Jeremy’s personal and commercial achievement can be attributed to many things – most notably, talent. His intricately detailed works are not given justice with a mere glance over, and his sense of depth and perspective make his animated universe seem like something that has come out of a movie screen rather than a flat display. It is no surprise, then, that Jeremy’s roots are in the field of architecture, with a Bsc in the field from Sydney University. His drawings, however, started to thrive in an almost unintentional way, taking on a life of their own before Jeremy even decided to give them one.
“While I was at uni I was the editor of the Honi Soit student newspaper, and to fill in the articles I wrote, I drew small cartoons to fill the spaces. One day I collected a pile of my Honi Soit issues, went along to the Sydney Morning Herald, saw John Sandeman and he gave me some freelance work to draw at the Herald. I was around 19. So I started going in to the art department at the Herald while still at uni, and that's how my career in art began. I never went to art school. I still have a daily love of architecture and interiors. I have never practiced as an architect though. I might design a house in the future. I'm influenced by spaces, interiors, the experience of the built form. It's funny how I now work mainly in 2D, because I've always thought more in 3D.”
With hand-drawn lanes that lead from one end of a Jeremyville city to the other, the fact that he thinks in 3D is certainly not lost within his work. The sense of volume has been with Jeremy since he was a child, building model airplanes, lego houses, and dioramas. He didn’t actually start to paint until he was 16, as he “really had no idea at all how to make a career out of it.”
“My father was the captain of a large oil tanker for Shell Oil, which is pretty far removed from a career in art!,” Jeremy describes of his parental influence. “I didn't really grow up surrounded by art. My mum was a teacher though, and she used to draw lovely rudimentary drawings for her kids in class, so I think I picked it up from her. I also have a published painting of hers which she made when she was 14 I think, of a mother holding a child in her arms. I like to think that was the first nascent portrait of her and me. I still have that clipping of her painting from the newspaper.”
He may not have been taught it, but he is now an artist with an acute sense of what he needs to do to ensure his passion remains his profession. Jeremy has clearly taken cues from Andy Warhol before him on how to strategically turn his art into a brand that is not only instantly recognisable, but lucrative as well. As Jeremy reflects, he put in many hard yards to get this far, beginning in a small studio on Taylor Street, Darlinghurst, at 19 years old. “I had a fax, a mobile, and I employed people to help me out with chasing up invoices, dealing with clients, etc,” he says. “I knew at an early age that if I was to make a career out of this, I was going to have to get some good systems in place, and delegate. I remember I paid my staff $20 an hour cash in hand, but I didn't really take a wage – but I knew I had to have staff if I was to grow. No one really taught me this, I didn't come from a business-based family where my dad was a stockbroker or anything, so I learnt about business as I went along. Sometimes the hard way!”
“I remember one Christmas when I was 20, I had about $30 in the bank, but I was owed a lot from clients who hadn't paid me for six months, and all I could buy was a tub of rice and soy sauce, with as much free chili sauce as I could squeeze into the tub. I remember that moment really galvanised a sense of wanting to succeed in me. We all have those defining moments in our lives.”
Now working between two studios in Sydney (one in Bondi and one in Potts Point) and one in the Nolita neighbourhood of New York City, the days of having to survive on plain rice are truly behind him. As an artist who is heavily influenced by his location, Jeremy’s characters have recently been enjoying a Bondi summer, with much of his work drawn at Icebergs Café or from his place at the corner of Campbell Parade and Lamrock Avenue. Jeremy describes the area’s outdoor, active atmosphere as the main inspiration in his latest work. The fact that he grew up on Wonderland Avenue, Tamarama is an added bonus. “I have a lot of my friends down here, so we usually hang out over a coffee or a pizza at Gelbison's, which is just underneath my studio. It's an old institution in Bondi. I usually bump into friends down there when I walk out my door.” As traveling is a large component in his artistic endeavours, Jeremy says that he tends to make his flight plans quite quickly, and fortunately his luggage usually involves “a laptop and a sketch book and pens.”
“I'm in Sydney for a short while, then back to New York. It's not a fixed schedule, I travel when I need to, mainly to work on big campaigns or projects with clients over there. For example, right now I'm working on a 32-piece range of products with a big company based in New York and Tokyo, so I might leave soon to sight the final samples in New York. Their offices are in the Empire State Building, which is pretty cool.”
A Day in the World of Jeremyville…
Up around 8am, run along the Bondi Beach promenade (six laps), coffee at the Crabbe Hole near the Icebergs Pool, check emails while there, sketch, plan, think... then work at the studio, meet with Neil, Megan and the team, paint, draw, finish commissions, then in the evening have calls with clients in Europe as they open up, work more, then around 12am have calls with New York as they open up, bed around 1am. That has been the general vibe lately in Bondi, but it changes of course when I'm in New York; it's a totally different regime, and I'm out socially a lot more there, meeting people and clients after hours. Here I'm more low key. I don't socialise much, I tend to work and create more when I'm in Sydney. New York is more about meeting people and face time.
Doing big projects for massive companies isn’t a rarity for Jeremy, who works for the likes of Converse, Rossignol, Kidrobot, Zune, Microsoft, Mastercard and Asics, to name but a very tiny proportion of his client base. Lucky for him, such powerhouses go to Jeremy for exactly what he has to offer, and have little interest in changing that – which allows him to maintain his integrity as an artist with little inner conflict. As Jeremy puts it, “my 'commercial' work blends in to my general output, and to me, I just see it as all work from our studio.”
“I don't really differentiate a job for a client with say a work to be shown in an art show, or a sketch I draw late at night. It's all Jeremyville. I bring the same level of passion and integrity into my so-called commercial work as I do for my own projects. I couldn't work on projects with any diminished sense of integrity; that's just not me. I don't really take on jobs purely for the money only, as they are generally not jobs I enjoy. I need to be super excited by the project to take it on. Luckily in my career I'm now in a position to be able to choose the jobs I take on. Even when I was starting out actually, I turned down several client jobs for clients or products I didn't really believe in.”
And what he believes in appears to always be a lot, which is exactly what you would expect from someone with more passion than should ever be self-contained. He lists “some new publishing projects, a collaboration with Anti Sweden Jeans from Norway, a fashion collaboration with Lin Fashion from Germany, a new 20 character mini toy series about to be released through Kidrobot in the US, some stories I have written, the ad campaign for the 2010 Toyko Marathon for Asics in Japan, some French Energy Ministry ads, a custom Darth Vader helmet that was recently exhibited at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and a group show at the prestigious Madre Museum in Napoli Italy on May 1st” when asked what he has recently been working on. Yep. He’s got LOADS of free time.
Needless to say, if Jeremy didn’t have such an admirable amount of business sense he might be in trouble keeping up with all the projects he seems to attract. He credits his “amazing team” as the core of the Jeremyville studio, and tries to keep the stress at bay – “to just breathe and take it easy… I used to get stressed, but I have learnt to see more of the big picture.” In spite of his seemingly implausible success in an industry that notoriously starves its disciples, Jeremy claims that it is only when he is in the middle of interviews such as this that he really takes the time to reflect on the development of his career.
“To be honest I mainly think about all the new challenges I want to take on, and the projects I want to do, plus the day to day workload. I don't like thinking of any past failures or successes. Having the Bondi Beach Studio gives me the headspace to see things more rationally, and in a more relaxed framework. I never really knew a career in art such as I have was possible; it has been a very organic process. No one handed me the road map of how to achieve it. And I'm still really inventing my own road map – I don't really look to one artist to emulate or follow, it's more intuitive than that. I do love the career trajectories of certain artists though, like Warhol, Koons, Murakami, Hirst, Banksy, Fairey. There is definitely a common thread in all those artists if you look for it. I identify myself with that similar spirit of art and commerce. The key is to be different, and to offer something that no one else offers.”
In a similar vein, the advice he offers to young up and coming artists is just as earnest. “Definitely develop your own voice, work at understanding what sort of an artist/creative you are, and then go out and find a market for that. Offer what no one else offers – that is the key I think. Be prepared for a long road ahead. If you take a regular job while you work on your art career, chances are that regular job will soon become your career. You need to jump in the deep end if you want to work for yourself, and make a career from your passion. But only once you've found there is a need for what you offer, that you indeed have talent, and that you offer something unique.
“Be prepared to eat tubs of rice for Christmas, and always have an image of your future self, and where you want to be on that road ahead. Hold that image in your head, and doggedly walk along that path till you get closer and closer to it.”
“That's some humble advice that I've learnt, but after reading it, put it aside and find your own way forward, and find your own answers…that is the most rewarding way to do it.”
Well. Let the inspiration unfold.
words: Seema Duggal