Jam Sutton is a British photographer, visual artist and fashion designer from a new generation of creatives who break away from the traditional boundaries of photography and art. From shooting to post production, he is fully hands-on and in control of every artistic aspect, creating a bold, recognisable style. His collaborations include music videos and print campaigns for artists such as Pharrell Williams, N.E.R.D, Azealia Banks, Steve Aoki and most recently Lido. I have the pleasure of working with Jam through Caviar Content where I represent him for music video & commercial work – and being the multi-disciplinary artist that he is, I was eager to interview him for 1985 and share his work with a wider audience.
Georgie MacEchern: First of all tell me about yourself – where you grew up and how you got into art & photography?
Jam Sutton: I grew up in the Midlands, surrounded by a creative family. For as long as I can remember, I've always wanted to be an artist or designer. I can't imagine doing anything else. I was always encouraged by my parents to be creative.
GM: Who were your major influences growing up and have those changed as your style has developed?
JS: Yes definitely, my influences have evolved over time. When I was younger I dreamed of becoming a painter like Picasso or one of the greats. I grew up with evolving technology and was fascinated with the possibilities technology brought (scribbling digital paint on my Amiga computer). H.R. Giger was another hero of mine growing up, I loved how he created his own world through his work, such an incredible visionary. I think as I become older, I appreciate the past more.
GM: Your work spans various mediums, harnessing the power of cutting edge techniques. From where do you draw inspiration?
JS: Most recently I've been very inspired by classical art. I like to juxtapose classical art with modern influence. I try to visit galleries and museums as much as possible; I think it's really important to have an understanding of human history, especially through art. Works from a specific time in history show so much about social and political conditions - I find it really interesting.
GM: One can clearly see the art historical references in your work, who are some of your favourite artists, classical and contemporary?
JS: My favourite artists change from time to time, but I'm always drawn back to surrealist masters like Magritte, Max Ernst - even though I don’t agree with many of André Breton’s ideologies (the founder of the surrealists), they did create some ground breaking work. Renaissance art is also a big inspiration, the way the human form was captured in painting and stone is really remarkable. I do like modern art too, but I find classical art more engaging.
GM: On the photography side there are some beautiful stills that stand out for me, including your latest images for Rollacoaster Magazine as well as the stunning portraits of Natalia Kills. As with all your work they have an underlying meaning – what do these portray?
JS: The Rollacoaster Magazine editorial was a collaboration with fashion stylist and director Andrew Davis. The shoot was inspired by the Christian martyr Saint Sebastian, classical themes are still quite relatable, persecution still resonates today. The Natalia Kills image is about personal identity, having two personas that are battling it out. I worked a lot with Natalia and we wanted to try something that was a bit more personal. I think most people have conflicting thoughts in their head, maybe spontaneity and reason, battling it out.
GM: You have worked with a whole host of musicians, who has been the most interesting to work with and why?
JS: Azealia Banks was fun to work with; we had a very open idea and bounced ideas around. Azealia is fully in charge of her career and I really like working with artists that have strong identities and visions to their work. Even though she was with a label at the time, it didn't interfere with her drive for personal artistic expression. Pharrell was also great to work with, he was really humble and gave me free reign with the visual aesthetic. It was one of the first moments in my career where I had to pinch myself.
GM: I am loving your latest collaboration with the up and coming Norwegian artist Lido. How did that come about? How long did the whole process take from start to finish?
JS: It was funny how the project happened. I was in Paris for fashion week with my brand This Is Not Clothing. My friend G was working in the Because music office and invited me to hang out. I met Aldo in the music video department and he was telling me about the upcoming Lido project. When I got back to London, Katie Dolan at Caviar went to Paris the week before and met with Aldo about the same video project. Sometimes paths cross and things are supposed to happen like that.
The video “Money” is inspired by 17th Century Dutch still life paintings. The historical 'Vanitas' paintings were created as a portrait of the commissioner, using objects and metaphors to display their wealth, influence and ultimate mortality. I thought it would be interesting to bring this classical concept into modern day for the “Money” video. It creates a series of scenes that depict wealth and death, and the corruption and negative uses of money, in particular investing in warfare. The video took around a month, I work on my own post production so it always takes a bit of time, but allows artistic control on every visual element.
GM: Now for me the most exciting is your fashion line, This Is Not Clothing. You are now on your third stunning collection, Collection III, merging art and fashion. Tell us all.
JS: Yes! I’ve been working on my brand for the past few years. This Is Not Clothing is an art brand. I'm a creator of imagery and have always been excited by print in fashion. At the time I started This Is Not Clothing, I had an exhibition of my artwork in Barcelona. I was thinking about ways to exhibit artwork in places ranging from the gallery space, to artwork in the street. Then I realised, why not mix my interest of artwork with fabric print and clothing. The concept of the brand is that each t-shirt is an art print – a wearable artwork.
I have just launched Collection III, which is inspired by classical sculpture and modern protest. The collection features a series of digital sculptures created using 3D scanning techniques of real-life models. I was in the British Museum looking at the Parthenon marbles and was moved by the violence of the mythological battles. Violence is depicted throughout classical and contemporary art history; today it's seen via Internet videos and news coverage. The marbles made me think about how violence is portrayed, and how violence is seen almost on a daily basis. I think it's very relatable in today's world of anxiety and current events. This birthed the concept of the collection, combining mythological and modern violence. I found it interesting capturing modern society and current events through classical aesthetics.
GM: I know your t-shirt range has been stocked at the likes of Harvey Nichols and the latest one in Selfridges in the UK, where else in the world is it stocked?I see them doing so well around the globe, especially in the States.
JS: The brand is currently stocked in Europe and Asia, Selfridges & Harvey Nichols in the UK, Comme des Garçons in Japan, Antonioli in Milano, retailers in China, Taiwan and more to come. I'm really thankful for such great support from some of the best stores in the world.
GM: So what other exciting things are going on in the world of Jam Sutton? Any other exciting projects on the go or coming up you can tell us about?
JS: I just shot another editorial for Rollacoaster Magazine with Andrew Davis, which will be coming out in January. Right now I'm really busy getting ready for Fashion week in January, as well as showcasing the current collection during Paris Fashion week 2015.
GM: For me, SoundCloud plays an integral role not only for myself as a DJ and as a platform to share my music but more importantly to discover up and coming artists and talent. What platforms are invaluable to you as an artist?
JS: I think Instagram is a good visual platform for exposure. Twitter seems to be dying out a bit at the moment. From the brand perspective, Facebook is a great tool for commerce and raising brand awareness with the customer. Art galleries are a valuable platform for artists, but with fashion, I think it's an interesting platform for exhibiting wearable art.
GM: Which other visual artists or photographers excite you at the moment?
JS: I went to the Bill Viola retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais in the summer and was blown away by the immersive installations. He also has an installation in Saint Paul's Cathedral right now. I find his installations really interesting, the audio and visual environments created are really engaging and moving. I've been experimenting and working with digital post-production on my work for a long time now, there seems to be a new uprising of digital post production in photography that's really exciting. A lot of traditional photographers think of retouching as a dirty word, but now photographers are really starting to experiment with the potential and artistic expression it can offer. It's an interesting time for image making.
GM: If you had the chance to collaborate with any other major artists who would they be?
JS: I really love the FKA Twigs album and her artistic vision. I've been playing that a lot, and Röyksopp 's new/last album. It takes something to spark inspiration for me with an artist, they could be major or independent, but most importantly, they need to be interesting.
GM: Jam as always a pleasure and thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me and 1985. Here’s to 2015 another killer year for you and good luck with This Is Not Clothing – it seems it’s just the beginning!
JS: Thank you Georgie! A real pleasure, thank you 1985! X