From NYC subway cars in the 80s to large scale canvasses in his studio, JonOne is known as one of the godfathers of street art having begun his long career as a 16 year old kid in Harlem. Now based in Paris, JonOne has had his work exhibited in the galleries of world-class cities, including Tokyo, Monaco, Paris, New York, Brussels, and Moscow. Right now, he's returning to his roots with a wall mural in his signature style specially for Miami Art Week. In unique collaboration with Perrier, the mural ties in with their limited edition Street Art bottles designed by renowned artists Sasu, Kobra, and JonOne.
We spoke with the artist on his impressive career, the transition from street to canvas, and how he translated his vision for Perrier into striking design.
You started with street art at the age of 16 in Harlem and have since moved your art to canvas. Do you think if your evolution as an artist went the opposite way, from the confines of canvas to the open streets, your visual language would be different?
In a way, I was always prepared to stay in the streets. The audience from the streets is a form of recognition and credibility for my artwork. If I had stayed in the streets and not had the career as an artist that I have today, doing more canvas work, my work would be different because I would be more of a community activist painter. My work would be more based on how it would affect the community. I think my work would still have that same energy, excitement, abstraction that you see in my canvas work. I don’t feel like I’ve made any sort of concession with my artwork from what I was doing in the streets to what I am now doing on canvas. The only difference I see is my evolution that led me to paint on canvas. However, if I would’ve stayed in the streets, that would’ve been a lot of fun for me.
As a New Yorker now living and creating in Paris, what about each city influences your work most?
New York was the first place where my energy was captured. Then, I crossed the Atlantic and caught the vibe of the French and their way of living. We live in a global world where you can’t just stay still, especially with the Internet and social media – the boundaries are even bigger. As an artist today, people need to think more globally and be influenced not just by where they live but also by what is going on around the world. For instance, I can be in Shanghai and see someone’s daily struggles and the way they confront their struggles and be influenced and inspired by that. I can be in New York and be amazed by the skyscrapers and energy of the city. Or, I can be in California and be amazed by the nature. My vision has been influenced a lot by the places I’ve visited in this world.
Making art for such as well-known brand as Perrier must have been an engaging project. How did you approach translating your ideas to packaging design?
It amazes me that my artwork could be carried over to Perrier’s new Street Art packaging design. It’s flattering – but translating my ideas to packaging design is totally different from the work I do on canvas. Working with Perrier was more of a collaboration than anything else. Perrier has such a strong image. When people drink it, they drink it for a reason. Perrier represents France and the history of the iconic green bottle. When going into this project, I wanted to make sure I worked together with Perrier so that we didn’t overshadow each other.
Do you ever experience a creative block and, if so, what do you do to clear it?
I don’t think so. I think living as an artist is a chance of a lifetime. I’ve always wanted to be at this stage, be creative and someone expressive. This is what I do. I’ve been creating art since I was 16 and I hope I can do it for the rest of my life. I would be lucky for that.
What is some atypical advice that has served you well as an artist?
The best advice I’ve been given that has served me well as an artist is, “Painting is just 50% of the work.” That quote is something that has become my motto. Some people are good at the other 50%, the business portion of creating art, and some people are good at the creative part. That quote really gives me inspiration to create great artwork and work the crowd.
Interviewed by Gloria Cavallaro.
Photos c/o Perrier.