Jon Burgerman

© Adam Krause

“This is the Worry Bank,” Jon Burgerman explains early on a Saturday morning in his Brooklyn studio. He’s pointing to a doodle of a building that mimics a face full of neon pinks, yellows, blues, and oranges. “You can leave your worries inside, or borrow other people’s worries, but be careful, because your worries can accrue interest.” Jon Burgerman’s world is filled with these seemingly contradictory complexities – what may be interpreted as a cheerful cartoon on the surface carries a heavier insight into human cognizance. The Englishman’s personality suits this; on the outside, he is most often associated with a bright yellow jacket by fans, but when hearing him speak, a helping of dry wit glazes over his thoughtful critiques of western culture.

We chat with the Mixed Tape #54 cover artist about harnessing his creative energy and how his environment affects his art.

Tell us about where you grew up, Jon.

I grew up in the middle of England, in Birmingham, with my parents and my two brothers. So I’m a middle-ender. There’s a big North/South divide in the UK, and people are very passionate about being from the South or North. And no one really cares about the middle. I grew up in the middle, and I was the middle child, so I had a feeling I was in the absolute middle of the UK, far away from everything. I went to university at Nottingham to study fine art. I stayed there for about ten years and then one day I decided I should do something else, or be somewhere else, or maybe be someone else, so I absconded. I moved to New York.

And how has it affected your studio practice or your art?

Jon Burgerman

© Adam Krause

I guess it was a bit of a shock to the system when I first moved, I guess I thought it would be seamless – moving city, moving country, changing your life completely. I thought, give myself a week, and it took a little longer, and maybe the effects are still being felt. But I also came at a time when I’d been freelance for ten years and I’d made a lot of work and I’d been very lucky and traveled lots of places and done lots of things, and I needed a break. I needed to change. But I thought life’s a bit too short, I should try and mix it up a little, there’re other things I’d like to do, which sort of inspired the move. So when I arrived in New York I didn’t really know what I was going to do, and people used to say, ‘Oh you moved to New York for work?’ And I was like, ‘no, not really’ – I used to joke that I moved here to retire. Then I realized how much rent was, and the retirement lasted one weekend.

What’s so enticing about making characters of abstraction?

I guess any artist is responding to what they see or how they view the world. I guess that’s my way of articulating stuff around me. So this is how I see people and how I see my life and how I see, particularly, this part of western culture, western civilization. I’m trying to make sense of stuff, it’s my take on it which might be humorous, it might be silly, it might be making a comment, it might be just a mere form of discussion, trying to take those ideas to people. That’s the language I use.

What kind of music are you listening to in your studio?

I like a lot of different things. I like a lot of electronic music, anything that sounds unusual. A lot of world music (which is a stupid term because all music is from the world). Non-traditional western music, I suppose. I like African music, Middle Eastern music, and stuff from Asia, and lots of different things. Anything weird and wonky and wonderful. And I can’t not listen to electronic UK music, grime and post-dubstep stuff.

Is it important for your creative process to listen to music?

Definitely. I find it’s like a little audio caffeine boost to get me going. When it comes to my work, obviously I’m a bit neurotic and a worrier, so I need gentle distractions from when I’m making. So when I’m in the creative process, I know what I’m doing but I’m also not 100% focused on it. If I’m engaged in music it allows me to be slightly distracted from what I’m doing, so I can get into that kind of dreamy flow-state of making stuff without over-thinking every line, shape, character, and color. And that’s a good thing. Music allows me to do that.

Jon Burgerman

© Adam Krause

What were you thinking about when you were creating the cover art for Mixed Tape #54?

It was winter-themed and so I thought of wintry animals. And it’s a Mixed Tape, so it’s music, so I listened to the Mixed Tape and having a lovely non-specific winter festival-y time.

How do you harness your creative energy?

The best thing about when you have a really good idea is that the energy of it, the excitement of trying to realize the idea propels you to resolve the work with no real effort – it can be a lot of hard work but it doesn’t feel like it, because it’s bursting to get out of you. That doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it’s great and it has its own life.

What are you working on next?

I think all good artists make their own worlds. Sometimes I give lectures and stuff about my work, my practice, and about things I’m interested in, and one of the things I talk about is how people like Matt Groening, Tex Avery, or Shigeru Miyamoto – who created the Mario games – create characters that I really love, but I think the really interesting thing about it is not just the characters, but the entire world. These characters are very much anchored in their own reality that is an abstraction of ours but makes real sense within their world.

If you look at a Tex Avery cartoon, a character can get run over by a truck and become all flat, and then someone comes along with a bicycle pump and they get re-inflated. And that makes sense. You don’t then think: “That would never happen”. Instead, you think: “It’s a cartoon”. I have all these characters and artwork, but they don’t really have a solid world in which they live in. So that’s what I’ve been working on, I’m creating my world – their own reality in which they can exist.

Thanks for chatting with us, Jon!

Photo: © Adam Krause