Mr. Jago – NIL – Interview

Mr. Jago is a veteran of the contemporary art scene. Often thrown into the catch-all street art category, his work transcends the boundaries of urban art and is more at home in the galleries and museums of the world than the back alleys of his current hometown of Bristol. His latest exhibition, NIL, opens Thursday 22nd October at Unit London.

Mr. Jago’s compositions have progressed dramatically from his character-based illustration to become some of the world’s most defining impressionist artwork. Experimenting with acrylics and oils, his work questions the duality of existence and the environmental impact of the human species.

Mr Jago in his Bristol studio ©Tim Crawley (24)

Questioning the sanity of mankind, Mr. Jago digs beneath the surface of the human condition to reveal universal truths about the direction and arguable progress of mankind as a force both of and on nature.

Developing ideas of warfare, climate change and political circumstance, he curates a unique take on the biosphere we inhabit in his seemingly arbitrary abstract creations. However, the educated eye can manoeuvre through the complex landscapes of his creations to uncover a completely concrete and carefully considered ideology.

Mr Jago in his Bristol studio ©Tim Crawley (15)

VNA: What is your latest exhibition about?

Mr Jago: The word “nil” can mean both the beginning or the end; the start or the finish of something. NIL, the exhibition, is, correspondingly, representative of a tension that runs through much of my work. It is my struggle with crushing pessimism and soaring optimism. The evolution of a species, technology and the environment has, and continues, to bring about incredible things. However, there is a lot that is ugly about where we, as a species, are headed. We have not been good custodians of the planet and are not particularly kind to one another. The work in the show is, therefore, a visual depiction of both the beginning and end that may be around the corner. Will humankind conquer nature or all that is currently destroying it?

Mr Jago, Solvent Heavy, oil on canvas, 120 x 120 cm, courtesy the artist and Unit London

VNA: Your work started off as very strongly figurative, why the transition to abstract? How
has your work progressed over the years?

MJ: From a young age, I was a sketch book addict – I was obsessed with comic books and early graffiti characters. Much of my early sketching was mimic work; before developing my own style, I learned by copying the work of others. Ironically, I studied illustration at university in the hope of finding my own style. Instead, my tutors taught me that the success as a commercial illustrator could only be achieved by being a good mimic and working to a brief. Fortunately, I didn’t let that experience deter me from my efforts to cultivate my own aesthetic. I experimented a lot and achieved some commercial success in my university years and just afterwards. As my illustration style got looser, I began to work in paint.

Mr Jago, Biosphere 2, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 110cm tondo, courtesy the artist and Unit London

My transition from illustrator to painter also saw the robotic figures, that defined my aesthetic, engulfed by an abstracted environment. The process was in some ways symbolic in that the abstraction is representative of the tension at the heart of NIL. In other ways, the process was just the progression of my own experimentation – a freer, more spontaneous way of working.

I am often asked if I will revive the robotic species of work. The truth is, if you look hard enough, those beings are very much present in my current work.

Mr Jago, Ignobilis, acrylic, spray paint and oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm, courtesy the artist and Unit London - Copy

VNA: How do you feel about being constantly pigeonholed in the street art / urban art box?

MJ: I am often described as a street artist, urban artist or even a graffiti artist. The truth is that none of those labels accurately describe me or my artistic output. I am much more comfortable with the simple description of “painter”.

Mr Jago in his Bristol studio ©Tim Crawley (21)

VNA: Now that you are starting to work in oils as well as acrylics, what are the more noticeable differences in your work and the way that you’re producing it?

MJ: NIL is very much a transitional show. Some of the work has been painted entirely in oils whilst other canvases are a mixture of acrylic and oil or even exclusively acrylic and spray paint. i have enjoyed the added texture and different pigments oil painting has introduced to my work and I am very excited about continuing with the experiment! Working in oil is slower and in some ways more deliberate but just as there was a loosening of technique in my transition from illustration to painting, I anticipate that there will also be a loosening as I get more fluent in this new medium. I have also enjoyed working in oils because they make my studio smell so much better than working with aerosols. I am pretty pleased with my expanding collection of palette knives and other new toys / tools.

Mr Jago in his Bristol studio ©Tim Crawley (7)

VNA: Do you feel your work is reflective of society on a broader scale?

MJ: I hope that the themes in my work are relevant. I hope even more that other people are worrying about the sorts of things that my work worries about – the modern worlds evils and vices – and celebrates the sorts of things that my work celebrates – nature’s beauty and wonder. I have heard it said, however, that abstract art is bourgeois. In my opinion, it is the opposite. What is beautiful about abstraction is precisely its accessibility. The image that one person interprets as my depiction of humankind’s conquest of nature may appear to another to be my depiction of nature’s triumph. The reality is that my work is capable of being both. It is up to the viewer whether the work evokes beauty or despair.

Mr Jago in his Bristol studio ©Tim Crawley (2)

VNA: You have a love of the ridiculous that isn’t immediately apparent in your artwork, do you ever just want to paint silly stuff like cross-eyed dogs eating pizza?

MJ: Some of my contemporaries are very good at rendering the ridiculous. My ridiculousness is more likely to come out over a few pints, in my dreams or freestyles (which often also involve pints). Suckers.

Mr Jago, BIOS-3, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 110cm tondo, courtesy the artist and Unit London

Photography courtesy Tim Crawley / Mr Jago