Wild Fantasies: Mr Jago


13 Monday 13th September 2010

Unusually for a street artist, Mr Jago didn’t start out painting in the street. An illustrator by training, he co-founded Bristol-based Scrawl Collective in 1998 and has since turned the doodle into an art form. As his work has become increasingly abstract, his technique continues to be characterised by a freestyle approach and an intuitive use of colour. Don’t Panic caught up with Mr Jago to talk about the graff-inspired style that is all his own.


Did you always want to be an artist?
Yes, art was the only thing I was any good at. That’s what I was told at school anyway. But back then think I just wanted to draw monsters. I did a foundation degree in art and design and then went on to university. I did illustration because I thought that would earn me a living – I soon realised it wouldn’t! 
You’re originally from a little village in the countryside. Has this had an impact on your work?
Definitely because as a kid I spent time hanging from trees and falling in rivers and digging holes and looking at animals and that’s still in me. I miss it a bit actually (not that Bristol’s exactly a metropolis). I think it is present in the work that I make because nature is an important element of what I do.


How did Scrawl Collective come about?
Me and Will Barras were at university together and we used to hang out. We both worked in call centres. I would keep sketch books while I worked. I would take those drawings, put them onto a computer and fiddle about with them. We met Ric Blackshaw who was putting this book together (Scrawl, Dirty Graphics and Strange Characters). After the book came out Ric started to get clients phoning him up to ask how much it would cost to use this artist or that. We decided to call it Scrawl Collective rather than ‘Rick and his mates Will and Duncan.’ It had more of a ring to it.
How would you describe the way your work has evolved since then?
Scrawl gave me opportunities. I wasn’t that confident about my work and it encouraged me to get out there. The more that happened, the more I realised that I could do it and that I wasn’t going to get shot with a bow and arrow for doing something that somebody doesn’t like. From that people started asking me to do shows. But it was all digital. It was literally biro drawings from computers. I thought ‘this isn’t going to make a very interesting show’ so I started to experiment with paint. I was trying to blow my drawings up so I could paint them on walls. I’ve kept exploring that medium ever since.
Your work has become more abstract lately. Was that a deliberate change of style?
It came about from going through the same process many times. With the robot things I used to paint I’d pick the outline that I wanted to use and add the colour and then realise it looked exactly like it did in my book before I painted it. So I started not to use any reference anymore, to make it up as I went along. Now it’s more about the flows of the paint. But I can still see that there are characters in there. There are still structures and bits of landscape. I’ve just melded them together to make these abstract works. People look at it and they think it’s something completely different. I don’t know how it happened.
So when you’re painting, it’s quite spontaneous?
Yeah that’s right. It’s quite organic. If I’m in a good mood and feeling confident with it I just begin and then from there it evolves depending on various things. I might get bored of a certain range of colours, realise I’ve been using a lot of turquoise and pink, something like that. I’ll just change the colours and it’ll give it a different feel. I might go a bit spikier.


Some of your more recent work looks kind of like outer space
People say that. I know what they mean – like nebulae. The whole space thing is pretty fascinating even though I’m not thinking about space when I’m doing it.
What are you thinking about?
It depends. Each one is different. I can be thinking of some pretty dreadful things; of things that piss me off. You know there’s a destructive element to it. There’s a recent one where I was thinking about the oil rig that failed in the Gulf of Mexico.
You’ve done a lot of collaborative work. How does that compare to working on your own?
It’s much more satisfying. You’ve got no idea of the outcome so there’s a nice surprise in that and it’s so much fun painting with somebody else. It’s always good to work with Will. When we’re doing a show and have a couple of days to paint the space it’s like a see saw. There’ll be one day when somebody’s lagging and the other person has to bolster them up and then the next day it’ll be the exact opposite way around. A few years ago we did a show for Mr Ego in Brussels. We turned up with nothing. We had just three days to make a show. We had 20 canvases up on the wall. I was really chuffed with that piece in the end. We used to do a lot of work together and had gone off and our styles had developed independently so it was good when we brought them back together and it still worked.


If you could transform any object what would it be?
A big old Soviet helicopter. That would be a pretty smart thing to paint. Just because they’re so ugly. I love them.
Tell us a bit about the work you’ve done for Don’t Panic
The character in my screen print is like one of the guys who are hidden in my paintings but he’s slightly more visible. He’s what you should be looking out for.  


Mr Jago will appear in our 10th anniversary exhibition Wild Fantasies, alongside D*Face, Shepard Fairey, Pure Evil, Mudwig, Eine, James Joyce, C215 and Word To Mother, at Stolen Space gallery, London from September 24 to October 03, with a preview night on September 23 and a student night on September 29.

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