Artist of the Month:
Jon Summers-Muir

We met latest Artist of the Month Jon Summers-Muir, and talked inspiration, the space race and vapid design blogs. Just don’t ask him about dream clients …

Understandably perhaps, the majority of people you meet working in the visual arts or design world, if they’re asked, will tell you they’ve always been creative. Beginning from when they were knee-high to a grasshopper, they will have had their crayolas out, creating mini-masterpieces for the fridge door.

It’s refreshing then that when I put a similar question to graphic designer Jonny Summers-Muir, he responds, somewhat surprisingly, that he wasn’t born with sketch book in hand: “At school … I was okay at everything, so I managed to scrape through with Cs.”

He goes further, highlighting the serendipity that can confront and confound you from time to time, in this case, for the better. “You get to college – and everyone has the story – but it wasn’t romantic at all, I had to pick a B-Tech and that’s how I got into graphics. It’s really unromantic; I sort of fell into it!” The enormity of that then sinks in: “To think, if I did better in high school, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now; something far more boring.”

Moving on from that potentially calamitous eventuality which would have robbed us of a real talent, we learn that he came out of that course with top marks, finding it “was quite easy to do”. Distinction in hand, he applied and was accepted onto Liverpool John Moores University Graphic Arts course, where things didn’t quite go to plan: “I got to uni and dropped out in second year,” says Jonny.

“I went off and did something different for a year, came back and that’s when it kicked in”

That brush with reality provided the jolt that Summers-Muir needed. “I went off and did something different for a year, came back and that’s when it kicked in – that’s when I enjoyed what I was doing. You have so many interests outside graphics as a result, you then kind of just ‘get it’.”

We wonder what sources he draws inspiration from, and did that time out in the ‘real world’ have much bearing on his practice? Quite the opposite to inspirations, almost as if he misheard the question, Jonny seems to want to get something off his chest: “I have a hatred of design blogs that have just images on… I have one, but it’s my personal scrap book,” he qualifies. “There’s a culture of blogs that just shovel out images of really exciting nice things, without giving any reason as to why these things have been done. And that’s what’s interesting. Why it’s been done and what the limitations are.”

Pretty, but paper-thin blogs aside, Jonny says that what inspires him “changes on a daily basis, from music to the outside world; nature. Usually things happening in the world today – technological advancement”. That brings us nicely to his degree show, which took as its starting point the ‘Space Age’ (see first image, above), and “came out of the love of film, space films like 2001, Sunshine … and I’d just seen Alien for the first time”.

We then slip into a couple of minutes bitching about Ridley Scott’s latest Alien incarnation, Prometheus, but it swiftly becomes clear that technological advancement is an area that fascinates Jonny, particularly the stuff that’s almost in touching distance. “Predicted interstellar travel and how near we are to it – we’re at a point to send something to the next galaxy, using tech explored in that space race. I thought that was fascinating.”

“Liverpool’s an opportunity, there’s space for you to have a voice here … it’s what I like about Liverpool”

Then it’s back down to Earth, specifically to Liverpool and whether – in light of hosting the first Made North as well as Designival last year – it’s becoming something of a centre for design in the north. “Liverpool already should be, the art school is meant to be the oldest art school outside of London – it should be the epicentre for design and art anyway. In Liverpool there’s more space,” Jonny continues, “[it’s] an opportunity, there’s space for you to have a voice here … it’s what I like about Liverpool.”

At this point we get on to the bespoke banner he’s created for The Double Negative, which plays around with typography – which proves another fascination for him. “I like it because it’s the natural make up of our language – it’s how we communicate with each other – it gets interesting when you mess things that are handwritten up with something that is purely digital.”

He points out how our modern-day, e-orientated society now reveres the handwritten letter: “they’re quite personal, but when we first had printed letters, the time and attention that it took meant it was considered in the same way – that’s now turned around. That’s what I like about type, it’s always changing. What we refer to the norm could be different in ten years time.”

He’s also, in a very healthy way, something of a contrarian. Asked about what or who would constitute a ‘dream client’, there’s no mistaking what he means when his immediate response is “NO!” He goes on to clarify that “the ‘dream client’ of Nike is totally boring. There’s far many other things out there that could really do with what a designer is good at.” Such as? “Dentists, butchers, things like that that could benefit from really good visual communications.” He admits that it would “probably be regarded as quite insular and hipster. But, you know.”

So until that dream client of a fish-mongers opens up, what’s he got going on right now? “[I’m] working with some friends who run what used to be Gobias Video, they’ve changed to Beyond Forever, who’re a video production unit; they film events and stick it online. The ident is made up of all the aspects, the elements based on video sizes, the standard sizes. That’s really interesting; it all revolves around these sizes of video. And they’re great lads as well!”

It seems that in Jonny Summers-Muir, we have no ordinary graphic artist. This is most certainly a good thing. Evidence of this exists in his uncommonly good body of work, and our brand spanking new banner.

You can see more of Jonny’s work on his brand new website

Posted on 29/01/2013 by thedoublenegative