Keep it unreal !
Interview: Guillaume Le Goff
Images: DR. Jonathan Zawada
Born in Australia in 1981, Jonathan Zawada is celebrated in the art and graphic world for using, with a unique style, several mediums to express his incredible creativity. Everything he does is perfectly thought out, organised and produced, premium qualities to succeed in our modern time. As an art director, illustrator, typographer, graphic designer he has worked for big brands such as UniQlo and Coca-Cola. Like many, he could have chosen to stay in this big-money boring industry but instead, he decided to go his own way and dedicate all his time to his own career. Since then, he has gain the freedom to decide on which projects he wants to work. Some of you may know him as famous Australian record company Modular’s art director (he notably designed The Presets « Apocalypso » (2008) cover). If not done yet, please check also his last spring/summer 2012 collaboration with French label Sixpack and Fabrick, amazing collaboration… Always productive and super busy, he lately designed the cover of the latest Gestalten publication « Pretty Ugly, Visual Rebellion in Design ».
Jonathan still finds the time to publish cool zines and websites (Fashematical…) and last but not least, is associated with fine fashion brand Tru$t Fun! (scarfs, handbags…) with partners Shane Sakkeus and Annie Wright-Zawada.
But as a real visionary man and artist, what certainly excited Jonathan Zawada the most is showing his art. He has exhibited in major places like Barcelona (« Free Dumb » at Vallery, April 2011), Los Angeles (« Sunset Etc », Prism gallery summer 2011), Sydney (The ‘O’ Group Show at Sarah Cottier Gallery, July 2011) or more recently in Paris at Colette (« Kindred Spirits », January 2012)…
We had the chance to talk to him while he was preparing his upcoming show at his L.A. based gallery Prism.
Hi Jonathan, seems you’re really busy those days right?
Yes, I am working about 60 hours a week on a new body of work for an exhibition at Prism in Los Angeles this September (Prism Gallery is a big reference in the art world and has welcomed shows from artists like Barry McGee, Os Gemeos or Ryan McGinnes, ndlr). The work is large scale oil paintings as well as sculpture and some installation pieces.
What were your last weeks and months occupied by, both professionally and personally?
My wife and I relocated to Los Angeles from Sydney last August, so the past few months have involved working on the above mentioned show as well as settling into a new city and doing bits and pieces of commercial work in between. Personally I am also expecting my first child in August, so ultrasounds and doctors appointments have been mixed in there too!
How was life in Australia?
I was living in Sydney where I moved with my mother after a few years in Melbourne following my early childhood in Perth. I’m not sure why we ended up there but it’s such a beautiful city it’s easy to see why I stayed. As I said, I’m currently living in Los Angeles, I was encouraged to move here by my gallery as it’s an amazing place to be free to completely concentrate on painting and art making.
Good transition to speak about your work. Could you tell us a bit more about your path before being a professional?
I’ve been interested in design and illustration for as long as I can remember. My first freelance design jobs were actually done when I was still in high school. For a while I had an after school job at an animation studio, so by the time I got to my design degree I really didn’t feel I was gaining much from it and left after six months.
I’ve learnt everything I know on the job after working as a freelancer for the past 10 years or so.
Recently I have stepped away from client derived design and am really concentrating on creating artwork, drawings, oil paintings, etc.
What are your main influences in fields like art of course, but also music, fashion, sports or other things like this?
I’ve always been really inspired by music and Bjork has been a big inspiration since I was in high school. Now I’m into hip hop and math metal (a rhythmically complex and dissonant style of metalcore, ndlr).
I’ve really lost interest in fashion after working for too long in that industry and I’ve never really followed sports.
I try not to look at too much contemporary art as I prefer to keep a sort of blind eye on what other people are doing, but previous influencers have been the likes of Ed Ruscha, Gerhard Richter, Barney Bubbles and Jean-Paul Goude.
And more recently?
Isolation! That and the never-ending stream of talk radio podcasts that I listen to while I paint. Shows like NPR’s Fresh Air and Planet Money, the always amazing RN Science Show and recently a show from WNYU called Too Much Information.
For people who don’t know you, how would you describe your art and style?
On the surface: Pop / Colour / Aesthetic, but below the surface is a very in-depth conceptual, researched structure which underpins the superficiality. For those who want to know more, www.zawada.com.au is where most of it is at, though I’ve been a bit lax in keeping it updated recently.
What did you do that you’re the most proud of?
It’s hard to say what I’m most proud of, I guess my last solo show at Prism was one of the biggest, most difficult things I’ve undertaken and something I never really thought I would get the chance to do.
As an Australian, what does surf represent for you ?
Surf represents a time in my life when I used to do a lot of work in that industry. It essentially felt as though I was working my ass off so other people could go surfing more!
I love the ocean but I’m not a surfer.
You designed the DVD cover of summer 2011’s famous surf movie « Lost Atlas » from Kai Neville. How did you express the surf spirit in the graphic elements you designed?
Lost Atlas was very much a client driven graphic design job. Kai Neville was a great guy and was very professional. It was nice to be given the brief to do something for surf but that should look very much different to a typical surf film. I think the artwork was ready before I saw the final cut of the film, but Kai had a vision of what he wanted and I hope I delivered.
In January, you did a show at Colette, « Kindred Spirits », how was it?
I was approached to exhibit at Colette only a few months before the date so essentially the show was a selection of prints that had been floating around my computer in various forms for a while. There was a fair amount of compromising going on, the short time frame, the small space and the gallery’s opinions (I presented about 5 exhibition concepts before this one was selected!). So overall I’m not sure it was one of my most successful exhibitions – from my perspective anyway.
Last July you were also part of an amazing collective show at Prism L.A.… What is the difference between showing your art and working as a graphic designer?
I approach my art practice in a completely different way to my graphic design work as they are motivated in very different ways. It really was an honour to be able to have a show at such an amazing and unique space as Prism. They have given me a lot of support and have helped me push myself out of my comfort zone which has been absolutely amazing and I really feel like I’m getting a lot more out of my life than I ever expected as a result of it.
Are you still working with Michael Leon and Commonwealth Stacks?
I haven’t done anything more for Michael Leon in a couple of years. We did some fun stuff together that I’m really proud of though!
Any other projects in those skate/surf fields?
Nothing really, I recently did a design for Corbin Harris’ pro deck with Element which I really like.
To conclude, what are your projects?
Right now I’m really just focusing on producing work for my upcoming show at Prism. I’m doing a little bit of album artwork too for The Presets (Modular), the Australian band who I’ve had a close working relationship with for years, and also for a group in LA called Chester French so I’m still keeping a hand in the music scene a little.
Any last words to Desillusion’s readers?
Keep it unreal!