For the third interview for this space I met up with Jonathan Vermersch, an illustrator whose work, though typically static, seems to move, by pulling and dragging the limbs of his characters as well as your eyes, into distortions that translate into an almost-moving image. While talking to Jonathan we got delightfully lost in big ideas and minute observations. Our conversation focused on self reflection as an artist and how illustration straddles the line of self expression, observation, visual language.
Vivian: What is your native language?
Jonathan: My native language is French.
Vivian: What does adventure look like to you?
Jonathan: Huh. Adventure looks like to me… Something very spontaneous, but also something that looks frightening, it's a tiny bit frightening to do.
Vivian: What advice would you give yourself a year ago?
Jonathan: Learn to let go of perfection. You become you through experiences and somehow you have to let yourself wander.
Vivian: How would you describe your practice?
Jonathan: I think my willingness to draw was always something very visceral I had inside me… I had, of course, through studies to find a reason for my art to be into the world. At the time [animation] was something that I could see myself doing because … it resonated towards the playfulness of my drawings. It was like something visceral as well to create characters, create surrealistic environments and stories.
Illustration Credit: Johnathan Vermersch 2022
But after actually doing the animation school, I realized that actually I didn't like animating… I actually was more attracted to the visual development aspect of things… And so at that point, I decided to actually pursue my studies into still images and so into illustration and that, that was answering my need of wanting to control the whole process of image building... And, somehow I'm more interested in building an environment and world rather than bringing a specific character to life.
Vivian: So you describe your illustration as world building?
Jonathan: Yes… it's world building, but also visual language building. You decide on every parameter of the image, all of the symbolism that you use, it belongs to you … you're building a language that speaks to you and also has to obviously be integrated into the world and draw people in. But, I see illustrators as visual thinkers, you basically are trying to communicate an idea for symbolism and characters and, somehow, to make that information digestible for the public. I like that process as well; I like to be in control or in charge of that visual language, the responsibility that it implies and the playfulness as well.
It's very challenging because I'm always, how to say, questioning yourself, questioning if, that visual language is not too personal and of course, it's a fine line… finding the right balance between what comes from you and what can be digested by all. So you're constantly creating within yourself, but then checking in with the world and with reality to, to see if it fits or not,
Vivian: I think that's a really difficult thing to do. Because when you're making something it’s extremely difficult to be objective. Is this so personal that it lacks context? Or is it so personal that it's universal? That's like the golden spot for me.
Jonathan: That's true. It can sometimes be so personal that, you know, it actually becomes universal and it resonates. … and then the job of an illustrator, which is basically [offering yourself as] a service, you are translating a text, a written article, through visual language so that people can understand more of the article.
Your language has to be somehow more digestible than a page's language. You can have a personal style, but, but your personal style has to not come in the way of the other understanding, whatever is at play. So You are more of a visual problem solv[er] than a full, full on artist, I would say. There's less freedom.
Vivian: In what way does the art that you create the work that you do translate into how you dress yourself?
Jonathan: Well, from my background and me going into animation and designing characters, I can see how props have a certain importance in showing a Person's character or individuality. I'm always very attentive whenever I go out, like about how people dress, cuz I feel like it's a way for them to express their uniqueness of individuality.
So I see it as a way of being playful about myself. I think I'm attentive to the way I put good color on myself, the way I’m playful about my silhouette as well. I find it quite funny and playful to do that with clothes.
Illustration Credit: Johnathan Vermersch 2022
Vivian: So how would you describe your personal style?
Jonathan: Well I'm quite aware of not wanting to be like everyone else. I would say that I try to be different, but not get so much attention. I just want to be free to actually wear and be playful about my way of dressing without following any convention. And I guess I like contrast, so I would say that I would dress in a way that would be quite playful with my own morphology or like the way that I, you know, I'm tall, I have very long legs, how can I be playful about that? Colorwise, I do like contrast … I like to play with colors in that way … So just like, again, playfulness as if I was just a character that I was drawing in my sketchbook, for example. I could say that my style would be a bit quirky.
I don't know. And then also also, well, see that's the thing as well, that we all have conflicts, right? We all have we all have agonistic ideas existing in ourselves, and I, as much as I like quirkiness and playfulness, I also, I also like to be invisible in a crowd because, one, it serves my purpose of being an observer, being someone that draws, I like to observe people so that the less I’m been seen by them, the more I can observe. So and so, so it's a mixture of quirkiness, but also, but also following certain conventions those two agonistic ideas compared.
Vivian: I feel like you've just explained to me my own psychology. I appreciate that because I feel conflicted, like, am I not following my own inner desire to wear these crazy things that I love? Is it just out of fear or like social judgment, but no, I think it's, it's really because I would rather be watching than be watched.
Do you have a favorite sustainability trip trip for swap or something that you changed in your life recently that you wanna tell or share?
Jonathan: Yeah, actually what, a few months ago, I downloaded the app vinted and I've become obsessed with it. Like I'm not buying new clothes, I'm only buying from vinted. First, it's cheap, then sustainability wise, it makes complete sense, like you can find and buy new things without feeling guilty. And it's an amazing platform. So I'm looking forward to other platforms as well to appear in the same ideology and [with] the same purpose.
Vivian: What influences you living in Berlin or living online?
Jonathan: I think, for sure, more living in Berlin. I'm not so much present online, at least, I at least I feel like in the last year and a half, I don't really engage so much, would it be on social media or other platforms for that matter. I think the majority of my inspiration I get from just socializing or like going out and drawing people, and just wandering actually around the city and such, and even though for a while … museums were closed and so a huge chunk of inspiration platforms were gone for a while, I still felt very engaged with just going out and people watching.
To find more of Jonathan’s illustrated worlds, visit his instagram here