Alex Jako: Music to my Eyes

Interview

Written by Alice Watson

There lies a certain harmonious relationship between music and art, sound and illustration, noise and drawing. Perhaps more intensely paired than any of the other two senses, our ears and our eyes stimulated simultaneously can spark something fairly major in both nostalgic recollection and creative interpretation. It appears that Alex Jako would agree with me, her poster and flyer artwork for bands being some of her most distinctive and brave pieces of illustration to date.

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Perhaps it’s her experience of working at Notting Hill’s rare record mecca Rough Trade, or maybe her impressively intimate knowledge of all things prog and psych circa Germany 1970, that means melodies and motifs find themselves overlapping inseparably throughout her work. She confesses that “Music consumes my thoughts… Some of my most articulate works involve representing music..the most exciting for me- as far as challenges go for my personal illustrative communication.”

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This is not a lady who does things by half. She describes herself as “a completely self-taught escapist”. She is more than aware of the hold that drawing has over her; in fact, she readily admits that artistic expression is a lifeline. “Drawing has become my most healthy habit. I have had to turn a lot of dangerous, self-destructive habits into positive obsessive ones. Drawing is one of those things which I can make as horrific or dark- or light as I want to without destroying myself or anyone around me.”

Jako arrived in London a decade ago aged 17, a fresh faced yank with a penchant for the dark and the alternative, taking a string of “various horrible low-wage jobs.. and doodled away stale time.” She reflects that it was unlikely she was ever going to settle into a 9 to 5 work environment. “I’d always get into some sort of trouble in these jobs, until eventually winning my employers over. My time-keeping is awful, my compromising potential completely non-existent.. I’ve always felt like a caged animal working for other people.”

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When I ask her where her creativity can be traced back to, she tells me “I’ve always drawn since I was a child- like, a necessity. It was a great way to escape life fear, anxiety.. the never-ending cycle. Souls are powered by new music all the time. Everyone that saw what I was working on started asking me to do things for them.” Modestly, she describes herself as still just a beginner. “I still feel I have something to prove, personally and professionally.. I’m not at that stage yet where opinions don’t matter to me”. Having said that, her upcoming work schedule sounds borderline frantic; Italian horror film poster re-enactments using porn stars, fields of flowers using pointillism, monstrous blobs for LMNO Projects.
I’m interested in how much free range she is given, or feels she can take, with briefs or specifications for commissions. “There is a huge amount of personal autonomy when creating these pieces, like a burning flame; the more the resistance I feel against what I’m aiming for, the bigger the fire roars and rages rebelliously.. and the more intense the urge to make something amazing, in my own way, to prove them wrong.”

And once that’s established, how long do you spend on each project, on average? “Once the spark has ignited I can steam through most pieces within days, weeks. Some projects become more ambitious naturally and like a chess game or a puzzle, I will sit and look at them for hours until each stroke pieces itself together organically, into the final work, using my subconscious to direct the piece.. a sort of meditation also. Sometimes it just all falls into place at an extraordinary rate!”

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As a Londoner myself I am always curious as to what those who flock here from far flung corners of the world feel about the city and what it has to offer creatively compared with their home ground. “I have many people I admire and love over in the U.S. I spent time in NYC a few years ago and fell deeply in love with it. But sometimes I wonder if I truly exist when I am over there. I feel more real over here. I believe London holds an incredible amount of magic and opportunity and allows for anyone to be self-made if they seize the chance. London contains ‘beacons in the maelstrom’.”

And now for the quickfire question round.

Hey, Alex Jako, what makes you so awesome?
My pirate ship.. steering through the rough seas and mighty winds in search of freedom and gold.

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If you could travel back or forward to any era, where would you go?
I’m scared of time travel at this speed let alone moving it backwards or forwards!

Which illustrators/artists do you most admire?
Nick Blinko the punk illustrator and musician, Austin Osman Spare, his line, and his wonderful world of ‘chaos magic’ , Henry Darger, his insanity, and his beautiful odd drawings, Hasegawa Tōhaku, his simplicity, his wisdom and finesse, Aubrey Beardsley .. the old masters.. I’m fascinated by painters such as Italian Renaissance artist Bernardo Belloto. His execution of detail is mind-blowing.. I can stare into any section of a painting for hours, days.. admiring his use of colour, application of paint onto page.

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If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing?
Working in a record shop in Notting Hill.

Who or what is your nemesis?
Computers.. they hiss when they catch sight of me..

What piece of modern technology could you not live without?
ID cards- no one believes that I’m not 13 and who I say I am.

What advice would you give to up and coming artists?
As Robert Crumb said “Draw your way out!”

Which band past or present would provide the soundtrack to your life?
I listen to many different forms of music and musicians.. It’d be hard to pick just one. I’m very fickle with my flirtations with records also. This week the soundtracks to my life include: Pisces-A lovely Sight, Cate Le Bon’s forthcoming record on Randomonium (Gruff Rhys’ new label), Sam and the Plants, Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac.. Amon Duul II, Honest Jon’s new “Open Strings” compilation.

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I say Modern art is rubbish, you say..?
I don’t really consider simply being a fan of music or art as a great achievement. Nor is merely regurgitating music or art which one is a fan of already. I agree that artist should be social terrorist, as Billy Childish puts it.. crushing boundaries, fighting upstream, existing contrary to the flow that is fashionable. Symbolically, for this reason, we need modern art. As long as the cycle constantly renews itself with fresh ideas..approaches, I will adore modern art. But I refuse to glorify any particular fashion scene labeled as modern art. I like my coffee strong not watered down. Glorification by me is my silent open gaping mouth as I bury my head into my lap and stare at old things, objects, books, smelly old disintegrating yellow paper.. gawp at the old masters, etchings, paintings in Belgian art galleries…

Who would be your top 5 dream dinner guests? Who would do the washing up?
Roy Harper because I love what he has to say and he is incredibly handsome and writes beautiful songs, Werner Herzog because he might challenge everyone’s perceptions on life theory or imagery and might ruffle some feathers, Chris Packham because of his intensive geek knowledge about nature, Stewart Lee for his perverse sense of humour, and Jordan just because she’d rock the dinner boat. All five of these people are a great inspiration to me in their own way. Werner Herzog would probably do the washing up.. and then make a film about washing up, which could draw people to tears. Haha!

What is your guilty pleasure?
pushing buttons.

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Stop, Look AND Listen: Alex Jako proves there is more to music than the sound and more to art than the visual.

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