Barstad Collective: The Bandits
Barstad Collective: The Bandits
INTERVIEW : JOHN JAY, W+K GX : PART I
Does John Jay need an introduction? Recently named one of the top most influential art directors of the last half a century — next to George Lois and Louise Fili — he’s also one of the top most wonderful human beings we’ve ever met. John’s philosophies on making, creating, collaborating and creating beauty in the world are a beacon in a plasticine era. With the launch of his new lab GX at Wieden + Kennedy’s Portland flagship, he’s pushed his canoe off into thrilling new creative adventures and relationships — fueled by his many nocturnal and extracurricular endeavors over the last few decades.
How do you reconcile beauty with advertising?
You can design a product beautifully, or you can design a product and be half-assed about it. You can art direct, write copy and concept with beauty and craft in mind. The world is a better place when there’s beauty, but beauty is most certainly subjective. In the sense of wabi sabi, the most fucked up, destroyed version of beauty is best — but of course, in that regard, nature is the best designer there is.
In advertising, we’re hired to solve a problem — a business problem. We’re really storytelling, with music, film, typography, graphics… elements that add beauty. I do believe that creating beauty is a contribution to society, it’s a way of giving back to the world.
You’ve spoken about GX as a means by which you can get the best work from yourself — it’s been formed from two decades of work with Wieden, and all the experience you’ve carried forward from other endeavours. Talk about your role as a creative director, and what GX means for you as a beacon of creating and doing.
My job is to be inspired. It’s not my client’s job, or my employer’s job or my team member’s job. It’s my job to stay curious. To be ambitious. The first job of a CD is to inspire. You might have this fat Rolodex with numbers from all over the world — well, what are you going to do with it? I was talking to a client in Berlin and he was asking about GX, what had motivated me to create GX, and I told him that selfishly it was so that I could work with him again myself. I’ve been orchestrating these connections between people and brands and artists, but what if could actually activate those connections myself? To actually do something, physically and creatively, with those relationships and ideas.
Dan [Wieden] asked me if they were still getting the best out of me — he asked how they could set me loose. His advice, “Free yourself.” To be honest, the way to get the best out of me is not for me to sit in meetings for eighteen hours a day. You know, I was co-executive creative director of the whole company globally — it was, and is, an absolutely incredible job, but it was no longer really the right fit for me. Every W+K office in each city also has two executive creative directors, and each account has a creative director team who then manages all the creative work for the account. I loved the IDEA of my job on the Global Management Team but truthfully… I wasn’t really making the kind of impact that was important to me.
I’ve always had a version of Studio J [John’s independent studio with his wife and creative partner Janet]. When I was at Bloomingdales, I still had a studio where I was working in publishing, restaurants, graphics. No matter what my day job is, I’m always creating a night job for myself, always creating these opportunities for myself.
I wrote a piece about George Lois the other day and I was talking to him about his Esquire covers — I said, “Not only were those covers masterpieces, not only were 30 of them just shown at the MoMA, but that was your night job!” You know, that was what he did after dinner.
You make your own energy — you have to be “selfish” in that respect, to figure out how you can generate your own energy. But somehow, when it’s done with authenticity and wonder, it always seems to become a more universal source — everyone working to keep themselves at their most inspired, their most energetic.
W+K Tokyo was like a dress rehearsal for GX. When we were recruiting for the team in Tokyo, I offered to hire all the management, but as I was giving this spiel about why Tokyo would be such a great job I thought, “Why would I give this away?” So I decided to open the Japan office and it ended up being an extraordinary time for me.
At the time, Dan said about Tokyo that we should make it the “hothouse” — a place where we could do experiments that no other company was able to do. Eventually, he asked me to bring that energy back to the mothership [in Portland]. And it was great, but you know, the air changes, you change, and you have to continue to feel actively creative. How can I continue to inspire people?
And how does GX allow to you relate to your clients differently?
At GX, and at Wieden + Kennedy as a whole, we get to really make a choice about who we’re working with. Each brand expresses itself in a unique and personal way so to be in a position to choose clients, to be independent, to make our own decisions — this freedom is at the core of being able to do good work. To be able to say no is one of the most powerful things in the world.
When you’re running a business, you have to think about — yes, we need money to keep the company going, but you also need to be able to say “This would not be a good situation for us, creatively, morally, spiritually.” If you’re a publicly-held company, if you’re owned by the bank, you don’t have the power to say no to a poor fit. We can think selectively, as independents, and we can say no. Though you do have to be careful who you say no to — it’s a small world.
When you say no to something that isn’t right for you, that’s 10 more minutes of quiet, peaceful sleep you get to have each night, knowing you are doing work you believe in. That’s powerful.
Stay tuned for part deux, planted soon.
Photos by Wieden’s own, Hope Freeman
Incredibly interesting Ted Talk about texting— and how it’s not all that bad after all. While so many argue that it is emphasizing a “decline” in communication skills, McWhorter argues that we are in the midst of a communication evolution.
Yet again the iPhone produces something noteworthy, an app titled “8mm vintage camera” saves film director Malik Bendjelloul when his budget depleted while filming “Searching for Sugarman”. Bendjelloul only had a few shots left when he purchased the app for $1.99 and finished shooting the film which went on to win an Oscar.
I couldn’t help but laugh when reading this painfully accurate “monologue” on any Creative’s most hated typeface.
Searching for the Avant-Garde
Sly Stone’s delicious voice ruled the radio airwaves, “Everyday People” was the number 1 song but giving way soon to a new Aquarius as the Fifth Dimension harmonized about change in the air. 1969 was going to be one of the most radical years in our modern history. It was the year that changed America.
I am a young student with no perceivable direction, no idea about design or creative career yet, just dreaming to be somewhere bigger than my own existence in Columbus Ohio. I could always sense that there was a more dynamic world out there, a place where people arrived daily because they had a similar itch to experience life at its fullest. A place that nurtured ambition and the desire for the unknown. For me, my future was unclear but my old world intuition inherited from my parents told me that the skills you learned in school could only take you so far. Yet, to dream bigger than your friends was not something you did openly back then. But dream I did.
Prophetically, the big summer movie is Phillip Roth’s “Goodbye Columbus”.
Then it hit me. The May 1969 issue of Esquire Magazine arrives in the school library. The headline boldly declares, “The Final Decline and Total Collapse of the American Avant-Garde.” The cover captures Andy Warhol drowning in a huge can of Campbell Soup. Despite the headline, the genius of art director, George Lois made the Esquire cover each month, his own version of the avant-garde. Highly conceptual, in tune with the cultural zeitgeist and challenging the norms of society, he made Esquire covers into social commentary built with the craft of a great artist and matching intellectual rigor. Lois motivated us to think about our world in context of our existence. Like the art world’s avant-garde, he used consumerism, a magazine cover designed to sell, to raise the consciousness of the American public. He saw himself as an artist and throughout his career from editorial to advertising, he remained fearless. He was an artist and he didn’t care whether you thought so or not.
On his iconic Warhol cover, Lois comments, “You could look at it as just funny, or you could look at it as how fame swallows people — the absurdity of fame. He is drowning in his own soup.”
Years later… I arrive in New York City, in search of this avant-garde… was I too late? Was it over? My search was for a modern day Atlantis, a place where the extraordinary was everyday and its people equally mythical. I soon learned the city’s little secret… It was not just about ideas… It was about hard work, NYC was a place filled with determined dreamers, doers and makers, and like me, they often came from another place. What bonded us was our ambition and willingness to fight for the right to be creative, to be the best we could be. But clearly, dreaming alone was not going to be enough. Human nature causes us to place great value on what others think of us, they try to define what success looks like for us. Society’s opinion can charge the course of our lives but that is the antithesis of being fearless.
The avant-garde was going through its own growing pains and the critics panned its embrace of fame and fortune but the movement kept morphing. Its goals and tactics changed through corporate sponsorship, globalism, technology and the life-changing influence of the next generation. Mass media brought art to the threshold of glamour and power but the mundane always had its own power over even the most gifted. I remember having lunch at Robert Rauschenberg’s studio with him in the kitchen as he watched the daytime soaps. He knew every character and dazzled us with his appreciation of the lurid details of each daily episode. As I roamed the vast studio looking, turning each painting on a revolving rack, Rauschenberg could be heard moaning in the background because todays show was ending with an unsatisfactory ending but he knew tomorrow was a new day. It always is.
The Warhol Foundation will soon sell all of its artwork in order to operate fully as a grant foundation offering financial support for future generations of artists. That will cause havoc with all of those who have invested heavily in his legacy and the future value of his art. 26 years after his death, Andy Warhol continues to the most avant-garde of them all.
Fast forward from my initial arrival to NYC to 2011 at a glittering black-tie event in Manhattan, it is the Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame annual celebration. George Lois enthusiastically congratulates me on my induction into this extraordinary group of creative talent. Lois claims he told the jury, “This is a no-brainer.” I just hope he was speaking of my induction and not me personally! He is the youngest inductee ever into the Hall of Fame and the designer of the award itself. I stood there thinking back as a kid, and that Esquire cover in my hands. The next morning, I pull out my first edition of his book, “The Art of Advertising”. At the time of its publication, I was a young editorial art director trying to make it in journalism and this primer on mass communications laid the foundation for me on how the big idea was possible is all forms of creative expression… from magazines to fashion to advertising. Lois’s version of the Big Idea is still growing within all of us and his impatience with mediocrity remains infectious.
John C Jay Art Directors Club 2011
Last week, I received an email from a designer in San Francisco, who is a former recipient of my Jay Scholarship Fund at Ohio State University. It is a survey from Graphic Design USA’s January/February issue. The headline reads “The Most Influential Art Directors of the Past 50 Years” and George Lois, deservedly tops the list. However, as I drift down the list, I am astonished to see my name on it as well. This is far beyond anything I ever dreamed… to be on a list with George Lois. It is Graphic Design USA’s own 50th anniversary and they celebrated by naming the most influential companies and people in the past 50 years in design and advertising.
Graphic Design USA 50th Anniversary
What I love about Lois’s Esquire decade, 1962 to 72, as the magazine cover maestro was that Esquire was his moonlighting job. His night job created an extraordinary body of work, 32 of 92 covers were exhibited by The Museum of Modern Art in 2008. As his day job, he ran an ad agency with some of the most important clients in the country. His ability to think and work creatively on so many levels at once is an inspiration and shows us all how passion can take you to new places if you are willing to make sacrifices for the big idea in any media. We have a responsibility to constantly raise the creative bar and to do so, we must find more ways to be fearless.
I am still searching for the avant-garde. So I have just opened W+K Garage, a new creative shop that will work with innovative global clients but also as an entrepreneur in different forms of creative expression. It was time to resist the obvious, reject what others may feel is success, do work that is truly personal and help those in search of a more creative future. We live in the most creative moment in history and the future is just beginning. There is no turning back.
Bracket — W+K Garage
Thank you George Lois for helping all of us to overcome our own fears. Your legacy is actually just beginning.
— John C Jay
Our very own Dave Allen and Mark Ray are featured in this article discussing advertising, music and how brands are using it these days.
“According to mark and Dave, every brand should have, along with their visual identity (e.g logo, color palette, etc.) a sound identity as well. What is your brand’s sound identity?”
“It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched for they are full of the truthless ideals which have been instilled in them, and each time they come in contact with the real, they are wounded.” —W. Somerset Maugham
The International Center of Photography in New York recently announced their 29th Annual Infinity Awards. In the “Young Photographer” category, Kitra Cahana (b. 1987) is this year’s winner. Unknown to me, I visited her site and was immediately drawn in.
Cahana’s series on nomads and teens, in particular, caught my eye. In photography, the quality of light (and the attention given to it) means everything. Her judicious use of it gives her color images a moodiness that is both pleasing and full of uncertainty—like the kids she photographs. At age 25, Cahana reveals a depth rarely found in the work of her contemporaries. Her ICP award is well deserved. —Lane Nevares
Mr Wallace, 42 was convicted of the sexual abuse of a 15-year-old in 1992. He served 6 months in prison after a plea deal, and spent the next decade and a half in and out of prison for parole violations and a burglary conviction. now he is free on parole and studying to become a paralegal. But because there is a day care near his home, he cannot live with his wife and daughter.
"a murderer can live wherever he wants, A shooter, a robber can live wherever he want," Mr. Wallace said. "I have to live in a trailer".
The trailers in Suffolk county on Long Island were built temporarily to house sex offendors who are out of prison. They contain a refridgerator, microwave, and rows of bunkbeds. Between the two trailers, there is one shower that 40 men share. One resident said he has to worry about someone slitting his throat if he sits on the wrong bunk. It’s a hostile environment, much like that of the prison from which these offenders came from. A security guard also oversees the trailers. Essentially, these men, who are legally free, are still prisoners due to the strict living restrictions on sex offendors.
Men have often been evicted from their own homes which they own, along with their wife and children. If only very few people don’t mind living next to sex offenders, where can they live? What can our society to protect the basic rights of these people?
I’m currently studying human rights journalism so this article was very relevant to me, as well as moving. Though I believe that sex offenders are perhaps some of the worst criminals, I think they should be allowed a standard living situation when they are released.
One issue raised by the article was that it’s not healthy for offenders to live in close proximity (let alone the same house or trailer) as other offenders. It’s a bad environment— and often mimmics the social structure seen in a prison.
What’s a solution? Where can they live? Where should they live?
"in 2 Trailers, The Neighbors Nobody Wants" the NYT, feb 5, 2013. print.