Upon entering the studio of illustrator Jon Burgerman, you are transported to a space entirely devoted to a world of extreme sights and sounds that connate the artist’s work. Contrasted by the days of rain surrounding New York, the shuffles of crowds and warm hues shone through the bleak emptiness outside. Holding cups of English Breakfast tea, coming from his native country, we spent a few drenched mornings discussing the observations that have led to this body of pieces, produced for Hot Girls and Hot Dogs, opening tonight at 17 Frost Street.
From the warmth of the tea to the sound of the weather outside, the layered lines seen in his more complicated pieces are echoed in the sensorial experience that was visiting his space. As he opened up an oversized canvas in his studio, the end hitting the ground, and Jon a hapless face reminiscent of a befuddled cartoon character. He eventually gives up, retreating to a larger space to properly lay down the monochromatic painting before placing it back against the wall. While his pieces contain a frenetic, hectic energy, his studio remains dutifully organized, as various types of paint and mediums of art are placed in sperate bins.
A series of onomatopoeias emerge from Jon as his internal monologue is enacted for props he produces from past shows. Cardboard cartoons, two-page illustrations, and Vine provide movement to how he invisions characters prior to putting pen to paper. As the pages flipped in the sketchbook, an illustration of a dog bites into a cupcake, Jon mimicking the exaggerated effect heard on Nickelodeon. The bustling imagery that populates the artist’s larger paintings is reproduced on a smaller scale through the immediacy of these works. A tertiary focus, these simple ten second animations represent the individual parts that make up his more complex compositions.
The central focus of his exhibition, and this visit, was a new series of mixed-media pieces being produced for Hot Girls and Hot Dogs. Ranging from simple 8 1/2″ by 11″ studies to canvas spanning several feet, Jon draws viewers in with what he believes to be the two subjects most enticing, attractive women accompanied by man’s best friend. Being from England, and thus an outsider, the artist draws combinations of girls and dogs from a removed perspective. Termed his “pastoral pictorials,” each piece is an expression of how he interprets American culture during his time in New York. Having previously tackled the true New York experience, pizza, with an exhibition in New Jersey last year, the subject has since shifted to the city’s quintessential obsession with pooches.
Illustrating a variety of real-world scenes, the artist shows owners who dutifully clean up after their pets, while others not so much. Alongside the swooping abstracted curves of hot women walking their hot dogs, the artist created a series of quick, messy portraits, which focus solely on women in movement. At first these illustrations convey a haphazard sense of color and movement of line; backgrounds are sketched in to suggest a bobbed haircut, sunset hues move through the arms of several figures, undefined by outlines. By giving defining some aspects of each figure with a watery fluidity and others with hard, contrasting colors, Jon draws viewers to these intimate pieces with through these small contradictions. One final layer is added to the portraits as Haring t-shirts, patterns, and miniature tattoos are dotted throughout. By forcing viewers to closely examine the details of these sketches, the artist gives viewers insight into the processes behind his more elaborate canvases.
The individual animals, patterns, and women from his studies congest in these larger pieces in the same way that sidewalk traffic stops to a halt around New York’s tourist destinations. The viewer can almost feel the internal tension of being surrounded by crowds of unmoving people in the summer heat. Each of these more complex compositions was given ample room at the 17 Frost space to breathe and allow visitors to stand and examine the different kinds of hot subjects permeating the works. After spending some time attempting to see the individual parts of the paintings rather than the sum of the parts, I began to experience what I can only describe as the How and Nosm effect. When visiting the duo’s solo show in New York several months ago, RJ expressed his fatigue over trying to examine the pieces to the point of his brain shutting down. With the work of How and Nosm, the paired down color palette and crisp lines aid in the processing of imagery for some viewers, in contrast to Jon’s unlimited realm of colors and movement. I simply could not imagine viewers could disassemble and process these overlapping compositions, let alone what mind could create such complexities.
By placing sketches alongside mixed media paintings that spanned several feet, viewers can comprehend the gradual that led to the ability to illustrate dozens of figures in scenes that span several feet. When asking Jon about these steps, he echoed the sentiments of spoken word poets saying, “these are a monologue. You just get up there and give it a shot.” In describing his body of work with this terminology, a theme was illuminated that transcended Hot Girls and Hot Dogs and transcended to describe Jon as a person. Throughout the two-day interview with the artist, I was transported into his realm of imagination. From the moment I stepped across the threshold of his building Krink markers began to make fart noises as the artist described the first layer of his paintings beginning with a simple line. Jalapeños with sombreros and cupcake eating dogs echoed the same strange sounds. In bringing his illustrations to life before my eyes, Jon was openly and honestly himself, a trait that is a rare occurrence in New York’s world of facades. His approach to art making, of giving it your best one shot, applied to my interactions with Jon as he crossed his eyes for pictures, added audio to his illustrations, and made me laugh.
Hot Girls and Hot Dogs opens tonight at 17 Frost Street, Williamsburg, NY from 7pm-10pm.
The artist has crafted an area for your dogs adorned with banners made by Skewville for your VIP (very important pooches). Please be sure to come along and bring your pet dog because the artist will be drawing small portraits to remind you just how important your pooch is.
Photos by Rhiannon Platt