While this is the first picnic I am already breaking the rules and not visiting the artist in his studio but rather among his recent work in his current solo-exhibition GREATER HITS up at Booklyn Artists Alliance until March 28th. I was first introduced to the interdisciplinary work of Jonathan Campolo in Baltimore two years ago at Open Space Gallery’s annual Prints and Multiples Fair. He exhibited his many self-published books alongside peers from FAMILYFAMILYTREE, a communal art site he co-founded. Jon’s palette is highly saturated and immediately caught my eye; while his use of repetition and digital manipulation of his own photography and internet-sourced imagery create harmonic couplings from seemingly random coincidences. His solo-exhibition at Booklyn illustrates the indispensable allegiance of self-publishing to his more conceptual sculptural work.
First entering the room one is immediately confronted by a mural of glaring cartoon eyes, amidst photography and sculpture that can initially be described as assisted readymades. In addition to the exhibition, Jon and Booklyn have collaborated to publish a full color zine Tchotchkes & a Risographed artist’s book Suck the Fystem. Although the room is sparse, each of the six pieces subtly shout their intentions: to expose the abuse of color theory by brand identities and its manipulative effects on consumers. With this theme in mind I bring a three dish picnic to Booklyn emphasizing cartoonishly saturated colors using beets, butternut squash, pomegranate, pistachios and black rice.
Picnic: The press release summates the work to illustrating an overall exposure of “cartoon and popular characters’ brand identities with an emphasis on color and its manipulative effects on consumption.” How did you become interested in this subject?
Jon: What the press release does not touch on is the back story of where this is coming out of. I spent close to a year during college living in Los Angeles, and I got a job at Warner Brothers, in their “office of consumer products;” which is essentially an entire room of graphic designers and illustrators facilitating the application of any WB property from live action to cartoons. So everything- Looney Tunes, The Flintstones, The Jetsons – and facilitating their application from anywhere to pillowcases at Macy’s, wall paper, lunch boxes, billboards, commercials, everything. A majority of my time there I was matching Pantone color chips, TPX to PMS, textile and print on paper, it really altered my preconceived notions of how color is used to manipulate the way we purchase things and the way we look at not only products but marketing, franchising, and advertisements- subconsciously or completely aware- how we buy into things consciously, and not only in this ‘toon realm, but you can apply it anywhere. It’s being arguably abused online and on handheld devices; how color is used to appease or calm.
Did you study color theory or color psychology?
Not extensively, I went to school for what was called ‘New Media’ then, which is now a term that is completely meaningless and not used anymore. It’s called ‘Interactive Media’ now, it was a combination of print design, web design, and not much advertising- but I had a lot of marketing friends, so that was always a great conversation talking about marketing from a design perspective. Focusing in and being hyperconscious of color and its ability to manipulate meaning. That is where this show is generally coming from, and through the filter of the Looney Tunes. On this side of the room I deal a lot with flat color, color ways, patented color ways, recognizing Tweety Bird’s yellow or Bugs [Bunny’s] gray, and once you see it and associate it with a certain thing you can never run away from it. You can only see that color in a certain light, which lends itself to where I’m trying to go with this work- associated meaning.
Do you use this power of color and combination to manipulate your viewer?
Yeah absolutely, that’s a really good example [666: The Color of the Beast, PMS chip, artist’s frame, 7 x 9 inches], although it’s completely light hearted, ‘The Color of the Beast’ that is supposed to make you laugh. The color is unassuming, I would say most people associate that with being a girly color, countless dolls are packaged in that grayed out periwinkle, that’s the actual chip 666, right out of the Pantone book. I think [Multicultural, 2015, Crayola marker set, artist’s frame, 7.5 x 9 inches] is the most alarming to a lot of people. I think of this as an overcompensated apology to the general public. To give you a backstory, it’s a washable Crayola marker set named ‘multicultural’ that came out in 1992, this was coming after the fact that Crayola had a marker called ‘flesh’ and in the 1960s because of the Civil Rights Movement, for obvious reasons, they changed the name to ‘peach.’ There were multiple examples: ‘Indian red’ for obvious reasons became ‘chestnut;’ ‘Prussian blue’ wasn’t Cold War sensitive, that became ‘midnight blue.’ It was a retrospective revamp where they needed to update their colors to more politically correct terms. The thought being that this is a product for people already aware of colors’ implications and how it can be insulting to a general public. This was only released in America, to a melting pot, multi-racial country, but it was discontinued. The immediate reaction is an uncomfortable laugh, but when you look at it – it is terrible. The phrasing- thinking about an entire board room settling on that product and how many rounds and decisions were made around an office of multi-billion dollar white dudes thinking ‘this is a great idea, the public will love this.’ It is insane to me, it’s so crazy, the fact that they’re washable too is hilarious. To me, it’s an afterthought apology, but it’s too late, this came out two decades ago, but they changed the name of the color in the 1960s, it’s crazy it took that long, it’s telling of them, but it’s crazy. It’s a product made in response to the insult, but in a way it’s responding to the public’s awareness of colors’ power, that’s the thought behind it.
Does that come up often in your work or is it specific to these pieces?
This has been an ongoing idea for a couple of years, I worked at Warner Brothers in 2009, I’ve been building on it for quite a long time, looking at color with a semi political agenda, instead of just ignoring it. It comes with such purpose, and I know it’s not every day that you want to think of that, in any space that you’re in, all the decisions that these colors went through, all the board rooms, you don’t want to think of that or you’ll go crazy, but I can’t help it nowadays. For instance, walking into a mall is so overstimulating it drives me insane, I think it’s generally common knowledge that people know that spaces or things that are marketed towards them are geared towards a certain demographic and intentionally try to manipulate the way you think or feel about a space or brand. Like walking into a McDonalds, I think people know that red and yellow are colors that make you hungry, and that’s why it’s like that. Malls are colored in such a disorienting way that you can’t leave, you get lost intentionally, I don’t think so anymore, it’s more of an 80s/90s way. What this work is trying to get at is the unnerving and foreboding sense that all of these decisions are around you all the time and you can chose to ignore them, but they are right there. It’s so mind altering once you really tune in.
Is that why you always wear all black?
[Laughs] In defense, it’s a neutral. Black is a family thing, my parents always dress in all black, I think it’s in our blood. In defiance, that’s what I should start saying.
And relatively, that’s why you removed color and recreated the mural in grayscale?
Yeah, that’s a neutral gray, in any color correcting environment you put the object against a neutral gray to really see it… That’s where it’s coming from, definitely pulling from fantasy, the ‘toon element is obvious when you look at the wall, but I don’t think many people would look at this and see Nickelodeon [Slump, 2015, fused glass, crib bed, mattress pad, 51 x 27inches] or Flintstones [Tchotchke #5, 2015, archival inkjet print, hand-painted frame, 60 x 40 inches]. Not immediate, but that’s the point, it creeps in, like ‘where do I know this from, why do I know this?’; pulling from slightly recognizable but not necessarily colors that people would right away recognize, they’re familiar.
I am glad we chose to have the picnic here in your solo-exhibition, your studio would not have had this formidable wall mural.
True, it was an idea I needed to pull off somewhere, we originally were going to do a wallpaper, a piece straight out of the book [Suck the Fystem], but it was way too expensive, so we opted for a mural. It’s in line with the sound piece. These pieces are displacing elements, these are all Looney Tunes characters. We were going to do a contest at the opening if you could guess all of them you’d get a free book, but it’s impossible.
Untitled 2015 (mural), Latex and acrylic paint on wall , 204 x 80 inches
One thing I cannot photograph is the sound piece. Can you describe it?
The mural is a response to the sound, I wanted to take pieces from familiar cartoons, which is where the work is sitting anyways, and displace them from their original source. And the sound piece ended up being very jarring, annoying, a lot of people when they first put [the headphones] on are like ‘Oh god!’ It’s meant to be, it happens so fast, it’s intended for you to recognize something, and when you do you’re already listening to the next clip. I stopped it at a 2 minute loop, it’s too much. That’s also where the eyes come from, trying to enforce the unnerving ‘all eyes on you.’
Untitled 2015 (detail), Latex and acrylic paint on wall
The first time I met you was at Open Space’s Prints and Multiples Fair two years ago, will you be exhibiting with FAMILYFAMILYTREE again this year?
Yeah, we’d like to do an exhibition down there too, a pop-up, to make something happen outside of the fair. It’s getting kind of popular now, it’s amazing and they have a bigger space this year on East Oliver in a new MICA building by the Copy Cat.
How did the communal art site FAMILYFAMILYTREE come about?
It’s a mixed bag of tricks that group, it’s funny. I met some of them completely online, I’d say the idea came out of school at Emerson, it started as a Live Journal, where we were just posting. The concept now is that the posts are anonymous, which is very much what the introduction to the book [Suck the Fystem] is dealing with- authorship online and being attracted to images because they’re coming from an anonymous source, drag and drop culture, or Tumblr, blame Tumblr for the abuse of it. That’s what we were responding to, trying to make a space online that you could stumble upon and roam free without paying attention to where the images were coming from; even though we have the contributors listed on the left it’s abstracted, it’s organized visually, different. The best response I’ve gotten to people visiting our website is that they’ve gotten lost, that’s what I want to happen to people, ‘I love what I’m looking at, but I have no idea what it is, I’m totally lost, I just found three bands that I like, found out about these two photographers, I’m going to hire one of them, but I have no idea who it is.’ That’s exactly what we’re looking for. The ideal situation with the website is a microcosm universe that you can get lost in. The three friends that found the website, it was a very conscious decision, we wanted to do something we had never seen before, put it online, and it grew from there. I think we’re at 26 artists now, whether it’s friends, fringe friends, artists we found randomly online and decided to invite. To this day we’ve never all met in one place, partly because everyone lives all over the country. We’re planning an exhibition, we want to do it in New York, having one piece by each member, full representation, it’s never been done.
The introduction to your book Suck the Fystem is an excerpt from a talk you gave at PMF last year discussing authorship, sharing artwork online and how you too often lose your name and that credit- but this book is all borrowed works?
Yeah, the book is completely made up of images I took off online where I didn’t know the authors at all, that was intentional, and I exaggerated the designs to reflect textile pattern, blew them up and reworked them to fit the page. It is in a way becoming the crime itself. I had to do it to illustrate the idea, although that’s not apparent when you flip through the pages, but when you read the intro it becomes obvious. It’s intended to be an argument, we were yelling those lines, it was supposed to be absurd, to be funny. I’ve had people read it and take it so seriously and ask me such inquisitive questions- which is cool, but I think to take it that seriously and really try to fix the problem is what seems so ridiculous. There is no fixing the problem, we present the idea, not as a solution, there is no way to solve it, we’re past the point. You have to embrace the fact that if you want to put a watermark on an image it might be cropped out and reposted, there is no way around it… I’m arguing the fact that people will steal, it’s almost a necessary means of consumption. You have to steal things, and try to make them yours, that’s what people naturally do. The whole nature of photography and concept seems ridiculous if you picture the image as yours. I didn’t build that wall [Tchotchke #5 2015, archival inkjet print], but I’m photographing it and now it’s mine. We make a point in the introduction where you take a shitty photo on your iPad and the image is now iMine. You can expand upon that however you want, picture of a picture kind of stuff. How can we say an image belongs to anyone, it’s a worldly discussion that has no answer.
Do you endorse your work being shared uncredited?
There is no way of stopping it, but sure, ideally the idea is that you make something unique enough it can become recognizable, but everything is regurgitated nowadays. The fear is being ripped off in making any sort of imagery, no matter what medium, you’re going to be ripped off eventually if it becomes popular, you just got to embrace it.
& the second exhibition zine Tchotchkes is a collection of your own photography?
Yeah- this zine is mostly my own photography and scans, it’s meant to build relationships between seemingly unrelated objects. I’m object obsessed, a lot of my friends are too, tchotchke fanatics. This zine was built out of the idea of arranging them in a way where they can build relationships with one another: ephemera, objects from my house, and photography from all over the country, relating to place – just random, seemingly random. I also included most of the work in the exhibition.
Do you feel that publishing, the collecting of imagery and that ease of dissemination is a keystone in your work?
Yeah, totally! Mainly my personal intentions are to make books. It’s always so fun to come into a space and build work to play in it, but I’m mostly interested in making books- tangible imagery. To me, the show aspect of art-making is too fleeting, everybody loves openings, but then it’s in the room for a while and it’s neglected. The book is a coveted object, it’s low cost, it strips down the formality of artwork- that’s what i’m attracted to. It’s so accessible and makes the work accessible. And instead of designing for a neutral space, like in a gallery or museum, white walls everywhere, I’d rather be involved in the context of someone’s home or library. I want to know what my books are sitting next to, it’s much more interesting than designing for a completely neutral space. It’s letting go of the microcosm idea of what it is to make artwork in a space, you’re never going to be completely understood, you can’t expect everyone to walk into the space and get exactly what it is, they want to make it their own. That’s why books are awesome, they can take it home and put it next to their magazines and it becomes theirs.
Are there any events or workshops coinciding with this show?
Yeah- right now the working idea is a workshop at Booklyn that I’ve done in the past a few times in New York and Baltimore. I worked extensively in Polaroid for a very long time, that’s how I got into photography. I worked at this company called the Impossible Project, which is the company that’s making new film from the original Polaroid factory for the existing cameras. In working there I started doing these Polaroid workshops – which is alternative and experimental. We do emulsion lifts, attaching it to another surface, lifting it out of that white frame; physical manipulation while the print is wet; doing double exposures and photograms. It’s been popular in the past, it’s such a niche medium that typically when you come across someone into Polaroid they’re WAY into Polaroid, they’ve spent hundreds of dollars on it. You can’t half ass shooting with this stuff. We’ve had a lot of fanatics come to the workshop it’s cool to do something new with a familiar medium.
Jon Campolo’s exhibition GREATER HITS will be open at Booklyn Artists Alliance until March 28th, with a closing party Friday, March 27, visit their website for information about his FREE upcoming Polaroid workshops. FAMILYFAMILYTREE will also be exhibiting March 28 – 29th at Open Space’s annual Prints and Multiples Fair. For more of Jon Campolo’s work visit http://jonathancampolo.com/