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It took Jon Burgerman no time at all to display what makes him tick when I met up with him in a café in Williamsburg. Before I could even see him take a marker out of his pocket, he had already begun sketching caricatures of the people in the café in each segment of the spread out napkin. They were wearing big headphones, most were on laptops or plugged into something, and their simple eyes made from large circles looked up at us from the page…er….cloth.
“I’m intrigued, I’m intrigued by the people that are here,” he said, a simple answer that explains a lot in his work.
The UK expat creates murals, apparel, drawings, music, paintings and much more, mostly consisting of flat cartoon or comic like characters. Sometimes they’re bright and colorful, other times they are completely born of a pen, existing only in thick black lines. Some of them seem to resemble people, animals, fruits or other figures found in nature, but are entirely of their own world.
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“If you draw a little thing with a face, it’s not a character in my mind. A character is when it starts to have a personality, it has a back story, you know, it has dreams and desires and goals and something it aims for,” Burgerman said.
He went on to describe that although it isn’t very possible to pinpoint exactly where these characters and their environments come from, perhaps there can be some attribution to childhood favorites like Tex Avery and Warner Brother’s Cartoons, as well as a British comic book involving the character “Beano,” who he described as the British Dennis the Menace.
Burgerman liked these characters and stories specifically for the fact that they were unlike super hero comics. There are not many adult themes of cities, cars, muscles, danger, revenge and desire or dramatic images of flowing capes, bulging biceps and leotards in these comics and cartoons. But what they did provide was an existence of their own world with their own rules.
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“They’re completely bizarre but they make sense within in their own terms,” he said, sighting the instances of a character running off a cliff, standing in midair for a moment, and then falling. “That’s completely accepted. I like to think or hope that across the work that I make, it’s not as literal as hat but there is a kind of Burgerman world or a world of my work where it can all sit together.”
Drawing and painting isn’t all the artist is up to these days. He was also excited to speak of his band, Anxieteam. The band came from an idea his friend and fellow character artist Jim Avignon had, about creating a sort of art band. Burgerman learned to play the ukulele for the band, and Anxieteam seemed to become both a nice change of pace yet point of inspiration from painting and drawing. He explained that if you’re lucky enough to make a living doing what you love, unfortunately what you love becomes work. So what do you do in your free time? Enter, Anxieteam.
The band has a great influence in his artwork and vice versa.
“What I try and do is treat the making of songs the same way I would treat the making of art or drawings so the topics and ideas for songs and titles of songs could easily be a tie off for paintings and exhibitions, and I don’t see them as separate things. I see them as — I’m a person and I make stuff, and that stuff could be apparel, it could be digital, it could be made out of acrylic paint, it could be made out of pencil it could be a song or a rhyme, it could be just text, but they’re all in the same world which I created around myself so, why not music?”
You can check out Anxieteam this Wednesday the 16th at Tommy’s Tavern in Greenpoint.
I first met Burgerman standing in the middle of his latest work, “The Garden of Eden, Bushwick” at Factory Fresh Gallery in Bushwick. On three walls of the gallery’s courtyard, we see images that have human features but are certainly not recognizable as our own, all colorful and overlapping within this lush looking atmosphere juxtaposed against Bushwick’s gritty industrial surfaces. We see animals, insects, fruits and a large scale Adam, absent of his Eve. This mural shows a different style from Burgerman, not as neat or finely drawn as we are used to seeing from him. The painting style is a bit more rough and strokey, and he revealed that he only used brushes for this piece, no spray cans or pens. However there is no denying it’s a Burgerman creation. We still see whimsical and monsterish personalities lining the walls, all with bright colors. Being that almost all of the 4 walls are painted, it’s like for a moment you can live in Burgerman’s head, in his world.
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So what motivates him to keep creating this universe?
“People always ask, so when did you start drawing, and I think that’s such a silly question because all kids draw, sine you could hold a pen, parents give kids crayons. Some people stop and other people keep going I guess”
A slew of European shows will whisk Jon Burgerman away come the new year. So you can see one of his last pieces of the year go up this weekend at Artitst Ally @ Extra place, Saturday the 19th at 2pm, where he’ll be painting a mural on the floor.