“When I draw, I like to think about the nature and structure of each line. How the concepts and ideas are hidden in their own morphology. And how the metaphors and the allegories are created with it,” says Rotterdam-based artist José Quintanar AKA José Ja Ja Ja. Working across narrative drawings, illustration and books, José’s practice sees him exploring the possibilities of drawing as a tool, and his work has been published by The New York Times, Vice, Esquire and many more.
Originally José studied architecture, a subject he was drawn to for its ability to tell stories. At some point he became frustrated by the medium’s inability to tell those stories to their fullest through its conventional language. “Emotions, feelings, and abstract concepts cannot be represented with technical drawings,” he explains, and, as a result, “illustration appeared as the tool capable of solving that communication problem.”
Despite veering from his original career path, José’s architectural background still plays a major role in his work. With a variety of visual and physical outcomes, his work is less defined by his aesthetics, and more by his process. “I’m not interested in style. I am interested in stories and how language can change depending on the story you want to tell,” he begins, “Maybe this is my architecture influence; why can’t a house in Spain be the same as a house in England? It’s because the climate, the geography, the culture, people, the history, and the traditions are completely different. The specificity of each project takes you to the specificity of the language.” It’s a logic which now feeds into José’s illustration work.
Language, specifically, formed the starting point of one of José’s recent projects, Grundfunken. A German word with no translation in other languages, “grundfunken” refers to the “first spark that the engine of a car needs to start”, but is also a song by the German band Neu!. José took this ambiguity as his starting point, constructing a series of drawings which feature cars, but which are more an exploration of the feature of a language: “the language of Grundfunken.”
It’s this duplicitous nature ultimately, makes José’s work so compelling. Often visually engaging on first inspection, his drawings reveal investigations into much broader and complicated conceptual on inspection. It’s a quality which derives from José’s curiosity and love of the medium. “I am fascinated with the possibilities of the medium,” he concludes, “An illustration can be a drawing, a book, an object, a video game, a movie, a room, a building, a city, or a territory. It can be whatever you want.”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.