Art Unified artist Jon Measures has been with us since the beginning, and we're stoked to have him in the Art Unified family. Measures has captured the complexity and intricacy of cityscapes from around the world, all the while employing a mixed media method that is all his own. Images that begin as digitally edited photographs are then collaged and painted upon, resulting in a unique hybrid creative process that echoes the layering of history that slowly builds the cities that Measures portrays. Measures has been exhibiting extensively in Los Angeles for the past two years, and we're excited to share with you this glimpse of one of LA's coolest artists as he talks to Art Unified about Boyle Heights, obsessive list-making and why we need to let go of the starving artist stereotype.
"Los Angeles has become an important subject in my work. You could say that the city is my muse."
Art Unified: Were you classically trained? How did you discover your ability and unique style?
Jon Measures: I went to college for 5 years. I did a Foundation in Art and Design at Mid-Cheshire College of Art and Design in England. This program really focused a lot on drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, design technique. My Bachelors was at Falmouth School of Art also in the UK. After the first year of working in different departments – photography, print, painting and sculpture – my BA was structured a little like an MFA in the US. I had a large studio space where I worked and every month I would take work into a room with a group of professors and do a critique. The instructors also came around to the studio spaces. The emphasis was less on technique and more on ideas. I was in the painting department but I did a lot of work that was 3D and installation type work. I also played an awful lot of table tennis and did quite a bit of drinking and dancing from what I can remember.
AU: Where did you gather inspiration for your latest work of art?
JM: The last piece of work I finished was a commissioned mixed media painting of the city of Oakland. I spent a couple of days shooting in Oakland, one day with the collector that was commissioning the work. We looked at different areas of the city and personally significant buildings such as their first house and the house by Lake Merit where the collector held her wedding reception. The photo shoot and spending time with the collector talking about the city was my main research.
AU: What research usually goes into the exploration of your artwork?
JM: My research involves a lot of looking, walking around cities, traveling to places for photo shoots but also reading and searching the web for connections. I get obsessed by relationships between organic growth patterns, cancer and urban sprawl and so I read articles about urbanism and the like. I'm currently working on a show called "Home" and so I am taking photographs of my own house as well as going to friends houses to shoot. I also read studies and articles, watch videos that talk about home, homelessness and related subjects.
"I would like to think that my work is generally hopeful but I also think that beauty is almost always tinged with sadness."
AU: What emotions and moods do you feel your artwork best conveys?
JM: My work is based in observation but it blends that observation with a subjective viewpoint and I am usually trying to capture the mood or energy of a place so the mood varies quite a bit from place to place. I would like to think that my work is generally hopeful but I also think that beauty is almost always tinged with sadness. The emotional aspect of the work is very important to me, far more so than the intellectual.
AU: Who are some of your favorite artists? How does your artwork relate and/or differ from theirs?
JM: As big name artists go, Robert Rauschenberg is always the first to come to mind, David Hockney was my boyhood hero but I have rediscovered a deep respect for his work just recently. I feel a strong connection to him because of our north of England roots and living in LA. Joseph Beuys and Francis Bacon were two hugely influential figures in my college days. It's also hard not to be impressed by Gerhard Richter both for his abstract paintings and his photo realism.
AU: What are some positive responses you have had towards your work?
JM: People are generally polite and say nice things but the greatest compliment is when someone buys the work. It's easy to say that you like something, it's harder to hand over hard earned cash and commit to be the steward of a piece of art. I have the deepest appreciation for all the collectors that make my life as an artist possible.
AU: Has there been a moment where you wanted to give up a career as an artist? Why did you continue to pursue a career in art?
JM: I have thought about giving up of course, ultimately you have to commit to something in life and do that as well as you can. I really always knew that it had to be art that I commit 100%. Everyday is a matter of trying to improve. When I first met my wife she asked if I had to choose between giving up art or her, which would it be. I know what I was meant to say and that the question is clearly ridiculous but I had to answer that I couldn't imagine what giving up art would mean. It's a little like asking if you would give up breathing.
"I am not religious but art is the closest thing I have to a religion… Making art is a quest for truth or understanding."
AU: Has there been a moment where you struggled or hit rock bottom? How did art help you through it?
JM: When I first left college I went through a period of feeling that art was pointless, it seemed most people didn't care and it didn't seem to help in any practical way. This is when I started working as a designer. I never stopped making art but now I do feel that art makes a very important contribution to culture and global dialogue. The lowest point in my life was when my wife and I went through a difficult time in our marriage and we almost got divorced. Art was partly to blame for that, but also was my solace. It is very comforting to know that no matter what I will always have art as a friend and a way to process life.
AU: Is there a particular person in your life that supported you as an artist?
JM: My Dad was the head graphic design for Rolls-Royce Motors and taught me to draw and paint from a very early age. He was fascinated by buildings - especially derelict buildings for a time while I was young – so I went drawing with him. I still use the countless little bits of advice he gave me. He took me to my interview for my Foundation course and for a degree course at Chelsea School of Art. He also drove me down when I first started college at Falmouth. When I felt bad about leaving the family to live in the US and pursue my dreams he told me I should go. The other person who has become my greatest support over the last few years is my wife. She is honest enough to tell me the truth about what I'm doing and that is invaluable. It's essential to be around people that support what you are trying to do and not around those that are hostile or resentful towards your passion for art or whatever it is you choose to do.
AU: How have you been able to afford life as an artist? What have been some drawbacks and some advantages?
JM: I worked for many years as a graphic designer and it was certainly easier to make a living by doing that kind of work but I am building a collector base and my worked is starting to be known and so it is gradually becoming easier. I also have the stability of a regular paycheck by teaching two classes a semester at colleges. I have also supplemented my income by doing talks about my work. I used to be completely overwhelmed by the prospect of making a living as an artist but these days I actually really am enjoying the challenge and I treat it very much as you would any other business.
"I have the deepest appreciation for all the collectors that make my life as an artist possible."
AU: What about Southern California made you decide to create your work here?
JM: I ended up in Los Angeles in the late 1980's. I was offered a chance to paint pictures. At the time I was working as a paste-up artist in a London print shop and not very happy with the cost of living in London, my room-mates, or my job so, moving to LA to paint pictures sounded like something to jump at. I worked for Tony Guetta, the older brother of Mr. Brainwash the street artist made famous in the film "Exit Through The Gift Shop", before Thierry Guetta had become Mr. Brainwash. I went back to England for a few months, when I returned I met my wife and stayed. Los Angeles has become an important subject in my work. You could say that the city is my muse.
AU: Are there particular places in Southern California that you've drawn inspiration from?
JM: Boyle Heights, my home for the past 22 years has probably been the subject of more work that any other area. I also love the Watts Towers and Palm Springs.
AU: What is your studio or preferred place of work? What is it like working there?
JM: I have a studio that my father-in-law built at the end of my garden. It has some problems, I need a larger space and more light. I am currently working on plans to enlarge the structure, raise the ceiling height and add windows at the top and skylights in the roof. I also need to add a sink and a toilet, level the concrete floor and add built in storage space. I am extremely lucky to have the space I have, a studio is very important for most artists to really be able to work.
AU: Are there particular habits you have while you work?
JM: I don't always do this but I'm trying to get into the habit of always putting everything away at the end of the day. I like to start the day by getting set up to work getting water choosing colors, laying everything out, etc. My work goes through stages though so, some days are spent taking pictures, some days are working on the computer in my home office and some days are painting in the studio. Wearing painting clothes gets me in that frame of mind.
AU: How do you go about managing your time between your creative and personal life?
JM: This is tricky; I like to run. I think it's a good thing to have something like running, surfing, yoga, etc. Something that gives you time to think but not to work, a hobby and a physical hobby is good because art is so mental and emotional. When my kids were growing up and I was working doing design, art took a back seat and that was a real conflict in my life because I pretty much always want to be making art.
"When I first met my wife she asked if I had to choose between giving up art or her, which would it be. I know what I was meant to say, but I had to answer that I couldn't imagine what giving up art would mean. It's a little like asking if you would give up breathing."
AU: Have you taken part in a spiritual journey or traveled to improve or change your perspective of art? What did you discover?
JM: I think in many ways being an artist is a spiritual journey. I am not religious but art is the closest thing I have to a religion and there are times when I'm making art that everything feels perfect, like you are completely in "flow". Making art is a quest for truth or understanding. I have been on physical journeys also for my work, last year I did a road trip across the US and back for my solo show PLACE at Space Gallery, this was a journey I had wanted to take for a very long time and having done the journey I am definitely changed. I now feel more connected to the country and have a better understanding of it's vastness.
AU: What are some goals you have set forth for yourself as an artist?
JM: I am rather obsessive about making lists. I make lists for each day and then I make planning lists for the medium and long term. So, the abridged version of my short term list today is: do this interview, wash brushes, glue down "Commuting" and make a label for the back. Midterm goals: Renovate studio and finish book design. Long term goals, get gallery representation in New York and London among other places. Be involved in art fairs and get work into museum collections internationally.
AU: Given the trajectory of art, where do you see art heading in the future and your role in it?
JM: I see art becoming a little more mainstream. The Internet is helping to propagate this trend. I think artists are become more business savvy and it's becoming more of a profession. I would like to see the image of the struggling artist, wrought with angst shed and traded for one that is a more healthy image. I see myself doing what I do and developing as an artist both artistically and professionally now until I die.
AU: What are some stereotypes of being an artist have you discovered? Are any of them true for you and what ways have you differed?
JM: I think the "Van Gogh" image of the tortured artist is one that persists. It's very romantic but it does a disservice to young artists who sometimes feel they need to clothe themselves in the trappings of despair. Artists are also often portrayed as dreamers, lazy and unorganized. From my own experience artists are practical, hard working and often highly organized because without these qualities it's very hard to do this as a career.
"It does a disservice to young artists who sometimes feel they need to clothe themselves in the trappings of despair."
AU: Are there aspects of the art world that you do not approve of? Did any of those reasons lead you to move towards Art Unified?
JM: It is usual for artists to be very cynical about the way art interacts with commerce but I am very practical about it. It's a business. For me to be able to live as an artist I have to sell work and I try whatever works to that end. I appreciate the role of galleries and the difficulties they face in this new online and social media-oriented world. Art Unified is yet another model for exposing people to the work, who perhaps wouldn't go to galleries. Any way that I can reach people and get my work in front of a broader audience has to be a good thing.