Here London / Here 2017

From there to Here: graphic artist James Jarvis

As Here 2017 (9 June) approaches we have been introducing each of the speakers who will be appearing on the day in our series From There to Here. This week we speak to graphic artist James Jarvis who introduces us to a piece of work from the outset of his career and a more recent work, while reflecting on the progress between the two.

Graphic artist James Jarvis’ work “encompasses cartoons, objects, comics, graphic design, printmaking and moving image. His practice concerns drawing, philosophy, alternate realities, minimalism and skateboarding”. London-based James’ career began with a commission for London’s Slam City Skates and, since then, he has worked with the likes of Coca-Cola, Nike and Sony.

For Amos, the brand he ran for ten years, he produced more that 100 individual character toys, and has had solo shows in London, Berlin and Tokyo. James has also produced two moving image projects in collaboration with Richard Kenworthy, 2008’s Onwards and 2012’s Brodown, for MTV.


Stairs, 1993

What is the work? Why was it created?

This is an airbrush drawing of some steps at the Southbank Centre in London*. It’s a drawing of a drawing. I first made a smaller, A3 drawing on location and then used it as the basis for this larger, A1 version. I made it in the final year of my degree at Brighton in 1993. I had spent the first two years of my course making work that wasn’t really about anything. I had been encouraged to try and make work that was about the world and about really looking at things, and this is one of a series of drawings I made as a response to that challenge.

*Mark Gonzales does a half-cab 50-50 down them in Video Days. (see 0:32 here)

What did you learn while doing it?

I knew that if drawing was going to be central to my practice I had to stop relying on mark-making and effect to supply content. I needed to look at and think about things before I drew them, rather than relying purely on imagination. I thought that if I wanted to make interesting drawings I should make them about something I was interested in. I spent a lot of time skateboarding and I so I decided to make drawings about the environments I experienced through that.

What do you think of it now?

Depending on my mood, it can seem like these drawings are the only good thing I’ve done. I like the way they are rendered and I like the content. I like the fact that they are about a particular time and place. They were made completely unselfconsciously. I like the fact that there are no characters in them. I’ve been reading a lot of Thomas Hardy recently and I love the way for him landscape is as much a character in his novels as the people that populate it, and I think that perhaps these drawings resonate with me in a similar way.

How does it relate to your current work?

When I think about where I went with my work after these drawings it sometimes feels like it has been a digression. When I started to populate the landscapes with characters the work very quickly became almost entirely about the characters. I discovered computers, and the work became about editing drawings. Drawing ended up as raw material for something else, and I think I lost contact with the simplicity and directness of this earlier work. Obviously all those judgements are made in retrospect. The characters I created opened up all kinds of other avenues and opportunities. But I think that looking back at these particular drawings was one of the things that lead me to reassess my relationship with drawing, and to make an effort to bring it back to the centre of what I do.


Six Pack, 2014

What is the work? Why was it created?

It’s a black and white brush-pen drawing containing references to a Raymond Pettibon drawing for Black Flag and also Sol Lewitt sculpture.
After years of drawing, feeling like it was just a means to an end, about five or six years ago I decided I wanted to make drawings that were an end in themselves. I felt like all the processes that I was applying to drawings, or that my drawing was feeding, weren’t actually adding any information to the original idea. They were just surface and I wanted drawing to be the process. As much as I wanted to escape the baggage of previous work, and the character designs I had become best known for, I did realise that there was something powerful and interesting in what cartoon characters do.

The cartoon character can give an image a presence and accessibility it wouldn’t otherwise have. I felt that if I approached the character using some of the ideas I had become very interested in – process, minimalism, philosophy – I could do something I hadn’t done before.

What would you tell your younger self about this work?

I’m not sure it’s any of my younger self’s business, or that he would even listen, but I’d say: “Don’t worry, I know exactly what I’m doing."

Alongside James, this year’s speakers include fashion designer Christopher Raeburn, graphic designer and illustrator George Hardie, photographer Juno Calypso, artist Ryan Gander, graphic design agency Triboro, photographer Carlota Guerrero, graphic designer Astrid Stavro, art director and artist (and one of It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch 2017) Marguerite Humeau.