Jon Burgerman is not just an everyday artist. Armed with Amsterdam paints, Posca pens and Sharpies, Jon can be found at the spot where art and improvisation collide. On any given day, you can find Burgerman on the streets of New York City, doodling, drawing and delighting in art and life. Recent works including Hot Girls and Hot Dogs, Tumblr Girls, and I Want To Eat Myself illustrate a sense of humor and talent as sprawling as his imagination.
I chatted with Burgerman, of whom I am a huge fan, about life, craft and the adventure of art.
Comfort Kills Creativity
Burgerman recalls with fond memories his studies of Fine Art at University, where he was encouraged to create without limitation. Experimenting with different forms of media, Burgerman integrated performance based art into his vocabulary.
“When I graduated, laden with debt and little idea what I was going to do with my life, I started making a variety of work which had to be quick to make and cheap. Some of this work was performance based. As my art career started to pick up I dropped out of working with my friends on events and performances. I’ve always liked the immediacy of live work and it’s something I’ve retained through-out my career. I consider my murals and drawings live works and performances even if there’s not an audience around to see them. The artwork being a documentation of the creative act.”
“Recently, for a few years with my band Anxieteam and some works I’ve done on my own, I’ve purposely put live action and intervention into my practice. Live work, be it a performance, a mural, a talk, a workshop or a gig all require some degree of improvisation and fast reflexes, the great and awful thing about the ‘moment’, is not knowing what might happen next. This is equally good and bad for the performer and audience and invites a special degree of excitement to the event.
I think the live works sharpen these responses and and keep me ‘creatively fit’.”
Comfort is the killer of creativity!
Live works invite participation (although it can be unwelcome participation at times) and that connection can be really interesting. You can never really predict what people will come out with, and that can be an adventure all of its own. Comfort is the killer of creativity!”
“If I’m not having fun overall with a project, the project will no doubt suffer as a result. I can’t help that, it just shows in the work. When I’m inspired and have great energy the work benefits. I’m in a super lucky position where my work, my job is fun. I’m in that position because I tried as hard as I could to make it happen. There’s plenty of room for improvement, of course, but I want to have fun and live a fun life, as much is possible.”
“Play is a bit of a gamble. When you play you’re not 100% certain of the outcome. There’s parameters you have to go up against to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve, it could be a defined goal or just the act of playing. I have this in my work. When I draw there’s a number of limitations such as paper size, pen, ink, time, surface etc. I then do everything I can to achieve my invented goal. During the act of play obstacles may arise or unpredicted ‘ferret events’ may occur. Maybe you spill your paint, or someone calls your phone and interrupts you. Perhaps you run out of a certain colour, maybe you smudge a line, or the paper reacts to the ink in a certain way… Who knows, often it’s pretty subtle things, but they all influence the work, and you adapt and navigate around them. The game starts to change as you play it. I like playing, there’s no guarantee of a particular outcome, there’s always the chance of surprises and disappointments.”
Passion and play hasn’t come about easily, Burgerman admits. As with any career, there come challenges.
Don’t become an artist to earn money.
“The competition to be successful in the arts is really tough. You face many years without any sort of guaranteed income. And even if you get some sort of critical acclaim that doesn’t mean you’ll be financially any better off. So one hurdle is paying your way. Don’t become an artist to earn money.”
“It can be tough carrying on when you feel like you’re not advancing. I feel this all the time but the only solution is to keep going. You become stronger because of it. You have to push yourself. It’s exactly like exercising. Each time you have to go a little further or lift a little more weight to eventually push on to the next level.”
The reward for pushing is the way Burgerman feels every time pen or brush touches paper.
How does it feel, I asked? Burgerman answers quite vividly.
“The great Kurt Vonnegut wrote in a forward of one of his books that when he went swimming he felt beautiful, as opposed to when he was going about his day to day life. I think when I’m drawing and completely submerged within that process I feel weightless and transparent and happy. I cease to be a body, flesh and blood and grease and kneecaps, I feel like a lovely perfume emanating above a flower bed.”
Now that, my friends, is an adventure.
Jon’s Burgerman shares: Supplies I Use
Amsterdam paints – I use these for quick, fast painting and even have used them on walls and the pavement in Manhattan.
Edding – I like these little pens, perfect for stowing away in your pockets for drawings on the go.
Krink – Krink go on anything, leaving a heavy, thick, gooey trail where-ever they go. These are great, a bit stinky and come from Brooklyn.
Sharpie and Pilot felt pen – These are my go-to pens for drawing in my sketchbook. Nothing is better than writing with a fresh felt pen on a blank page. The sketchbook is the place where all my ideas are born.
Posca – It can be hard to find Posca pens in America, I shipped a whole box of them over with me from Europe when I moved here. The colours are flat and solid. I use Poscas in a lot of my work, including my project Tumblr Girls
I sketch in Muji plain paper sketchbooks and have done so for over 12 years now.