Leeds-based designer Rob Jameson is one busy guy, juggling wide-ranging pursuits of collage, photomontage, graphic design and illustration. When I caught up with him, we discussed the significance of process, ambition and the embracing of mistakes. Here’s what he had to say:
If you could choose one piece of work from your entire collection that represents you, what would it be and why?
Tough start! It would be something collage based. At this particular moment, I’d probably be more drawn to my landscapes. A lot of my work explores the relationship between mankind, nature and the spaces around you, and how people don’t fully understand what’s going on and what affect their actions might have. I use a lot of geometric shapes which comes back to my design and graphic side of things; sort of bold shapes and patterns, but using a lot more found material from old books etc. So, it’s a kind of juxtaposition between these geometric shapes and natural forms put together; human relationships with nature and how often people fuck it all up.
What inspires you to create?
I got into collage whilst at uni, and began doing a lot of photography of the spaces around me - sort of the more abandoned and unpleasant spaces in the city. I’ve always been fascinated with these - it comes back again to how they were used and peoples relationship to them. So, through doing that I started photographing textures like the brickwork or stuff on the floor etc, which basically led to me using these photographs - layering them on top of other things, like illustrations. This fed into using found materials which I would get from the sites, which led to books and obviously collage photomontage stuff. So it’s probably a desire to see things reused, repurposed - it’s kind of recycling in a sense - and yeah probably my fascination with abandoned or used things, and items which I can take and that kind of thing come out in cut up bits of paper really. I enjoy the sort of lack of control I have over what material I get. Say I want to do something which has a big cactus on it, for example, but then with the material you can get hold of, there’s not going to be something the same as what you have in your mind so you have to make do with what you can get. Yet there still is an element of control in terms of how you then manipulate this material. I like that relationship - it’s a constant balancing act between lack of control and surprise, and being able to control what you do have into something.
How would you say you approach beginning a piece of work?
The majority of stuff I make (because I have so little time), is usually for a purpose like an upcoming show, (ignoring the illustrative and design side of things). So that being the case, if the show has a theme around it, for example there’s one at the minute about offence in art, and people’s perceptions of offence. So, with something like that I’ll get a vague idea of what I’m doing. I decided to illustrate a list of scoring criteria for funding which we (CUN) were denied due to ‘offensive content’. So with that I wanted to look at it and illustrate with collage how we have failed to reach each of their targets, so it starts very loosely, and then I’ll go to my huge pile of books and materials and start picking bits out of them. After that it’s a case of laying thing out on paper and begin layering it up. If I don’t like what I’ve done, I can cut it back up and do it again. It’s a process of developing things like that really.
You talk about reconfiguring and reimagining ephemera and material which, as you say, is very much an ongoing process. How do you know then when a piece of work is finished?
Well it’s either when I’m sick of looking at it (!), or when I add another element and it’s just not right. The majority of my work is pretty uncontrolled and messy, I think probably the only thing that did have control was a series of pieces on pure white backgrounds, on which I didn't want any unnecessary marks, so some of these were scrapped which is quite unusual for me. Generally, the beauty is its very messy and experimental, and of course you get those irregularities and things that you don’t foresee. I like doing series, and with the landscapes, they’ve gone through a number of iterations I guess - they've been changed, some of them have been cut apart and then mixed with other ones to create new landscapes. I’m not particularly precious about most of the things I do, they’re all fairly disposable in a way, they’re there to be changed in general.
You’re very specific in that you consider collage, illustration and design to be separate areas of your practice. How often do they overlap?
Yes, I do see them as very separate things, but that’s probably not so much aesthetically but rather the purpose they serve. So there are many crossover elements like the use of shape and line in collage and the use of colour and overlaying in design comes from that, and then illustration sits somewhere in-between the two. It’s within publications really where they all actually meet, but there have been things, for instance, which have been collage, but treated as an illustrative project, particularly when in response to a brief. So in some ways, there’s little difference between some of my collages and illustration works. Although as I say, if an article, T shirt design or editorial opportunity came along, it would become more illustrative or design-based, because it would be in response to a brief, rather than being self-initiated. In a way they’re quite loosely defined- it’s probably more so that I can get it straight in my own head where things sit and what I do!
Sat next to the rapidly increasing capabilities of design software, paper collage could be perceived to be comparatively limited in its traditional rooting. What is it that keeps drawing you back to this process?
Well I just think it would be a shame to create everything digitally. The thing I love about collage is that lack of control - the abnormalities and mistakes you get, whereas, if you work digitally you lose that relationship because you can manipulate things in pretty much any way you wish. You have complete control - you can be as precise or loose as required. There are, of course, some things that you just can’t do digitally. Actually finding and handling materials and cutting them apart is just an enjoyable process to be honest.
As we’ve discussed, this autonomous dynamic of embracing ‘mistakes’ and irregularities is integral to your relationship with collage. Can you think of an example in which a mistake has actually ruined a work or damaged it beyond repair?
Well there have been, but on each occasion, it might then be replaced with a new version of it. I don’t think there has ever been a time in which I’ve set out to do something and it’s just been like; ‘no this isn’t happening’. Obviously there have been bits and pieces which just aren’t any good and need to be done again, but in general, because these materials can be used again and again, then quite a lot of them are hybrids of other collages or things that have gone wrong. It’s very unusual for me to completely scrap an idea because something doesn’t work. When I worked in pen or pencil, mistakes really would ruin something.
So what’s the master plan then- where do you see yourself in, say, five years time?
Job-wise, graphic design and illustrative editorial projects come as a priority. But with my work, it’s a case of continuing with exhibitions and so forth - working towards something that I can consider being a viable practice which actually gets me some form of monetary gain on a regular basis! It’s about finding a way in which I can combine all of the above elements together which often comes in the form of publications. The dream would be to be able to make kids’ picture books and get my money from those as an artist, illustrator and graphic designer.
To see more: robjameson.co.uk