more record covers and stuff slowly snowballed from there.

What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

The an-ti-ci-pa-tion of the project. It's so exciting when you start, when you have the giddy thrill of thinking about where the project could go and the opportunities it could open up. Early sketches are fun, the thinking, the noodling, the hoping, the longing, the dreaming.

And then a giant boot called reality, laced up with horrid words like budget, and deadline, and focus group (if you're really unlucky) comes stomping down on your hand from a great height. It then kicks you in the ribs for good measure. 

The end can be fun too, but probably because closure is always good and it means you can start all over again on something new.

Live painting, done with Ron English, at New York Comic Con 2013.

Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper versus In the computer?

Almost everything I make starts off in my sketchbook. The computer is useful of course but it's absolutely no match for the sketchbook. The sketchbook is a limitless canvas, a book ready to gleefully receive any sort of story you'd care to tell it. It's a diary, a to-do list, a wish list, a dream space to document your thoughts. It's where the thoughts you've not even thought yet reside, waiting for your eyes to run over them at some point in the future and make them alive.

The computer is for processing. I'm at my computer almost everyday but I never long to be sat at a screen. When the screen goes dark or light hits it in a certain way I see my reflection. It reminds me of where I am and who I am and that I'm sat at a desk “working.” When I open my sketchbook to a blank page I see nothing and all the infinite possibilities that can bring.

What is your favorite time of day for working?

My favorite times of day to work are the non-traditional work hours, either very early in the morning or late at night, when there are less distractions. A sunny Sunday morning is my favorite time to work, time seems still and I can work untethered to the rest of the waking world.

What are you listening to? / What are you reading

iTunes > last played > Bill Dixon, Neil Young, Deadboy, DMX Krew, Redinho, Paula, oOoOO, Felt, Kumi Solo, Jmzs Smith, Débruit & Alsarah, Logos, Guido, Slugabed, Francis Bebey, Konono N°1, Aster Aweke, Soft Focus, Shit Robot, Fists, Darq E Freaker, D.O. Misiani  Shirati Jazz, Soom T... 

Brooklyn Public Library > recently read > Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, Predictably Irrational, On Love, Out of Our Minds, Lolita, American Pastoral

Who and what are some of your strongest influences?

When I was an art student I dug Basquiat, Schwitters, Klee, Twombly, Oldenburg, Miro etc... I learnt about some of these artists at college and many of their works left a big impression on me. Some my Mum introduced me to (not personally of course, she cannot time travel).

Later when I graduated I was into Shrigely, Creed, Keith Tyson, Kris Martin and many of that new wave of youngish British artists. Now I clutch close to my chest a whole host of artists, illustrators, designers, image makers, moochers and creative types as influences.

Did your participating in the AI32 LIVE Cover Project have any spillover into your studio practice? Do you recommend marathon art projects for inspiration or redirection?

I really had a great afternoon contributing to the AI32 Live Cover Project. I love things like that. I once put on a similar sort of event in London called Doodle Down. It pitted 10 artists in London in collaboration with 10 artists in New York at the same time, over a 4-hour period, using the Internet. I vowed to do more Doodle Downs after the success of the first one, which was back in 2005. I've been a little distracted since then but perhaps buoyed by the fun of the cover project I'll make Doodle Down 2 happen next year.

What was the last art exhibition you saw and what did you take away from it?

I was recently in Holland and I went to a few museums and galleries. At the Rijksmuseum I saw a collection of photographs by Henk Wildschut of farming / food production, showing how much like laboratories they really are.  The reality behind where most of our food comes from is worryingly unappetizing. I took away an increased sense of concern and vegetarian smugness.

Has social media been a boon for self-promotion? Or do you have methods you’ve always used that still work?

Yes, of course, it's been great that we all can have a place to show our work, that's open 24/7 to anyone with an internet connection.

The best method is still human connections, word of mouth and just making good work. Make good work, that's visible and easy to find and it will promote itself.

Have you ever had a creative block with a deadline looming? What do you do to get crackin’?

I panic blindly. I weep into my pillow. I beg and plead with any omnipresent being that will listen. If I cannot sell my soul I'll just try and not work on the thing for a bit. Taking a break, doing something completely different, indulging in narcotics, cleaning up your apartment can work wonders. Distract yourself with something else for a bit and allow your brain to relax and breathe. Thoughts are like vehicles, clear the road-block and allow the traffic to flow.

Is there any particular new technology you’ve embraced as an avenue towards entrepreneurial adventures?

Not really. I still mainly trade in art artifacts: Print and ink, paint on paper. Solid, material “things” you can hold, feel and break. Technology has made that easier and allowed for making things I wouldn't of been able to of before. Now you can print on almost anything.

What advice would you give to a young illustrator who is just getting noticed?

Take your time, develop your ideas, say something you care about. Don't follow the crowds or you'll always be behind. Everyone has their own path to plough, and once a path has been ploughed you can't plough it again. You'll have your own story, your own adventure and your own way of achieving what you want. Keep focused, have fun, and get ploughing! 

Yeah -- Get Ploughing! That should be on a T-shirt. 

installation at Roger Smith Hotel, New York 2013

Jon Burgerman (b. 1979, UK) is a purveyor of doodles. His work oscillates somewhere between fine art, urban art and pop-culture, using dry humor to reference and question his contemporary milieu. His is a pervasive and instantly recognizable aesthetic that exists across a multitude of forms including canvases, large-scale murals (indoor and outside), sculpture, toys, apparel, design, print and people (as tattoos and temporary drawings).

Burgerman studied Fine Art at The Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2001 with First Class Honors. In 2008 his 300-page monograph, entitled 'Pens Are My Friends,' was published by IdN, collecting the first seven years of his professional career. In the same year Jon appeared on the seminal BBC TV show ˆBlue Peter” to create a mural-size doodle live on set. This along with many international brand collaborations (including Nike, New Era, Sony, Puma, Pepsi, Levis, MTV), exhibitions and events around the world (including the Southbank Centre London, Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona, Neurotitan Berlin, 798 District Beijing, Madre Museum, Naples) and a series of collectable vinyl toys, (including 'The Heroes of Burgertown', produced by Kidrobot), helped introduce Burgerman’s work into the public consciousness.

Burgerman regularly performs at events, conferences, and universities around the world, (including FITC, OFFF Festival, SVA School of Visual Arts,Nuart Norway, FIT New York, Red Dot Design Museum Singapore, Millennium Gallery, UK) delivering keynote lectures and running creative workshops. His works include a focus on what he calls “quiet interventions,” where subtle, often cheap, nonpermanent actions drastically (and sometimes comically) alter the reading of a signifier, object or situation. It's Burgerman's belief that through these playful, creative acts, art can act as an agent to change the world, by being the catalysis to allow people to change their worlds.



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