North American-based conceptual artist Andrew is also the co-founder of Conceptart.org and teaches workshops around the world. Web:www.androidjones.com
As the co-founder of Conceptart.org and Massive Black, concept artist for Metroid Prime and a former employee of ILM, Andrew Jones is finely tuned to the dark emanations of the human spirit. This comes through even in the description of his hometown: “Boulder has a deeply nurturing energy,” he begins, nicely enough. “However, as with all unsurpassed beauty, there’s a dark side. Boulder is a vortex of souls.”
You see, when white men first arrived in Boulder, Colorado, they were looking for gold. The people that already lived there quickly realised they were in harm’s way and that nothing good was going to come of the face-off. “They were Southern Arapaho warriors under Chief Niwot,” explains Andrew. “Niwot and his brave warriors were forced from the home they loved and, avoiding bloodshed, left in peace.”
You can understand why Niwot cursed the valley as he left. “People see the beauty of this valley and want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of that beauty.” And Andrew has personal experience of the former: “I’m a third-generation Boulderite who has intentions of returning there to spend my last days,” he says. It’s a morbid form of homesickness.
“I’ve searched the globe for places and communities that inspire me,” says Andrew. “It took me almost a decade to finally discover a place and community that exceeded all expectations.” The wandering halted, for a while at least, in the Nevada
desert. Andrew’s current spiritual home is the Burning Man project, an annual festival held at a temporary town in the middle of the Black Rock desert. The week-long event, which celebrates all forms of creative expression, attracts more than 35,000 people from around the world. No cash transactions are allowed and, in theory at least, no spectators – everyone is expected to take part. On the last night, they burn a giant wooden effigy.
Andrew recommends that everybody does something such as this to avoid becoming just another statistic. “Take more time for yourselves, go on a vision-quest deep into the desert, talk to God and interact with the divine,” he advises. And if you still can’t find nuomenal transcendence, at least you had a go. “I don’t claim to know what reality is but I know that it’s not what most of us believe it to be.”
The dream manifestation gig
“Art knew that it was going to be me, before I knew I was going to be an artist.” Art, you see, is more than its name – and Andrew asks us to remember that. Art is just a three-letter word, a poor label for the thing itself. “I wish art didn’t have a name, so every time we look at a painting we could see it with unjaded eyes,” he says. “Words can really strip away all the inherent magic in an object.”
Andrew was always going to be an artist. “I was drawing and painting before I ever knew what art was,” he recalls. His parents were painters, and his childhood scribbles quickly caused a stir, culminating in Andrew studying art in Florida. After that he walked the earth as a street portrait artist. He enjoyed it so much that, “If it wasn’t for my student loans, we wouldn’t be doing this interview and I would be covered in red chalk right about now.” But that was before he got into what he calls, “the active nightmare and dream manifestation gig.”
Fantasy, he says, was a natural progression for an artist looking for a challenge, “when everything else started to look really boring.” But then he thinks better of his explanation: “Actually, everything in life can be fantastic.” It’s just a question of looking properly and that, after all, is the job of the artist.
Andrew was introduced to Metroid Prime aged just 11: “I discovered that game after undergoing cataclysmic brain surgery as a child,” he explains. “The world of Metroid was a safe haven for me in comparison to the real world, which I had a hard time trusting and adapting to.” The recovering youngster built up a series of associations around the character. “The cold space of Norfair was something I could count on to be there for me. As a child recovering from a major trauma, little things like that make all the difference in the world.”
So even though the loans had called time on his travels, a new journey was about to begin. Andrew returned from painting the tiles red in Europe to work for Nintendo.
“I seized the opportunity as the Metroid Prime concept artist. I saw it as stepping into my conceptual destiny, so to speak,” he says. “I believed in the world of Metroid as a child and I gave as much as I could to make that world believable to the next generation.”
The thing of note about Andrew’s work is that in reaching towards an emotional connection with the viewer, it goes beyond simple representation. “Bad moods make for great art,” he observes. “Sometimes I think there’s an unconscious part of me that sabotages my life to create the drama that will fuel a new painting.”
This may seem extreme, but it’s about bridging the gap between the creator and the viewer: “The more present I can be with the emotion I’m feeling while painting, the more natural it will be for the viewer to recognise that emotion and share it with me,” he explains. And in order to do that, serious measures may be called for. “It’s only when I can fully step into my shadow that I can emerge on the other side as a warrior of light.”
Those planning to emulate him should beware, though: “I live my life in a style that’s constantly evolving, expanding and growing in abundance.” That sounds benign enough but it requires dedication. “Some of the recurring themes in the overall style of my life are chaos, experimentation and pushing my boundaries – taking risks and picking myself up from failure to create something beautiful.” It’s not a path you can easily turn back from.
ILM to Massive Black
“I still have my acceptance letter mounted and framed like a deer head on the wall,” Andrew reveals. He was obviously excited by the prospect of working at what is arguably the world’s most prestigious animation studio: “ILM was a full-on dream vision manifestation. It was the first time I learned that you can manifest reality through thoughts.”
A place of great creative significance, Andrew describes ILM as “Eye-magic-in-action.” The vibe must have been incredible. “We are the creators and this is the stage, there were so many potent and powerful manifesting wizards at that place that it made my skin crawl with excitement,” he recalls. And from ILM, Andrew moved to Retro Studios and Massive Black.
The artist must have freedom. “In short, Massive Black is the manifestation of not wanting to wake up to an alarm clock and never having to fill out a vacation form,” he explains. Luckily, Andrew had some fine company in his bid for freedom: “ILM was another man’s dream. Massive Black began as a dream born of the vision of Jason Manley, Coro Kaufman and myself.”
And that dream was accompanied by the means the means to achieve it. “I somehow ended up bringing, attracting and working elbow to asshole with some of the finest art warriors I could have ever asked for,” he says. A studio of considerable distinction was born.
And while Massive Black pulls in work, Andrew has given something back, too. In the shape of Conceptart.org, he’s helped connect a worldwide network of artists who otherwise might have continued to struggle in isolation.
His attitude to this great achievement, though, is humble. “I do feel incredibly grateful to have provided such a service to the art community,” he says. “That’s a powerful feeling. Knowing that your actions have played a significant role in the purpose and path of so many.
“Jason Manley and I began connecting a network of six artists together. At that time, neither of us imagined that it would exceed the tens of thousands of members and hundreds of thousands of visitors that it does today.” Nevertheless, those are the figures. “It’s a bit overwhelming... Conceptart.org is a visualised dream of an overwhelming need for the artistic spirit to unite together and recognise itself.”
Feeling part of that community is a large part of what digital art has come to mean. “Jason and I are only instruments and pawns in the scheme of things. We gave it a name, a place and a home. The community connects itself. We try to keep the frequency as pure as possible.”
From issue 09.