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A Short Interview With Keith Jones
posted December 18, 2005
One of the rare, exquisite treats covering comics as an art form is when something pops up on your screen you've never seen before. Such is the case with the work of Vancouver artist Keith Jones, whose Bacter-Area
will help launch Drawn and Quarterly's art book series upon its release. Jones book contains hints of oblique narratives but is mostly concerned with drawing, both tableaus supported by empty space and mind-bending depictions of community life crammed to the gills with animals, strangely shaped people, and decaying urban landscapes.
I arranged this interview through Drawn and Quarterly's Tom Devlin. Thanks, Tom.
TOM SPURGEON: I'm unfamiliar with you before seeing this work, Keith. Can you tell me where you were born and raised, educated, and where you're set up working now?
I was born and raised in Victoria B.C. and started drawing spaceships and ant farms at a young age. As I went through grade school I spent a lot of time in the library doodling with my friends. We would get into different things to draw and all make pictures of the same stuff until we found some more neat things to draw and so on. Now I live in Vancouver, B.C.
SPURGEON: Tell me about
Bacter-Area. Is this new work specifically intended for this project? How did you get together with Chris Oliveros?
About three quarters of the book was made for the intent of this project. I sort of just drew pictures as I usually do and put it all together in the book. I wanted the book to be sort of a variety book. There's some messy drawings and nicer ones, some comics, and some photos. It's sort of like a fancy sketchbook. I like books with varieties of things in them to look at, so I thought making a book like that would be fun. My original intention for the book was to be more like a "Where's Waldo" book. Just lots of landscape scenarios with tons of junk and crap doing whatever. Over time I thought it would be funner to show other kinds of things such as scraps and stuff. To me it sort of makes the book feel like it's got movement to it.
As to how I got together with Chris Oliveros, I just sent him a package with a bunch of work in it and a letter saying that I'd like to make a book in it. I also sent a package to Tom Devlin not knowing he had moved to drawn and quarterly as well. So I guess they both got a package from me. I was sort of going crazy at that point, figuring nothing would ever happen to my drawings, they'd just sit in a basement and rot away into obscurity. When I was young I found a box of doodles and monster comics in a dead guy's house and it sort of bums me out when I think there's people out there that secretly make crap in their house at night and nobody ever sees it. I guess that's an inevitable fate. I just thought it was time to try and show my drawings and see what happens.
SPURGEON: Share with me some information about your daily process. How much time a day do you spend drawing? Do you have a specific work routine?
Well, it always seems seasonal to me. Ever since I was a kid drawing I noticed that around September I'd start drawing more. Maybe that's because school started then. Nevertheless, I still usually don't draw as much in the Summer season. It's too hot. However, whenever I do draw in the summer, it's usually after midnight until the sun comes up. Actually in the winter I tend to do the same.
Usually in the winter I get up around ten and draw till one or two in the afternoon, go to a coffee shop and doodle for a change of mind, have dinner around six, then draw when Art Bell comes on and go to bed around two in the morning. Some days I have to do chores not relative to drawing. I don't like that and if I don't get to draw I get anxiety. I think this is because I feel like I'm wasting time. If I'm not drawing, I'm wasting time. I want to record as much as I can before I die.
SPURGEON: You once said in an interview that comics were an influence growing up. Can you talk about what comics influenced you, and how they had an effect on your art? Do you still have comics influences, and if so, what are they? I know a lot of your work will remind people of Marc Bell, or Gay Panter, or perhaps even the various Fort Thunder artists.
When I was really young I got really into MAD
magazines I'd find in old junk shops. That's when I was about seven. I remember being totally excited by satire for a while after that. I found some superhero satires and they interested me. I had read many war comics such as Sgt. Rock
and Unknown Soldier
at that point as well. For some reason I never read many superhero comics at that point. I liked war comics mostly. I did get into The Punisher one summer when I was about twelve.
Around that time the late eighties underground comics surge was in effect and I got into ninja comics like teenage mutant ninja turtles and Usagi Yojimbo
. I remember noting blood in comics becoming more evident in the early nineties. It seemed like an interesting progression. Maybe I liked it because I was twelve and swearing and violence can excite twelve year olds. My drawings at that point usually consisted of blatantly violent characters shooting and killing. It was a hit with my peers at school.
Anyways I was rooting through comics in the early nineties when I came across Peter Bagge's Neat Stuff
comic book series. This excited me and I related to it. I sold all my other comics or traded them for Peter Bagge comics. I got into Dan Clowes around this point as well. I remember having this Peter Bagge/Dan Clowes book tour t-shirt around then titled "Hateball". I wore it until it fell apart that year. Anyways I read these comics for a while but got bored with comics in general after that. I still liked Eightball
, and I did get into Acme Novelty
for a bit because I liked the drawings, but I got bored. All these comics seemed to be somewhat relative in their themes to me or something. I don't know. I got into Tintin
and old comics like crazy cat and stuff after that. Other avenues of drawing had captured my interests mostly after that. Comics are just one avenue of interest in me. I get influenced by so many other things. Comics by Leif Goldberg and Mat Brinkman and Ben Jones are my favorite now. I love these comics because their stories actually excite me and interest me. I'm surprised by the turnouts and I like the messages I get from reading them. I like Marc Bell and Gary Panter comics because it feels like they're just having fun when they making them up. I like that. I also really like Ben Katchor comics, although they can get monotonous as well.
SPURGEON: In your
Discorder interview, you talk about filling up various spaces with art. Do you still do that? What is it about an empty space that suggests a certain kind of drawing will look good there?
I haven't painted a large space in awhile now. I think I'm going to paint my room soon though. I'm going to Montreal for the winter to draw and I think I will paint my room into a survival future laboratory. It will be a back to basics room with lots of guards possessing sticks and stones. I like looking at a space and thinking how to make it the best kind of entranceway to an escape fantasy interesting enough to get lost in. This requires props and lights and junk as well as paint. One day I will build a house out of rocks with shovels and dirt with windows and mud and grass hiding it all like a smudge.
SPURGEON: The art in
Bacter-Area seems very tableau-based, no space left unfilled. How did you approach the pages that are filled top to bottom with figures and art?
I usually start somewhere in the middle with a character of some sort. Whenever I warm up to draw the first thing I do is draw a person. I guess it's a good way to record what things will be to me. If the person is stiff looking, I better loosen up and so on. Once I get comfortable I'm patient mostly because my mind isn't even on the drawing anymore. Then I just fill in lots of things because I'm comfortable with the idea that things are very busy. My head is rolling around and the pen is here and there doing this and that. I want to make photographs with detail so viewers can get lost in a garbage pile in the corner or some dirt under a tire or something more than just the entire picture on the page.
SPURGEON I know that you've done some design work, and I think web design. If I remember correctly, you're also a filmmaker. Are these different expressions of the same artistic urge, or are these very distinct outlets for you? How different are you movies from your paintings or cutouts?
All these things are the same for me. I have fun making it all. Making things is nothing more than a relaxing meditation of energy to me. I'm making things that I think are funny or that people will love or hate because I like to make things that have some sort of interest to the mind of the viewer whether it's me or you or whatever.
SPURGEON: A lot of the art in
Bacter-Area seems to suggest a pro-nature stance; you have a lot of cars and buildings being dismantled and nature growing through them. Do you feel strongly about environmental issues generally, and are you trying something along those lines through your work?
I find it an exciting idea that things can get thrown around and chucked about like a dirty candy bar wrapper to the wind. People and their attachments placed next door to trillions of miles amidst unknown amounts of dimensional interfaces interacting is what I find fun. I guess grown over buildings are fun because I wouldn't mind seeing things turn out like that. I don't know whether I want it to or not really, I don't think it's my place to say. I think it would look neat to see everything with weeds and stuff growing all around it. Hopefully it will happen sometime.
SPURGEON: Are you fond of animals? There are a ton of pet-type animals throughout your work, both as beasts and anthropomorphized.
Animals and other things are neat because they can be there like me and animals are neat in reality because I can watch them do things and laugh. They're fun to feed and pet as well. I throw them in my drawings because they are another thing to throw in the mix of everything just like people and dump trucks and ashtrays and cardboard boxes full of powdered stuff.
SPURGEON: Should I take anything away from the fact that you draw figures in such different ways?
I like to draw lots of figures from different places and times. I think some of them are stuck in the same place forever, and some of them jump in and out of the picture, and some seem to slip through the paper into the grains and all around. I like things to be this way because I think it's the way things are I guess. It's variety for the senses to play with.
SPURGEON: Would you like to do more comics, or art books like this one? What's next for you, Keith? To end on an interview standard, where do you see yourself five years from now?
Five years from now I see myself drawing in some place whether it be Earth or Middle Earth or hollow Earth or upside down banana pie-cake land. Hopefully more books will be printed. If not they will be made and sitting in a box in a basement for someone to find and pick up sometime. All I really want to do is draw pictures and make books. I'm thinking about making a comic book on secret investigative studies about different sectors of programs involving several backgrounds colliding into one interesting think tank.