Based between New York City and London, Sweden-born Jonna Mayer first came to our attention with her striking graphics for Shygirl, creating nothing short of an iconic logo for the artist and songwriter. But, Jonna goes beyond the label of graphic design. “I currently title myself an art worker,” she tells It’s Nice That. “It’s an expression I learned from one of the smartest people I know, Farhia Tato.” Jonna’s art, whether graphic or not, feels innovative and contemporary, as if a natural extension of herself. Surprisingly, she made her career start as a copywriter for an ad agency in Dubai, a far cry from her ventures today. “I didn’t like the corporate world, so when I moved to NYC by myself a couple of years later I just started making club flyers for my friends to make cash,” she explains. “I had started going to clubs with a fake ID at 14 and always felt drawn to the alternative reality of clubs and raves.” Creating a visual language for nightlife increasingly intrigued the creative; it was an impulse that required attending. “It started quite unassumingly and more out of a place of need,” Jonna says. “I don’t believe I’m necessarily a natural at what I do.” It’s a humble statement for someone who clearly has a keen eye and firm hand over the world of graphics and art. “In the beginning, my drawing was super wonky and I made some really ugly logos,” she adds. “I was caught up in how design was ‘supposed’ to look and a little afraid to just be wild experimental.”
A decade and a half later, Jonna feels secure in a design scene that “feels a lot more open than just a coffee shop logo where the U looks like a coffee cup.” It’s allowed Jonna to be more daring and brave and cements her as an artist who champions the style of difference. “I feel like there’s actually space for it now and you can make money doing it, which is important because most of us have to pay rent.”
Whilst Jonna admits it can be scary to let go of personal signifiers and what we typically consider an “identity”, she is continuously drawn to the “concept of purposeful emptiness.” It’s something that feeds her designs and keeps her working in a contradictory fashion. “I am a bit opposed to identity, which is of course super contradictory with being a designer where visual identity is a big part of the job.” Jonna, straying from any form of essentialism, keeps her opinions, style and work fluid and is always open to the current of change. “I would probably be more successful if I just stuck to one thing, but once I have a grasp of something I tend to move on to something else,” she admits.
Still, Jonna feels she maintains something resembling a recognisable mark across her work, something born from lived experience. “I remember going to my grandma’s house recently and seeing her curtains that have been there since the 80s and thinking ‘wow I can actually trace back my aesthetic gravitation to this kitchen,’” Jonna tells us. “Which is also beautiful, as your surroundings get imprinted in you without you realising.” In addition to the aesthetic lineage of her family, Jonna’s inspirations come from a litany of material and dialectic sources: “building alternate futures, worker’s rights, listening, inaction, revolutionary politics and science, sensitivity and always love,” she lists. It feeds into her current line of typographic work, as well as her continuous refinement of drawing, “even when it’s experimental, chaotic or unconventional.” Channelling these inspirations into typography and drawing (and by consequence, design) has allowed Jonna to reflect on the wider purpose of graphic design. “I’ve come to the conclusion that I currently like the idea of crafts more than art,” she says. “The art world tends to be elitist and institutional and often decentres interaction, rewarding individualism and commodification whereas craft seems to exist outside of that and can function more communally.” As a result, Jonna’s been practising typography and drawing by hand, “giving them personality, and helping people express their thoughts and emotions via my letters.”
These kinds of outlooks on life, design, and everything in between is what led Jonna to work for Shygirl. “She’s really fun, bubbly and sexual and I loved listening to her latest album and translating that energy into a logo,” Jonna tells us. “It’s like a flip on the trucker girl and stripper icon, and then the album cover had this bizarre flesh portrait so the contrast between something sexually appealing and something quite repulsive worked really well.” Now, it’s not hard to find Shygirl’s logo by Jonna plastered around the streets of London. It floats everywhere from Shygirl albums to her shows, to random promotional material in the streets. “Particularly with music projects it feels precious that what you make can have an impact on youth culture and become a part of someone’s adolescent memories,” Jonna says. “I find it thrilling to be let into other people’s worlds and to weave our thoughts together,” she adds on the process of collaboration. “I usually have grains of ideas that come from walking the street or reading a text but it’s in discussions or collisions with other people and their thoughts that things expand, explode or crystallise.”
All we can hope is that Jonna never ceases creating. Her point of view is simply too refreshing and important. “I half-jokingly said to my friend that I want to make my worst work ever,” the artist says. On her list of ambitions, Jonna lists a radio show about sex, a salon where people can meet and talk about ideas outside of academia, and – most excitingly – a title type for an iconic universe-building film like Star Wars. “It seems like a lot of people are feeling the end of the ‘rise and grind’ career-focused era and want to live a little more punk, especially in light of current political events, and I’m here for that.”
Jonna Mayer: Barragan, Neu Neu Magazine (Copyright © Jonna Mayer, 2020)