Getting to know...Jonathan Zawada

Jonathan Zawada is an Artist, Designer, Illustrator, Art Director, Dad and generally all-round prolific, artistic and creative guy. You might know his name, and if you don’t, it’s likely you do know his work. If you’ve bought an Australian music album in the past few years it may very well have been his handiwork you admired.

Having moved to LA from Sydney last year to focus on his artistic practice, we’re pretty thrilled he wanted to work with us on developing some new prints. And you have to agree that the outcome is pretty outstanding. You could say that our fan club membership is truly locked in!

We recently interviewed Jonathan about how he works, stays inspired and why he wanted to design an umbrella. Here’s what he had to say…

So Jonathan, we have to admit that we almost fell of our chairs when you said you’d like to work with us. We kind of thought it was a bit of a wild idea. What excited you about designing umbrellas?

I’ve been wanting to design an umbrella for years! To be honest I’ve always been much more excited about designing things that have a practical use than the more frivolous stuff I do for fashion and music. An umbrella is such a great (and surprisingly under-utilised) canvas too, and there is something domestic about it that really speaks to me, I have fond memories of playing on the beach under big yellow and white striped umbrellas 🙂

How did you develop your concepts for BB? Where they ideas you had floating around in some form already, waiting or did you develop them from scratch?

I had had the vague idea of wanting to do a kind of virtual floral print for a while but hadn’t had any good opportunities to explore it. The idea of trees and foliage seemed like the perfect conceptual fit for something that gives you shade, from that I extended that premise to the idea of cloud cover. I’m actually in the process of building on some of the ideas I started playing with for the Basil Bangs project for an upcoming exhibition I’m having in San Francisco.

Your recent show at Prism was incredible. Featuring beautiful paintings of digitally rendered landscapes, you seem to have inverted the ‘normal’ process of using a ‘real’ scene or object to develop and create something digital. Instead you started digitally and ‘went analogue’ if you like. This interplay of a kind of mathematic structure and data with sensory and artistic process seems to be a common thread throughout your work. What do you find so intriguing about this kind of objective, data driven approach?

I’ve worked digitally for a really long time and its an integral part of my creative process, as well as my day to day life. Ultimately though, as art, I find pure digital work to be strangely unsatisfying and a lot of what I do is an attempt to resolve the separation of the two and to harmonise them. Essentially I guess I use digital media as a kind of sketchbook, through which you can fold in a degree of complexity and specificity that would be nigh on impossible to achieve any other way, and then I like to build on that in other ways to see how I can be personally invested in it.

The large scale of the works was arresting, and yet within each work was such amazing detail and technique. What did that show represent to you, and how did Caspar David Friedrich influence you?

At some point I was playing this video game called Red Dead Redemption and it struck me that the perspective of the camera behind my camera, or avatar in the game was exactly that of much of Caspar David Friedrich’s work. The more I looked into his work the more parallels I uncovered between his perception of nature as being a way to access “god” or the divine and ideas I had about virtual experiences and their accumulation indirectly (and unintentionally) achieving the same goal – albeit distorted.

What do you find are the biggest challenges were in moving from graphic, screen-based design to a more traditional approach in painting or drawing?

Becoming accustomed to not having ‘undo’ as an option has taken me a long time to get the hang of. For a really long time if I would make a mistake drawing or painting my left hand would unconsciously twitch in the ‘CMD+Z’ motion.

I’ve done my research and you seem to have opted out of media consumption…sounds pretty darn appealing I must say. How do you stay inspired and ‘fresh’? What are your go-to things/ places/activities?

Good research!! Some of that was intentional but much of it wasn’t. In moving to America we didn’t bring any of our books and in recent years I’ve just been too busy to ever get the time to do things like looking at blogs. As a result I’ve found that coming up with ideas for things is actually much easier as I’m not being swayed by what I’ve seen, rather the ideas more often build from the ground up, so by the time the superficial stage of execution comes around they are fully supported by a good thought structure. I learned a long time ago that theres really nothing much I can do to force ideas, I just have to wait for them to come so I normally just move on with one of the many other tasks on my plate and (generally out of boredom or frustration) I’ll find myself thinking of ideas for other projects.

You seem to be a prolific creator – what projects are you most proud of?

I recently designed and made a lamp for our house because we really needed one. I’m pretty proud of that! Actually I’ve been make a bit of furniture for our house and that’s been one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done – the desk I sit and work at was designed and made by me and I really like that – if it didn’t work right I wouldn’t be able to hide from its shortcomings, so its a relief when I don’t feel let down by any of it.

Painting, or artistic practice generally, can be a pretty selfish activity. It has to be really – you have to get in the ‘hole’ in order to come out the other side with finished work and resolved ideas. You’ve also got to be pretty brave. How do you balance family time (and the lovely but unrelenting demands of small children) with the somewhat selfish requirements of artistic output? Is it about having an understanding wife? A studio out of the house? Or long walks on the beach?

I wish I could take long walks on the beach!! I think I’ve taken the opposite approach, my studio is in the backyard and I probably head in to the house to visit Annie and Pip (my little boy) every couple of hours. I don’t have so much trouble with the day to day stuff but it can definitely get a bit scary when I’m considering investing a lot of time and money into art projects that may or may not pay off for the family. That concern, which is always in the back of my head can make it hard to really take the chances with ideas that I would sometimes like to. Luckily for me though my wife is incredibly understanding and encouraging, she’s actually the one who is constantly trying to get me to concentrate more on my art and to stop taking on so much commercial work. I think I’m well and truly on the other side now where there is so much to do all of the time (both family and work) that I don’t have time to think about any of it, I just kind of wake up each day and get to it; it’s a surprisingly zen place to be!

LA is a pretty bizarre place. What’s the weirdest thing about your new home? Is there anything you hated at first but have come to love and miss when you leave?

I think the weirdest thing about our new home is how enormous our backyard is! I hated the ice blended frappacino at first but now I’m in love with it.

Describe you favourite LA weekend…

Breakfast of pancakes and bacon at S&W Diner, lunch of burritos from the burrito truck outside Smart & Final on Venice Blvd, dinner of BBQ from JNJ Burger Shack, driving to Lake Arrowhead in the winter, driving through Topanga Canyon in the summer.

What’s on the playlist right now?

Intro By Outkast

Windowlicker By Aphex Twin

They don’t really care about us By Michael Jackson Oil well By Fatima Al Qadiri

Beauty Colder By Dro Carey & Andy Petr

Leterel By Autechre NiggaHs.Already.Know.Davers.Flow By Schoolboy Q City Star By Rustie

Brainwash by London By Clams Casino

Hell Yes By Gucci mane

Kuka Sa By Eevil Stöö

Number one By R Kelly / Die Neue Mythologen

773 Love By Jeremih


Are you a doodler? Pen or Pencil? Notepad or back of the envelope?

I rarely get a chance to doodle but if I do these days I use my iphone and a program called SketchBook

What’s next on the agenda for you?

At the moment I’m working with Romance Was Born on prints for their next range, a series of EP and album covers for Mark Pritchard, a series of album art pieces for Illangelo (of The Weekend fame), an exhibition of paintings which Prism will be presenting in NYC in September, an exhibition at The Popular Workshop in San Francisco in October, illustrations for a really interesting and oddball tech/app company called Lapka, some prints for Bassike’s new range, a mural for architects ChoiRophia who are working with Manly Council on some public projects, some commission sculptures, and just beginning to work on a show for 2014 at Sarah Cottier Gallery in Sydney and some random things on the side just for fun!