Interview // Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace


Australian-born LA-based artist  is a talented graphic designer and creative director who works across the music, publishing, fashion and corporate industries. Jonathan is best known for his varied approach to the discipline of design – his personal ventures running in parallel to Jonathan’s career as a graphic designer, are his works as a practicing visual artist. Working with oil painting, drawing, sculpture and installation, he also participates in regular exhibitions across galleries around the world.

Not the one to be pigeonholed into any specific creative genre, Jonathan is also responsible for a couple of really interesting products, which is how he originally came onto our radar. In other words, his body of work is a varied, and an impressive one at that. What a dude!


Touchingly Unfeeling, 2014 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Touchingly Unfeeling, 2014 by Jonathan Zawada.

Continuous Process, 2014 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Continuous Process, 2014 by Jonathan Zawada.

Third Person, 2012 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Third Person, 2012 by Jonathan Zawada.


+ Hello Jonathan, welcome to Yellowtrace and thank you for taking the time to e-chat with us. Could you please give us a quick introduction on yourself? When did you first decide you wanted to become an artist?

Thanks for having me! I’m an artist and designer, born in Perth but now living in Los Angeles. For about a decade I worked primarily in fashion and music as a web designer, illustrator, art director and graphic designer but in recent years (and after a little soul searching) my practice has focused primarily on personal and gallery based projects. I don’t think I ever really made the conscious decision to become an ‘artist’, ever since I was little I loved drawing and making things and for a long time it seemed that the best option available for me to be able to do that was in the commercial environment. I guess the realisation that I came to was that ultimately there was a limit to anything I could achieve within that environment and to the context within which it would be received and I felt like those limitations – although compelling in terms of the inherent challenges – were also preventing me from exploring the scope of my ideas to their fullest. The disposable nature of those industries and the toll they take on the environment, especially the fashion industry, was something that had been nagging at me for a while and ultimately became another factor in moving away from that work.


Affordances 2 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Affordances 2 by Jonathan Zawada.

Affordances 2 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Affordances 2 by Jonathan Zawada.


+ What are you seeking to portray in your work? What is fundamental to your practice – your philosophy and your approach?

All of my exhibition work has loosely revolved around the challenge of making meaningful artefacts out of digital and virtual experiences. In the mid nineties I taught myself a few languages and a decent amount of programming as well as utilising digital media for the lions share of my creative work but I could always feel it slipping through my fingers in a way that simply drawing or painting never did. As a result my practice tends to weave digital and analogue together as much as possible, hopefully stripping away the barriers from each and creating something whole and unifying.


Affordances 1 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace

Affordances 1 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Affordances 1, the Y.O.R.I table by Jonathan Zawada.


+ Tell us about your amazing Affordances series. How did they come about?

The first Affordance object, the Y.O.R.I. table was actually created out of necessity. When my wife was first pregnant we had just moved to Los Angeles and we didn’t have a whole lot of furniture, I was working 12-14 hour days painting in the basement of the gallery that had brought us here and had no real workshop or studio to speak of. Annie really needed a nightstand to put things on (being pregnant, there were a fair number of things she’d need during the night) and so one afternoon I used the only things available to me at the time (a hand saw, a screw driver and a shipping crate that actually brought my first paintings to America) to build her a table that could hold itself together without fastenings like glue or screws. Over a year later, once the new baby stresses had subsided, I finally managed to revisit the design with some more interesting and appropriate materials and the proper Affordances #1 tables were made. Each subsequent object has been born from the same sort of necessity, with crude prototypes that we use every day at home preceding more refined variations that come years later. I never really thought they would be much more than objects for our home but they’ve kind of taken on a life of their own.


Nonce & Rainbow Tables, 2013 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Left: Nonce, 2013 Right: Rainbow Tables, 2013 by Jonathan Zawada.


+ Can you tell us a little bit about your process of designing products vs your art practice. Do you approach product design in a similar way to how you approach your art?

If you’d asked me that question 5 years ago I would have said they were two very different processes with different goals, different methodology and different value systems. I think I’ve stripped a lot of those differences away recently though and I generally try to approach everything simply as a part of my ‘making’ practice. In the case of both art and object design projects I think that tends to start with a basic premise or idea which I hold in my head for weeks or even months while I’m working on other things, during that time I tend to subconsciously iterate over that early basic concept until I’ve built up enough of the components in my mind to sit down and start putting pen to paper – or more realistically, to start modelling it in 3D.


Skin Chains, 2014 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Skin (Chains), 2014 by Jonathan Zawada.

Skin (Swans), 2014 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Skin (Swans), 2014 by Jonathan Zawada.


+ Who or what are some of your influences? What other artists and creative’s in general do you admire?

Early in my career I spent a lot of time looking at other people’s work, I would absolutely devour as many books, blogs and album covers as I could get my hands on in as much detail as I could possibly muster. Since the birth of my little boy though I have zero time to look at anything. He was born with a rare genetic condition and has a number of special needs which means my whole approach to work has completely shifted from being largely 24/7 in the studio (or in my mind) to having to get a lot of work done in short bursts during work hours. There are no doubt a lot of different artists and creatives who’s work I love but my impetus for creating really has fundamentally shifted away from needing to see others doing things in order to be compelled to do things myself to a more basic and in some ways simplistic approach to making. I left my fairly hefty library of design books in Sydney when we moved and in some ways I feel like that was a massive unshackling which has completely freed up the way I think.


Untitled (Sandbox Painting) 8, 2013 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Untitled (Sandbox Painting) 8, 2013 by Jonathan Zawada.

Untitled (Sandbox Painting), 2013 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Untitled (Sandbox Painting), 2013 by Jonathan Zawada.


+ Any interesting/ funny/ quirky facts about your work you could share with us about your work?

I feel like a lot of the time my approach to the work I do is completely inverted to the way it should be done, I like using the computer for doing the simple stuff and then undertaking the arduous tasks by hand, kind of a perverse John Henry.


Why The Earth is Green, 2010 by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace
Why The Earth is Green, 2010 by Jonathan Zawada.


+ What advice would you have to emerging artists who want to follow your path? What was some of your biggest lessons learned since starting your practice?

I don’t know if I’m necessarily in any position to give advice, I really feel like my career is still only in its early stages – in many ways the past 15 years feel like a very long winded version of the art/design degree that I never attained. The one thing I would say has always helped me is a feeling that if I put the effort in I can learn to do absolutely anything I want to. Basic skills and technical knowledge have been responsible for so many opportunities in my career, ones that maybe weren’t immediately rewarding but ultimately developed into bigger, longer lasting and more exciting relationships. My feeling was that every job – no matter how lame it seemed – was an opportunity to make smart decisions.


Jonathan Zawada Portrait | Yellowtrace
Jonathan Zawada Portrait.

Jonathan Zawada Studio | Yellowtrace
Jonathan Zawada Studio.


Let’s get real:

+ If I was not a artist, I would be… realistically; a web developer – in my dreams; a physicist.

+ Three things every artists needs… patience, persistence and perspective.

+ What’s the best mistake you have ever made? Moving to Los Angeles!

+ What’s one thing other people may not know about you? I watch Twitch most of the day while I’m painting or drawing.

+ It’s not very cool, but I really like… not being very cool.


Metadata Tee by Jonathan Zawada | Yellowtrace

[Images courtesy of .]

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