Jonathan McBurnie interviewed by Daniel Smith, June 4, 2012
Daniel Smith (DS): When did you start drawing?
Jonathan McBurnie (JM): I would have to ask my parents for exact dates, but from what they’ve told me I have drawn since they decided that a pencil wasn’t some kind of eye trauma hazard for me anymore. So, give or take… twenty seven years.
DS: How would you describe your art to somebody who has never seen it before?
JM: Romantic, melodramatic, apocalyptic, erotic, violent. Somebody asked me at an exhibition recently what ‘genre’ of art I do. I thought this was a pretty hilarious question and laughed and said ‘Science Fiction Metaphysical Superhero Western Porno’ or something. Then he explained that he meant what medium I use, sculpture or painting or what have you, and I felt like a dick. But I like my made up genre!
DS: Are you prolific in the amount of work that you create?
JM: I think I have to say yes. I am always working on about fifty things in the studio, which I rotate as I need to. My latest exhibition had 300 works in it, but that was a lot, even for me. But yes, I make a lot of work. I don’t think I work particularly fast, although people tell me that I do. I feel like it is more because I am very happy to just live out of my studio for as long as my hands will allow. They get sore after about eight hours of drawing if I haven’t had a break, which is really annoying.
DS: Have you always got a drawing book with you?
JM: Yes. I usually have a few on the go. I have some in my bag, at home, in my studio. You can’t be too careful!
DS: When working on a drawing do you start with a specific idea in mind or do you just start?
JM: Both. Sometimes I will have a very specific idea I want to run with, a very specific image I want to make, but sometimes they just don’t go the direction you plan, and you have to improvise, which I think is one of the most exciting things about drawing. It is so readily reactive to improvisation. In my journals I will often just start drawing, and see what happens. I seem to revert to drawing figures a lot. Sometimes they will end up in the background of other things.
DS: Your work appears to be strongly influenced by comic book artists. If so, are there particular artists or styles that you follow?
JM: In terms of comics there are many – I grew up on comics – but I must mention Jack Kirby, Jean Girard, Kevin O’Neal, Fletcher Hanks, Joe Kubert, Mike Mignola- there are too many to mention actually. But all of these guys have been very influential, but comics are just one element in the stew, although I acknowledge that people are really drawn to them in the imagry, which has caused a few headaches. You can draw a picture with elements referencing romantic British etchings, Atget’s Parisian photographs, film noir, Helmut Newton’s pervy fashion stuff, classical Italian painting, Spaghetti Westerns, Action painting, 80’s pornography and 60’s superhero comics, and people will remember the superheroes over all else. But all of those other things have had a big influence too. But comics have always been there.
DS: What else influences you? Artists, musicians, writers, people, etc.
JM: The main influences come from art, music, cinema and literature, and I include comics under the literary umbrella. I am just going to lump them all together here… Gary Panter, Raymond Pettibon, Meat Loaf, Neo Rauch, Raymond Pettibon, Julie Mehretu, Francis Bacon, Goya, Marlene Dumas, Jonathan Meese, the Marx Brothers, Georges Bataille, Ridley Scott, Haruki Murakami, Albert Camus, Chaim Potok, Devin Townsend, the Cure, the Coen Brothers, Russell Meyer, Susan Sontag, Rubens, Blake, Beethoven, Robert Hughes, Mogwai, and TISM. And I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t mention my Dad, Ron McBurnie. He’s the best artist around.
DS: How do you see the role of drawing in relation to Contemporary art?
JM: It has come to the fore in a big way for a few reasons. One is that it has always been there, but put second to other art forms, like painting and sculpture, but this began to shift, like the rest of art, with the industrial revolution, which presented us with photography, lithography and finally offset printing. Then the digital revolution came and turned it all on its head. If the industrial revolution introduced us to the possibilities of graphic art, the digital age has really cemented it as a dominant paradigm. Drawing is in everything now, it’s a part of our language, but in doing this it has been released from being secondary to painting and sculpture. Drawing is autonomous now, and that is very exciting.
DS: What does the future hold for your art?
JM: Right now I am trying to figure out how to get my work off the wall and into the third dimension. It’s very hard for my two-dimension-orientated brain to wrap around, but I think it’s a fair bet that toys will be involved somehow.
DS: Do you have any exhibitions or other projects on the horizon?
JM: It has been a manic year – one solo show and several group shows – but yes. I am in an exhibition at Alaska Projects June/July sometime that Christopher Raymond is curating. Then I am hunkering down preparing for an exhibition at MOP Projects for April 2013 that I am co-ordinating. It’s a very exciting show for me, as it features five artists that have had a massive influence on me both personally and artistically – Christian Flynn, Julie Fragar, Arryn Snowball, Miles Hall and Leah Emery. If you don’t know them already, watch out, they are fantastic!
Have a look at some more works below and at http://jonathanmcburnie.com/
All images © Jonathan McBurnie – used with permission.