Here I go again, carrying on about our recent trip to New York… today we’re back with another profile of a talented Australian creative duo doing big things in the big apple!
SO, you KNOW Jeremyville already. He’s the guy responsible for those brilliantly smile-inducing Community Service Announcements we’ve featured before, and if you’re a gelati addict like me, you’re probably also well familiar with Jeremy’s cartoon-like murals which adorn the walls of Gelato Messina’s various Sydney and Melbourne stores. Jeremy is a thinker, a designer, an illustrator and an artist, and together with his partner Megan Mair, he runs Studio Jeremyville, with offices in Brooklyn (where the couple live), and Manhattan, and one a little closer to home in Bondi, Sydney.
Originally from Sydney, the Megan and Jeremy of Studio Jeremyville started travelling abroad for work in 2003, and finally settled in Brooklyn five years ago, where they have since been living and working full time. Jeremy’s story is rather remarkable; with no formal illustrative or graphic design training he is now one of Australia’s most commercially successful and globally recognised illustrators.
Straight after high school, Jeremy studied architecture at Sydney University, and while he was there he became an editor of the student newspaper. To fill up blank pages in the newspaper he would create editorial illustrations. He later showed his work to the editors of the Sydney Morning Herald, and landed his first job as an editorial illustrator at age 19 (while still completing his architecture degree). He recalls, ‘I remember on graduation day I had to take my graduation gown and hat into the Herald, draw there for a few hours, go graduate, then come back and work until 10pm on eight cartoons for the daily deadline!’
Since then Jeremy’s practice has been on the steady incline. However, it wasn’t until 2008 that he decided to pursue illustration full-time, launching Studio Jeremyville with Megan (whose background is in advertising). A slew of high profile commissions and collaborations have followed – Jeremy’s first international project was Vinyl Will Kill!, one of the first books about the designer toy movement. The pair have also created animations with Disney, a Jeremyville Swatch watch, Jeremyville for Converse sneakers, a range of bags through LeSportsac, billboards for Volkswagen, a series of animations displayed at Times Square New York for Hyundai, collectible sculptures for Cappellini, an exhibition of work at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York … the list goes on!
Right now, though, Jeremy and Megan are in France, ahead of a SUPER EXCITING solo exhibition at French retail concept store Colette which opened just this week! The exhibition is a showcase of Jeremyville’s Community Service Announcements, which have a cult following all their own. ‘The Jeremyville CSA project is mainly a way for myself to arrive at answers to many of the questions I face daily as a human being in 2015,’ Jeremy says of this series. The show at Colette also features inflatable sculptures, prints, the launch of Jeremyville’s first book, clothing and collaborations with Jeremyville x LeSportsac x Colette! Suffice to say it is kinda a big deal…!!
We chatted to Jeremy and Megan about this latest project, studio happenings, life in the US, and their current favourite spot for that great New York tradition – brunch.
Tell us a little about your background – what did you study, what path led you to becoming a graphic artist, and to doing what you’re doing now?
I grew up in Wonderland Avenue Tamarama, near Bondi Beach in Sydney and graduated with an Architecture degree from Sydney University. I edited the student newspaper Honi Soit, and I started drawing at the student paper to fill in the empty spaces in the articles I wrote. So working as an artist was a complete accident. While at uni I showed my Honi Soit newspapers to John Sandeman at the Sydney Morning Herald, and got a gig as an editorial cartoonist around age 19.
On the day I graduated I already had about two years experience working as a freelance artist, and decided to forgo architecture as a career and started working as an artist straight away. In fact I remember on graduation day I had to take my graduation gown and hat into the Herald, draw there for a few hours, go graduate, then come back and work until 10pm on eight cartoons for the daily deadline.
I never really had any other job besides working with my art to create a living. One big project came around 1995 when I began drawing about 200 small cartoons signed ‘Jeremy’ for all the Minties wrappers nationwide, that lasted until about 2012. So if you ever ate a Mintie in that period, you would have held my drawings in your hands. I once climbed Uluru and found a discarded Mintie wrapper with my art on it at the summit. This art caper could go somewhere, I thought, and I don’t mean the bin.
You opened your first studio relatively young, can you tell us a bit about that?
I opened my first studio around age 21, no art or graphic design school necessary I thought. Let’s learn on the job! The first thing I learnt was that I was really bad at lots of things involved in running a business. So I began employing people straight away to fill in those gaps that I was bad at, so I could instead concentrate improving my art. The concept of working with an engine was born within me.
My art is like the fuel that feeds it, I reasoned, but I need the rest of the machinery to make the cool stuff that comes out the other end. I’ll always be able to tinker with the mechanism as I go, but essentially to make it in what I wanted to do, I need a team. That’s how it started I guess. I’m still tinkering with the engine. I’ve found some great answers recently, and the original team of Neil and Megan is still with me. It definitely hasn’t always been easy (mostly hard in fact!), but the mistakes made have been my greatest design school.
Your ‘Community Service Announcements’ have gathered a cult following over the past few years, can you tell us how and when this project originally came about? Did you ever think it would become so huge!?
The Jeremyville CSA project is mainly a way for myself to arrive at answers to many of the questions I face daily as a human being in 2015. Questions such as living well, trying to eat healthily, making the most of my time, being a better person, dealing with technology, dealing with stress. Anything I find in need of a solution, and problems that result from a quickly changing world. It’s a shorthand, haiku way for me to arrive at my own resolutions through art. Art is the way I communicate. It feels natural to use this medium. Words and images. I feel better after I draw them, it’s like my daily meditation.
The outcome of the work seems positive and uplifting, but it has come from a place of uncertainty, questioning and conflict within myself. I feel it, I try to add nuance into every line I draw. That the work is then seen as ‘positive’ is a good thing, as I’d hate to have arrived at a negative answer to the problem.
The fact that others can then relate to these answers I arrive at is truly fulfilling. That’s all the CSA project is, but multiplied on a big scale. It’s the most personal work I have done.
I never started out for it to be this type of project, it was just a few simple drawings posted to my social media in 2010. Now after 800 CSA messages it’s the language I now use to tackle the problems I face daily. It has really grown organically, it could easily have ended after the first 5 or so, but it resonated with others on my social media, so I continued.
Later this month you will be exhibiting your first solo show at Colette in France! What has inspired this body of work and the work featured?
I met with Sarah the owner of Colette last December, (I’ve known her only on email since about 2003 when I interviewed her for our book Vinyl Will Kill!) and she was immediately interested in the CSA project and our work, especially our collaborations too. It was a perfect fit.
She has a perfectly tuned creative eye, and she makes quick decisions which I love. She knows what she wants. The show will feature many of my favourite CSA’s, plus a series of Parisian drawings from my various travels to Paris, and collaborations with brands like LeSportsac and also with Sarah to produce some Jeremyville x Colette products exclusive to her store. It will also launch a series of 5 large scale inflatable characters, based off my CSA project.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of your studio? Who is responsible for which tasks, and how do you juggle personal projects which client work and all your various collaborations?
Megan: We’re a tight team, however each person contributes their own valuable area of expertise across the various client jobs and creative projects to keep our studio running efficiently.
In our business, the ‘art business’, not only do we need to be excellent artists / designers and creative thinkers, but also we need to be savvy business people. My role crosses over to all areas from the initial concept and design stage through to planning and strategy, to being a curator and manager of client partnerships.
Each week is planned to ensure client projects are prioritised and if there’s time left over, the personal projects quickly fill up this space. It’s important to make time for the personal projects, to feed your passion and challenge your creativity without the normal constraints of a commercial project. Most of our personal projects attract new project opportunities so it’s important to keep these alive and feed them daily/weekly.
Jeremy: I see each project as all a part of our ouvre, I don’t distinguish that much from a client based project to a fine art piece. I always put as much of myself into a commercial job as I do into say a painting. It’s always a series of well considered thought processes and instinctive aesthetic decisions that lead to the end result. It’s just that one piece hangs on a gallery wall, and the other is on a retail shelf.
You’ve worked on heaps of amazing client work and collaborations over the past few years (most Sydney and Melbourne residents would know your work from the walls of Gelato Messina!). What have been some particularly memorable projects for studio Jeremyville in recent years?
Jeremy: It’s always great when brands you’ve loved and respected for ages approach you to work with them. They’re trusting their brand with you. We created animation for Disney recently, one spot is on the Disney XD channel right now. Uniqlo produced a range of 10 Jeremyville designs on their t-shirts across about 3,500 of their stores. Mercedez-Benz asked us to wrap their latest car in our design for Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week in Miami. We are in a show currently at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. We’ve created our own Swatch, Jeremyville for Converse sneakers, a range of bags through LeSportsac, a giant billboard for Volkswagen, a series of Jeremyville animations up at Times Square New York for Hyundai, that was up for a year or so. We created a series of sculptures for Cappellini, which are still on display in their showroom in SoHo New York. Giulio Cappellini has been supporting our work for several years now, and he hosted our exhibition and installation at Cappellini NYC recently.
Megan: Yes, we’ve certainly amped up the output of studio while we’ve been in New York, and have been fortunate to work with some fantastic clients and international brands around the world which has been an exciting creative journey.
This year we collaborated with FEED, a charity founded by Lauren Bush. Working closely with the team we designed a limited edition artist series of thought-provoking products that supports FEEDS mission to ‘Create Good Products That Help FEED the World’ inspired by our Community Service Announcement series.
Apart from working with amazing clients and travelling the world, it’s the creative projects that truly connect with people to make their lives a bit happier and more mindful, these are the memorable ones. When we’ve made a difference. This is an ongoing campaign with our art, we hope it will continue to travel the world to make positive change, we’ve done creative workshops in South America and fed orphanages in the Philippines. I’m excited for the next venture !
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Megan: It’s not a very typical day but it’s certainly an interesting one. I generally roll out of bed early and start my day with an espresso, answering e-mails from our clients in Europe, since it’s already their afternoon by the time it’s 8am NYC time. Then I catch the subway into my office in Soho and spend the rest of the day racing about Manhattan in and out of meetings.
Some days will be split between the Brooklyn studio designing or painting for any upcoming art shows. I generally end my NYC working day with a Yoga session or a rooftop rosé at Soho House with some friends. Then back to work for the evening hours connecting with clients in Asia. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to sleep by 11.30pm but it’s mostly by midnight…then I start again!
Jeremy: I generally need about 8 hours of uninterrupted work time, to create, draw, finish projects, explore new art, paint. The rest of the time is filled with admin stuff, emails, and exercise, but not much social time. I found out early in my career, that hanging out with friends for hours on end down the pub is one sacrifice I’ve had to make. My close friends understand this, and they too are extremely busy professionals, so when we do get together, it’s short but very sweet. I tend to be very hard on myself, and feel terrible if I have not had an ultra productive day. Time and resource management is my greatest preoccupation. Tinkering with that studio engine, to help make it run more efficiently.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
1. Marc Newson – I first saw Marc’s Lockheed Lounge in an art exhibition at Roslyn Oxley 9 Gallery years back. I thought then that it was fascinating that a piece of what could be construed as furniture, was positioned as an art object, and rightly so. This is what I love about his work, its ability to cross over into a fine art context.
2. Dale Frank – I’m building up my art collection, and it includes a work by Dale Frank. I have loved his art since I first saw it when I was 19, and its power and seductive beauty blew me away.
3. Martin Sharp – I have spent some time hanging out with Martin on occasions, a lovely talented human, and he will always have a special place in Australian art history. Love his graphic style and psychedelic pop sensibility. His retrospective at the Museum of Sydney was great.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
1. Colette.fr for the best combination of design, fashion and art in the world.
2. YouTube. Perhaps the one site I visit almost daily, mainly to watch rare live performances of bands and musicians. I have it playing as I work, then save my favourite mp3 clips.
3. Brownstoner.com. This keeps me up to date with my borough of Brooklyn in New York, and the changes taking place. Now that we have really settled here, buying a brownstone home in Brooklyn, we feel a part of the community, and have a vested interest to make it better each day. I adore Brooklyn.
4. iTunes Store. I visit it almost daily too. Music is always on in the studio, or playing in my mind on repeat.
5. Uline.com. This a great packing resource our studio uses daily. Every box size imaginable, everything to make a studio run efficiently. Very inspiring to me.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
Jeremy: Establishing Studio Jeremyville in New York with Megan, and working with great companies like Disney, Uniqlo, Mercedes-Benz, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Kiehl’s, Swatch, LeSportsac, Volkswagen, Fashion Walk Hong Kong, Nickelodeon, Cappellini, Colette, Shake Shack, Kidrobot, Mastercard, Slam Jam in Italy, Harbour City in Hong Kong, Gas books in Japan, Allrightsreserved in Hong Kong. Our agents are amazing too, Artestar represents our licensing division, they only work with a very select group of artists such as the Keith Haring Estate, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Ryan McGinniss, and a few other iconoclastic artists. The founder of Artestar actually worked with Keith Haring at his studio when Keith was alive.
What would be your dream creative project?
Every project is my dream project. We adore each one we take on, and most often, each new project is with a brand or company we’ve dreamt of one day working with.
What are you looking forward to?
Leaving in a few hours to Paris to set up our exhibition at Colette. We are in Paris for two weeks for media interviews, installing our window at Colette with our new series of 5 large scale inflatable sculptures which I haven’t seen in person yet, and a signing at Colette of our new book.
NEW YORK QUESTIONS
Your favourite New York neighbourhood and why?
Jeremy: Bedford Stuyvesant (Bed Stuy) in Brooklyn New York. It’s where we just bought our very own brownstone home, and I work from there, whilst Megan works at her office in SoHo in Manhattan. I love the quiet that I need to create, and the sense of history amongst the historic brownstones, and our garden with squirrels and birds.
Stuyvesant Heights is the historic district of Bed Stuy, and is now experiencing a huge wave of change with newcomers arriving from Manhattan who are attracted to the large stock of relatively untouched brownstone row houses, the chic cafes and restaurants opening up, and the great energy and sense of community.
There’s also an A express train right near us, so it gets into Manhattan in 12 minutes, so I’m often there when I need that buzz, or to hang at a cafe in Nolita and just draw. My favourite cafes are Saraghina in Bed Stuy, Smile on Bond street in Manhattan, Gitane on Mott street in Nolita, and Gitane at the Jane hotel.
Megan: I love Brooklyn, but I’m also a Manhattan girl and enjoy the West Village and Nolita neighbourhood to meet with friends and enjoy shopping and dining along it’s pretty streets. Gramercy Park is also another favorite, it’s where we got married.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in New York?
Jeremy: Olea in Fort Greene.
Megan: My all time favorite, Cafe Gitane at The Jane hotel in West Village. It’s simple fare but delicious food and the best Moroccan couscous and Avocado on toast with Chilli flakes. I could rattle off many other amazing New York restaurants, but this place offers a tasty little sanctuary in my day with fabulous Moroccan styled interiors. I can escape the madness of the city and feel like I’m somewhere else for a delicious minute.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Jeremy: Having brunch at a local cafe is a New Yorker’s favourite weekend pastime. We usually catch up with friends like Deanne Cheuk and Chris Rubino, over brunch. Deanne is another extremely talented expat Aussie.
Megan: Number one thing on my Saturday morning ‘to do list’ is to sleep in for 30 minutes extra, such a necessary luxury. For me, weekends start with yoga to stretch out a maddening week, then Jeremy and I will brunch with friends.
By the way, brunch in New York starts at 2 or 3pm and can last the whole afternoon depending on the drinks ordered. We recently tried a new spot, it’s now my favourite, Russ & Daughters in the Lower East side… an iconic 100-year-old appetizing store serving Jewish comfort food like kippered salmon with pretzel roll. The interiors are brand new but styled to look like an authentic old diner. Love it.
New York’s best kept secret?
Megan: Cold Spring, it’s an hour long relaxing train ride from Manhattan along the Hudson River. It’s a historic pretty little town surrounded by ‘Cold Mountain’ like hills with a charming old town street filled with great vintage and antique stores. For nature lovers, you can hike in the nearby woods.
Jeremy: Bed Stuy! It’s surprising how many of our Manhattan friends have never been out here, and it’s only 12 minutes on the subway. Once they come out though, that mental Manhattan/Brooklyn barrier is crossed, and they often end up investing in the neighbourhood later. That’s a very New York thing: to ‘discover’ a place, and tell your friends about it. Which is what I’m doing right now!