We at Format Magazine thrive on highlighting talented people. Thus, as a gift to our loyal readers, we tracked down Jon Burgerman to showcase this highly talented artist and offer the answer to the question, Who is Jon Burgerman? Read on to hear his own hilarious take on how to answer such a query. Surely this man could try his hand at comedy, but with the magnificent work that comes from his pen to paper, we wouldn’t dream of letting him quit his day job.
“I don’t think I’ve honestly achieved much. When I think I have, then I’ll probably feel proud, and eat some cake to celebrate.”
Format: So, who is Jon Burgerman?
Jon Burgerman: My real name is Jon Burgerman. I am a man with boy limbs and a juvenile brain who sports a full mug of facial hair. I work as an artist. Sometimes I stray into commercial projects when invited, but I always try and treat them as I would my own work. I live in the UK, I am from the UK, and I guess I quite like the UK, although it has problems with its rail network and postal service. The weather is fine though, as long as it doesn’t get any hotter.
Format: I’ve heard you described as a doodler, cartoonist, and illustrator; but which label, if any, do you prefer?
Jon Burgerman: Labels don’t really concern me, though I’d say I’m not a cartoonist or much of an illustrator. I supposed you need to define labels first before knowing whether they really apply or not. If I could choose any label I guess I’d go for pinup, superstar, big rugged sexy man, or something along those lines. I think they would describe me more accurately, to be honest. Buff, yes, buff should be a label [I wear].
Format: Where does your love for art/drawing come from? What’s your earliest memory of drawing something?
Jon Burgerman: I remember drawing on colored paper in the study at home with my mom. I used oil pastels. That’s my earliest memory of drawing, along with painting a parrot at the nursery. Then my parents selfishly decided to have another child and the study had to become a bedroom. My first studio was snatched from me just as I was perfecting drawing trees with oranges on them. I’d have to wait about twenty years until I got another studio to myself. I can’t really tell you why I love drawing. It’s something in the joy of making a mark on a surface; that’s where the love begins. It’s an intangible sensation; I have no means to explain it with my tawdry, limited language skills. I’d have to draw you a picture.
Format: What are the main media you use in creating your work?
Jon Burgerman: Pen on paper (sometimes then scanned in and fiddled with on a computer), or for paintings I use paint. Once you have an image on the computer it can go anywhere and on almost anything.
Format: Can you talk about how you use technology to assist you in your artwork?
Jon Burgerman: I’ve been scanning my work into Photoshop for years, but I do very little with it once on the computer. I clean it up a bit, might color it in, sometimes move bits around, but that’s about it. I do like computers: miniature devices with screens and silver things that go “bleep.” My computer usage, however, is probably the same as it was in 1998. Of course I spend far too long farting around looking at websites, posting things on Flickr and checking out old school friends to see if they’re chubby on Facebook. This is all done on the computer but is not very useful. My computer is a nuclear powered rocket launcher and I just shoot ants in my garden with it.
Format: What websites do you find yourself regularly visiting then?
Jon Burgerman: bbc.co.uk; flickr.com; vinylpulse.com; woostercollective.com; creativereview.co.uk/crblog
Format: I must admit I’m totally fascinated by your work. I like to think that once you start a drawing, especially the doodle types, you don’t need to stop and figure out what’s next. It’s as though you’ve planned it all in your head. Is that actually the case?
Jon Burgerman: I don’t plan every last line in my head. If only I had that sort of cranial capacity. I’d probably jack in the drawing and become learned and clever and make millions by going on TV quiz shows. I either have a general idea of what the finished piece will sort of look like, or more often, feel like, or else I have a good idea pop into my head and as I draw it chain reactions spark and I keep going with it, getting inspired by what I’ve just drawn and trying to build on it. When I have a general scope of how I want the final piece to turn out it might change as I work on it, so I either fight it and try to claw back and capture that initial thought or feeling, or I flip-flop and go with where the piece is taking me.
Format: Do you have any references in your work? I mean, do you take inspiration from films/cartoons/music or is it something totally spontaneous?
Jon Burgerman: Sometimes it’s completely spontaneous but you have to remember that all those lines and shapes are informed by something. Nothing comes from nothing. There are a million references in my work; lots of music, art design, packaging, jokes, language, etc. That’s the fuel that powers my brain that controls my hands and interprets what I see. I tend not to literally illustrate my references in my work, as my work would then become illustration. The problem I’d have with that is it would lead to a dead end. It would limit the work to common conceptions, of what all the illustrations signify. I think it’s more interesting to be less implicit and absolute. There is no clear clarity of thought; it’s a hope to express something I can’t really articulate.
Format: Do you have any art idols or inspirations?
Jon Burgerman: Nah, heroes just let you down. Pop idols just get saggy and out of tune. I find a lot of inspiration from lots of sources and sauces, from artists, writers, and filmmakers, to tomato, Tabasco, and brown.
Format: Judging by some of your work you’re a fan of cartoons and anime—any favorites?
Jon Burgerman: I like Tex Avery cartoons a lot. Droopy is one of my favorite characters. I really do like anime but know very little about it and own absolutely none of it. The studio Ghibli stuff I’ve seen is great but I’m very uneducated about it all. People do assume I’m a big Japanophile, but I’m not really. I’m probably more into their food than their Manga and anime.
I would dearly love to travel to Japan and learn more (and eat more). The culture there is so different; that’s one of the allures of visiting. Being far away, it’s an adventurous trip, and everyone I know who has ever visited Japan has absolutely loved it. I must admit too that I want to check out the strange and wonderful looking graphics, toys, fashion, and food there.
Format: Now your work seems to have been exhibited in nearly every part of the world. How proud does it make you to see your work on exhibition?
Jon Burgerman: Yes, it’s cool to have your work in different countries and even better if you get to visit those countries. Really, to my sad eyes it’s just the same failed work on different walls, but walls nonetheless. I hope that doesn’t make me sound like an ungrateful downer but there’s always something you want to improve on, and something you wish you had or hadn’t done. Feeling proud is spiting your enemies and making your friends jealous and petty. I think, I’m not sure, I don’t think I’ve honestly achieved much. When I think I have, then I’ll probably feel proud, and eat some cake to celebrate.
Format: I love the Burgermenos vinyl toys you produced. Are you a big fan of that scene? Are there plans for more toys?
Jon Burgerman: Thanks. I’m a fan of the scene. There are lots of gems out there, amongst the huge amount of toys that seem to be produced these days. Because there’s so much stuff I think you have to be selective, but there are lots of interesting and super talented artists lending their visions to vinyl toys.
I have been working on some new toy projects that might come out over the next few years. Later this year however, my mini-figure series with Kid Robot will be released. They’re called The Heroes of Burgertown, and come out on September 25, which is the same date my three hundred page monograph Pens are My Friends, published by IdN, is released. It’s funny that you plan and work on a couple of projects for a few years and they’re both released on the same day.
Format: I think we can guess from the title, but could you explain what Pens are My Friends is about?
Jon Burgerman: It is a book, with pages and a cover, published by IdN. The cover folds out to be poster and inside of the book is a mini-book and DVD. The two hundred or so pages cover my artwork, wall pieces, merchandise, illustrations, toys, sketches, collaborations, and salads from the last seven years. It’s colorful and hopefully full of nice things to look at. There are two essays in there too and I wrote all the captions, which was quite hard work. I’m very pleased with it all; IdN has done a great job along with Colin and Noelle from Unthink in Dublin, who designed it. It’s exciting to have made a book, and now I’m thinking about making another one.
Format: The book sounds great. Will it be available via your website?
Jon Burgerman: Maybe, but it should be available in most [stores].
Format: If you do make another book, would it be a follow up to Pens are My Friends?
Jon Burgerman: It would be different work, probably more of a collection of new images/drawings/paintings, rather than a collection of all my work, commercial and otherwise.
Format: So, as an Englishman, do you absolutely love tea?
Jon Burgerman: Aye, I do like a good cup of tea. When I travel it’s the first thing I remember I wish I’d packed with me: tea bags from home. Other countries have some strange ideas about what makes a good cup of tea.