A series of interviews with creative people we've come across on the web. Some are friends, some are strangers, but all are interesting.

John Warwicker, Visual Artist

John Warwicker, Visual Artist
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John Warwicker is a founding member of the multi-disciplinary group tomato. Their client list is impressive and includes high profile and recognizable names like Adidas, Volkswagen, Time Warner, Microsoft and even Duran Duran.

John's individual artistic and experimental work in graphic design, typography, photography and film has influenced many designers worldwide. You may have even seen his work onstage during an Underworld Concert. Lucky for us, John is also a pretty nice guy, giving us the opportunity and his time for this short but interesting profile.

1. Paul: Which word(s) do you find most beautiful?

John: it depends on who is talking/writing and the context.

Paul: can something still be beautiful outside of the meaning and context? Or is that dangerous - a word like genocide done with gorgeous typography for ex. Or amazing black and white Footage of athletes in slow motion from 1930s nazi Germany.

John: good point. and a difficult one to define. aesthetics comes into it - the possibility of assessing something for its pure formal qualities 'outside' of or disassociated from meaning and context. for example ... let's take a less obvious example ... emil nolde, the german expressionist painter. and, i found out recently, an early supporter of the nazi's and an anti-semite. even though his paintings were rejected as degenerate by the nazi regime he made a personal appeal to hitler (which was turned down). in my 'book' this makes him a 'bad person'. and it does effect my reading and assessment of his work some of which i like(d). this knowledge it doesn't effect my aesthetic reading but it does effect my contextural/cultural reading of him as an artist and therefore his paintings.but how many of the artists of the past have been equally 'bad' or worse? caravaggio was a brilliant painter and a killer. i can only talk personally in this context because the example that you used ... leni riefenstahl ... and her film of the nazi athletes and an unrepentant nazi (in my view) ... although she seemed to claim 'innocence' throughout her long life ... they are amazing images but they repulse me. because of the context and meaning.

i guess its down to ones knowledge of the meaning and the context. and one's own personal set of morals - which is never 'pure'. for example, as one who believes that all men and women are equal and that no one should subjugate anyone else how do i feel about something that now does 'good' but was founded on something 'bad'.

the tate gallery in london is an example. tate supplied sugar to the british empire in other words they were slave owners and with these ill-gotten gains established the tate gallery. and now it is enjoyed by 3 million people a year, few of which know or think about its past. many of the german manufacturers supplied machinery for the nazi holocaust ... yet our washing machine at home is a 'beautiful' object. nazi germany is an easy example but what of others that might be outside of our cultural/historical radar. a mayan alter, an amazing sculptural shape, temporary home to many a screaming body in the process of being sacrificed.

2. Paul: Do you sketch when working or is it all digital, photoshop and the lot?


John: rarely. unfortunately the pressure to get money in (see 6.) is so great that i work directly on the files. it's also the curse of the computer (mac). and having worked on computers for 30 years i'm pretty quick and immediate so it has become second nature to 'sketch' instantly in my mind and then craft immediately.

3. Paul: Can advertising be considered art?

John: no. because it's purpose and intention is different. but there is such a thing as the 'art' of advertising in terms of the craft being so good that it transcends it's function.but this is very rare.

Paul: Isn't art just a definition held by the one defining it (something I'm doing right now)? Sorta like Marcel Duchamp with his ready mades? Can an artist have the intention of selling a piece even though it may mot be the only intention and still be art?

John: what you say is correct. carl andre, the american sculptor, said 'art is what i say it is' but commercial advertising is something else. there maybe aesthetic qualities but don't mix/confuse that with art. 'the art of' is not the same as 'art' per se. the selling of 'art' doesn't come into it. just because 'pop' artists of the 60's/70's referenced popular culture and highlighted its cultural importance/value/aesthetics doesn't make the advertising 'art'.

4. Paul: What would you say if a friend asked to pitch an idea to your clients?

John: depends on the friend, the work and the client. with tomato i've done this and have no problem with it because i believe in the friend and the work.

5. Paul: For lack of a better word - your a superstar in the design world. But what would you say the real John Warwicker is like? Are you the life of the party? The quiet guy in the corner nearly half asleep?

John: superstar? not sure on that. i tend to shun any 'self-promotion'. i enjoy giving a talk but that's it. other than that i'm very quiet and just 'get on with it' - for me it's all about the work rather than the trappings of the work. it also doesn't help that i have a rather low opinion of the work that i've done. there have been a few occasions that i have felt happy but in the main i'm rather underwhelmed and disappointed. possibly because i do too much (see 6., again) because the pressures of life and family require me to do so. this is not from any faux self-humility it's as objective as i can be. i look and compare to the work of others that i like and admire and my own work falls woefully short. it's rather dispiriting that all the dreams one has from an early age are so ineptly enacted but this doesn't stop me from trying, every moment of every day. idiot glee. having said all of that it is rather nice and a real help that others think that some of my work is worth something and that i might have something to contribute. it is valuable. so it's an odd, slightly schizophrenic condition. and i have been extremely lucky that i've been invited to so many places across the world that i would never, ever have been able to travel to. and meet some wonderful people. not least many of those that i admire.

6. Paul: Do you think being a Dad has changed how you approach design?

John: yes. truthfully, apart from the joy of a child's take on the world, it's the real-life everyday financial pressure of looking after them and doing the best one can for them - which in this modern world is quite difficult. the pressures of the consumerist society. it means, having three children, two marriages etc, that these pressures are great. i've always (apart from the odd blip) been freelance so i have no idea where the next job is coming from (although i have been lucky to have been constantly in work for the past 25 years) and when the next payment will be in the bank. and so i take on jobs that i really shouldn't in that they give me little reward apart from the money and of course they steal my time and therefore my 'art' away from me. to such an extent that i work 7 days a week, often 14-16 hours a day. which of course puts pressure on the family etc. despite assumptions about tomato and it's rather 'impressive client/project list we've rarely been 'flush'. we are all struggling day-to-day. it might keep us 'grounded' but one would have hoped that it would have bought us/me more time.

7. Paul: Henry Winkler (AKA the Fonz from Happy Days) once said it was better to be part of a small project that gets made, than a big on that never makes it off the ground. Would you agree - is the process of completing something more valuable than its intent?

John: it depends. thought into form. process. it depends on how far the project has gone, whether it is in a form that has taught you something. irrelevant of whether it has actually been place in the world. since half of my work (i'm assuming loosely) is 'personal' then it rarely gets placed in the world. having said that the web offers a direct (and inexpensive) avenue out of this dilemma. one of the advantages of the world today. i/tomato have been very fortunate that most of our work, commissioned and personal, does get 'published' in one form or another.

8. Paul: Do you think there is something to learn even from something clearly designed for profit?

John: of course. i wouldn't say 'clearly designed for profit' because that's not how i or tomato work. but work that is commissioned - most certainly. one learns all the time. no matter how big or small the project is. one always starts with a blank piece of paper/screen and then wanders within the process of process to find something that interests. it's always important to ask the question 'what if?', to attempt something new (to ones self). if you fail to learn then it's time to stop.

9. Paul: What do you find amazing?

John: everything, everyone. it depends on one's approach. i think that's one very valuable lesson of being a dad - being constantly reminded of the joy of every moment and its potential.

10. Paul: Are human relationships important to your work?

John: it's impossible to disassociate ones self from the human. in every way. the context is the world and everyone in it. not only the now but also the past.

Interview By: Paul Lopes

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