Hello, my name is Jourdon Gullett, and I am a working artist, Illustrator, and designer.
When did you first get involved with art?
I suppose there have always been levels of involvement in art my whole life. When I was younger, my father painted cars, motorcycles and semi trucks. Whether it was bodywork or something custom, he would work on stuff in our basement. I have a lot of memories of taking time masking things, holding tools, and sometimes getting to use a spray gun with him. However, looking back at high school is when I started to realize this art thing may have some potential. I did a few portraits, won some cash for an art show and did my first mural. I went to college at The American Academy of Art in Chicago really focusing on working with assorted materials and styles from printmaking, watercolor and oil painting. I wanted to get the most out of it. Following graduation, I quit my job and sold my car to pay for a few months of rent. I pretty much decided that from there on I was only going to do work that would benefit my career.
Following college, you got involved with Gallery 37 & After School Matters arts program. How much did being a teacher help you improve as an artist?
Do you miss teaching still?
Working as a teaching artist with Gallery 37 definitely affected the way I approach art in a lot of ways. I started as an intern teaching Graphic Design, then to mosaic murals, then to furniture design, following that a painting program, a couple public art programs, and then as of lately-a screen printing program. It’s a non-profit organization so learning to get the most out of limited time and materials is always a challenge. Running scenarios where you are the lead artist, having an assistant, an intern and about 30 paid high school students who are looking to you. Teaching a variety of programs and working with a variety of materials under a tight budget teaches you to get creative with what you have. Picking up on things you don’t think about when you are in art school; like budgeting time, ordering materials and working in a collaborative environment. I took a year or so away from teaching when I got a full-time gig with Solemn Oath Brewery…and I did miss it. I jumped back in with a good friend teaching Screen Printing two years ago. Which might be the most relevant program to what I do outside of teaching now. There is so much illustration and design that goes into screen printing, and being able to bring what I know with the work I do for myself to the table has been a really great experience.
You once said, “Make Your Passion Your Life, I’ve always felt art and life should be fun”. Explain this. Have you never created out of frustration or sadness?
I know it sounds a bit cliché, but there is truth in it. I grew up skateboarding with friends and there is a lot of overlap with being creative and going out to skate. Admiring the artwork for board graphics and all the other gear that comes with it. Hoping one day I could be someone who is lucky enough to create images of things that people would enjoy and support. At this point, I have created about a dozen or so graphics and gear for various board companies. Naturally, drinking beer was/is another outlet I enjoy, so being able to apply the same approach with skateboarding with beer kind of felt like a natural thing to get into. I set out to create graphics for Solemn Oath Brewery where everything is drawn by hand and ended up being in the mix of all the incredible work that the beer culture/industry has supported. Going to a liquor store and seeing all the work of various artists on a shelf. I get the same feeling about it as I do when I go to Uprise Skateshop and see the variety of board graphics. They both fall outside of the art and design world, but it is a place where creatives can really do whatever they want.
As for the opposite, I have made art out of frustration and sadness. It can be like pulling teeth for me…sometimes you have to pay bills and you definitely need to keep working regardless of how you feel. In those moments, I certainly struggle to push myself to have the patience to sit down and get motivated. It is not to say I have not done interesting things from it, but I look at those drawings and they have elements in them that I may not typically do. I understand it is my hands that created the work, but it was not easy on my mind.
Let’s go into some of your pieces throughout the years. Talk about Turkish Gold
I would love for more situations to work out the way that piece did. Through skateboarding, I met Faythe Levine who ran a gallery in Milwaukee. She saw some larger pieces I created on plywood in a friends loft. This opened up a conversation about having me do a solo show in her space. I had just finished a massive project for Waste Management for their recycling program and with some of that money, I ended up taking a three week trip with five friends to Istanbul, Turkey. I took a ton of photos. Some with the intent to create a few pieces for this upcoming show in Milwaukee. Turkish Gold, which is about 8′ x 8′, is a piece that mostly focuses on the culture, the people and the architecture in Istanbul. Incorporating patterns, gold paint, layers… directly referencing to the type of jewelry, the elaborate mosaics… (I mean, incredibly detailed mosaics) to how layered the old city is. I loved it there, the city, the people, and the food… everything was incredible.
I first got word of you and your work while at The Annex. What was the inspiration for that mural?
Like skateboarding, beer has a way of bringing people together. I met Chuck (no pattern) at a beer event and I was familiar with his work prior to meeting him. I was flattered to hear that he liked my work, let alone interested in putting something up in The Annex large scale. We worked through some ideas and he wanted something reminiscent of past work I had done around the city. We went back and forth over a few months about ideas, talked about feather patterns, etchings, floral patterns, field guides, etc. but keeping some of the darkness I have had in other murals. Meanwhile wanting it to look like a wallpaper pattern or texture -thinking about if you had your photo taken in front of it.
And last but not least, Dirty Daddy.
Some of the more random pieces I’ve done like this stem from some curated group shows. After being invited to the Dirty Daddy show, I dwelled on an idea that could work. Wanting to work in black and white and wanting to keep things weird. Black leather always looks incredible with the contrast and this theme was a good fit to explore this. I had some friends over while working on this and I was talking with my buddy Dave. He was like, “yeah, BDSM is really trending right now” I basically responded dang. I really wanted to add some kind of commercial aspect to it like…Mickey Mouse? My wife, Chantal came up with the idea of making it a Mickey Mouse pacifier. And so it went…my Dirty Daddy piece. The concept and execution of the drawing literally came from hanging out, drinking beer and drawing until late that night.
Before you got into your current style, you used to create a lot of watercolor paintings. Do you ever look to go back to watercolor?
Throughout college, I was so broke and I was taking a variety of classes. Some of which I really struggled to get some cash to buy the needed materials. Especially the oil painting class. Just for one Cadmium Red, it was about 30-40 bucks…maybe more now. So, after that semester I jumped into a watercolor class because a buddy told me you could extend your materials pretty far. I also really liked how quickly you could turn something around. Cheap and fast was perfect for what I needed at that point in my life. After college, I may have done a hand full of watercolor pieces, but that is about it. I think about it from time to time and have used it as a medium to do something quick for various things. I am sure that I will do more, just depends on the project. Maybe a painting of the Michigan Dunes for my wife’s parents. I don’t know haha.
How’d you even get into your current style from watercolor?
Sometimes I don’t think I have a style, I just go through phases and use whatever materials are available to me at the time. Or it might be more about making the most out of what you have. Referencing back to the above answer with watercolor, I was able to adapt to the medium and use it for what I needed. I like the challenge I think. Going to school for watercolor, then quickly dropping post-college and wanting to work more boldly at a larger scale and with more colors. Gallery 37 at the time had a warehouse of old used materials and they invited instructors to see what we could use. I collected a ton of scrap plywood, half full bottles of ink, and used brushes… Later using this stuff for various shows or commissions, like the project for Dr. Martens. To me, it has always been about drawing or pushing myself to be a good draftsman. The materials didn’t matter as much and I could find a way to make it work…well hopefully anyway. All the larger plywood pieces were drawn with brush and ink and around that same time, Bluetown Skateboards asked me to do a series of boards… Everyday Strangers. So, using the same approach I drew them with brush and ink, but this time on vellum rather than plywood. I was really attracted to how well the ink took to the paper. Meanwhile, Solemn Oath Brewery needed so much work done and to keep up with that I started to buy more ink and rolls of vellum paper. I worked out all the illustrations using either a pencil or a pen on vellum and in a way still, do today. At this point, I think I have over 250 original drawings in my flat file.
I see you are looking to work your way into animation. Is that something we can expect more of?
I have always wanted to learn. I have some ideas for it, I just need an outlet for it to make sense. With all the technology everyone carries with them, short animations or gifs are a medium that I am very curious about. I suppose time will tell where this could take me…