ART on ATCN: Interview with James Jarvis

If you've walked past London's Nike Town at any point over the last few weeks, it's unlikely you'll have missed it. In fact, you probably even paused for a moment or two to take in one of the store's most creative and original window displays to date. Looming large over Oxford Circus is a Windrunner-clad bird, the latest creation from celebrated artist James Jarvis. Intrigued by the concept and wanting to know more about the man himself, ATCN got in touch with Jarvis to talk designer toys, running marathons and the last exhibition he didn't go to....

First things first. Can you explain to ATCN how the commission for Nike initially came about?

Acyde at Nike UK asked if I would consider designing a one-off large scale character for a window display. I had never worked on such a scale in three dimensions before so I agreed.

For the installation, you’ve created a giant figure of a bird wearing an iconic Nike windrunner, plus a further eight glass panels inside the store’s entrance. Can you give a brief explanation of the thinking and creative processes behind these pieces?

I didn’t want to use one of my potato-headed characters as the basis for the sculpt. The bird character has been knocking around my drawings for a while now, and it seemed a good opportunity to do something with it.

The inside panels came from a comic strip I drew explaining the character’s relationship with the jacket, i.e. why he is wearing it. The Windrunner was originally conceived as a warm-down jacket to put on after training, so I showed the bird putting it on after going for a run in the hills.

Many Nike sneaker collectors are also avid fans of vinyl toys- a field in which you are recognised as somewhat of a pioneer. Do you have a favourite pair of sneakers?

I’m afraid concept of sports shoes as cultural objects divorced from their practical application is something I struggle with. I do use sports shoes to run in, and I take an interest in technical developments in their design. I really liked the Nike Zoom Marathoners which I raced a lot in last year. I also like the Free 3.0s for interval training. I’ve just picked up a pair of Luna Trainers and ran in them for the first time last night. They feel amazing – so light for a high mileage shoe.

You’re perhaps best known for your highly-coveted vinyl toys. Can you offer any insight into why collectible toys have become so popular amongst adults in recent years? What do you think is the particular appeal of the toys you have created?

‘Designer’ toys happened because artists discovered that the processes used in their manufacture could be accessible to them. Once artists learnt how to utilise those processes, toys became another medium of expression.

I think the appeal of my characters lies in my initial conception of what I wanted my characters to represent. I started thinking about cartoon characters with reference to certain art movements I found inspiring: modernism and minimalism. I like the idea of something that alludes to the ideals of the modernist movement: form follows function.

Do you collect anything yourself?

I don’t consciously collect things. The thing I am most obsessed with is running. I’ve run seven marathons; I suppose that is a collection of sorts.

You’re often featured on streetwear blogs and online magazines. What do you make of the newly emerging blog culture? Any blogs/sites that you check on a regular basis?

I am an inveterate Internet trawler. Having a young family and working from home it’s a way of staying connected with everything that’s going on. But in a way I miss the way branches of culture could remain obscure and mysterious, pre the ubiquity of the Internet. When I was a teenager I really had to make an effort to find out about the things I was interested in – underground music and comics, skateboarding and the like. I think that lack of accessibility gave things a value that perhaps they lack nowadays.

As an artist, there must be days when you struggle to feel inspired. What are your “go-to” sources of inspiration?

There are certain people whose work I keep returning to for inspiration: Jane Austen, Josef Müller-Brockman, Dick Bruna, Gustave Doré, Phillip Guston, George Herriman, Tove Jansson, Terry Johnson, Paul Klee, Mike McMahon, Moebius, Claes Oldenberg, Gary Panter, Alexander Rodchenko, Richard Scarry, John Updike.

What was the last exhibition you went to see?

I’m afraid I can’t remember. I’m very bad at going to exhibitions. I go to the Horniman Museum a lot with my daughter.

Are there any up-and-coming artists whose work you particularly admire right now?

There are lots of current artists whose talent and application fills me with feelings of dread and inadequacy: Will Sweeney, KAWS, Chris Johanson, Parra, Paper Rad.
They’re not up-and-coming though.

You’ve achieved a very impressive level of commercial success over the years. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists seeking to make a living out of their work in a similar way?

Bear in mind why you are doing something and who is it for.

Jarvis' installation is now viewable at Nike Town, Oxford Circus.

Find out more about his work by clicking HERE or HERE.



junkii said...

excellent interview!

DELS (Kieren Dickins) said...

Phoebe is Big in the game.

Mr. Jarvis collaborated a few times with Multistorey (www.multistorey.net) when I used to work there. I love his style.

Interesting interview Pheebs.

Anonymous said...

great questions...

FRZI said...

bravo...Mr Jarvis...what an excellent Gentleman & Scholar...

bizy™ said...

Nice read

Anonymous said...

Really well written

more please atcn