at home with Jonathan Lawes
We sat down with Jonathan Lawes over some tea at his Peckham studio to find out more about his processes.
Tell us about where you’re from and where you spent your childhood
I was actually born in northern Germany, with both my parents being teachers for the British Forces at the time. Just before starting Secondary School we moved to the UK and settled in Salisbury, a small little city nestled in the southern tip of Wiltshire.
Were you artistic throughout school?
My interest in art came about rather late into my time at Secondary School. Going to a Grammar School, the emphasis was placed on academic subjects and the art department was clearly left behind. That all changed when a new teacher came in and drastically changed things around. We were introduced to playful, exciting ways of working, learning more about modern, abstract art movements. This had a really big effect on me and it’s where my passion for the subject began to grow.
From there I went on to do an Art Foundation degree in Bournemouth and then a BA(Hons) in Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design at Leeds Arts University (formerly Leeds College of Art & Design).
Were you clear about your career trajectory after University? What did you do after?
To be honest after completing the whole educational cycle, I was pretty exhausted and overwhelmed and didn’t really know what to do. I was 22 years old at it felt far too early to be deciding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I knew I wanted to do something creative, but putting my finger on it at the point was very difficult and I felt an enormous weight on my shoulders.
Having lived abroad during my younger years, I wanted to go and experience something like that again. I searched for internships abroad and stumbled across a great experience in Amsterdam, working for a small print agency. I learnt a great deal during those 8 months, and ultimately found out that working behind a computer, banging out a new piece of work every day for the commercial industry really wasn’t for me.
From there I moved to Berlin - I’d been there on holiday recently and found it a fascinating city - and eventually ended up staying there for just shy of a decade. The majority of my time there I wasn’t really doing anything creative. I was jumping between café & bar jobs (something I’d been doing on the side ever since my teenage years) but I was having fun and had a great set of friends around me. But towards the latter stages of my time there I began to get back into hands-on printing and got more and more involved. One thing led to another, which in short brought me to where I am today. Looking back I always had the desire to do what I am doing now. I just needed to experience different things in life, have a bit of fun, and also learn to believe in myself that I could actually do it.
What or who would you say inspired your style?
It’s always hard to pinpoint where my style has emerged from. I do know that the change at school I outlined earlier made a massive difference. I couldn’t draw to the standard I wanted, and to be honest I’m still not good at it. But working in an abstracted way just worked for me. Everything clicked into place and allowed me to process everything I wanted onto the page.
Although you have a clear style, it’s clear that within that you’re trying and experimenting with different things still. What are some of the more interesting processes you’re working with at the moment?
Like with everything I do these things change all the time. But I must admit I do like pushing the boundaries to what people would usually associate with the screen printing process. It’s primarily designed for mass production purposes, but I’ve never seen it like that. I love the process and want to experiment with it as much as possible. It’s my way of drawing and that’s very unique to me. Right now I’m trying to incorporate texture into my work in a very spontaneous and expressive manner. I think it’s actually harder to print ‘badly’ as such in an aesthetically pleasing way than just create perfect prints over an edition of 100 or so.
When do you know that one piece is ‘done’?
It’s impossible to answer that as there are so many variables involved. I work very fast and instinctively. It really does depend on how I’m feeling. There are some pieces that can come together quite quickly, whereas others can take a lot longer and you need time to step back and assess them.
You’ve now expanded into more studio space and are expecting a big printing machine, how does it feel to know you’ll have your own?
This is going to be a real game changer and I can’t wait until it’s all set up. It’s something I’ve been dreaming of for quite a few years now, and I feel incredibly excited that I’ve finally got to this stage. I need to learn to celebrate my achievements and milestones more, and this is certainly one of them. It’ll open up my practice so much more and allow me to push on.
How did you find the pandemic and did that affect your work?
At the start of the pandemic everything shut down and so I had no studio to go and work in. At first it was nice to take a break I guess, but that feeling really didn’t last long. I was itching to get back to it but that clearly wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. So I started cutting up old prints and playing around with collage, something which I hadn’t really had the opportunity to do since University. I thoroughly enjoyed it, cutting and sticking bits down, and it’s opened up a whole new level of work for me going forward.
Where are you most comfortable and relaxed?
Like I’ve just touched on there, the print studio is my happy place. It’s where I get to play around with ideas and see everything come together. It’s a place where my creativity is in full flow. Alongside that, I need a quiet, relaxing home environment to enjoy some real down time. I’ve found it hard to find that in London, which is why I’m in the process of moving a little further out of the city. A little more breathing space will do me wonders.
Any secret spots in Peckham that are must visits?
There are lots of great little places to eat and drink in Peckham, and Camberwell too. I’m lucky to have so much right on my doorstep at the studio. If I was pushed to choose one place it’d have to be The Camberwell Arms. Perfect service, food, and drinks. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Any advice for anyone interested in printmaking?
Sounds pretty obvious I guess, but just go and have fun. Don’t get bogged down with everything being perfect. Play around, experiment, and try to find what works best for you. In my eyes there really is no right and wrong answer and in order to develop you need to find out that some things don’t work, but that’s ok.
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