10 Feb Fresh Meat: Jamy van Zyl
Jamy van Zyl, an artist just graduated from the University of Johannesburg, describes his work as “multicultural cyberpunk illustrations”. Working in ballpoint pen and markers, he meticulously represents the surreal in life-like detail – scenes from a futuristic world where technology and humans begin to merge. These cybernetic experiences form a theme throughout Jamy’s work, which is also influenced by his long-term fascination with Japan and Japanese culture. We caught up with him for our annual grad series to learn more.
How and why did you become interested in art, specifically drawing?
I became interested in drawing when I was around 9 years old. I used to watch Dragon Ball, memorise the characters and then draw them at school. My initial inspiration came from Japanese Manga.
What do you enjoy about it?
For me, Manga is a very inspirational illustrative art form and it is very unique. In Japan, Manga is an open platform for illustrators to create anything they desire, to express themselves and tell stories through illustration. This inspires me to express myself through drawing and create a futuristic world of my own in my artworks.
How would you describe your style, and what influences it?
I draw in ballpoint pen, markers and I use stenciled Japanese paper. I strive for my drawings to seem real whilst at the same time artificial. This is influenced by the theme of my work which deals with cybernetic experiences. The cyborg figures that I depict in my works are the result of a non-physical, cybernetic experience. However, I wish to contrast this artificial aspect by making these cyborgs seem as though they are real and that they actually do exist in a world that I am creating for them.
The amount of detail in your work hints at quite an extensive or lengthy process. Could you tell us more about what this could entail, from start to finish?
I always start my creative process by sketching and compiling in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet. I find that the initial sketching process is a lot easier to do in Photoshop as I can draw something up quite quickly. Once I am happy with the design, I transfer the lines to paper, usually a high GM cartridge paper where I then begin drawing. Drawing in ballpoint pen can be very slow, but I think this way of drawing suits me. It is almost a therapeutic practice and it is something that I need to do every day. I don’t really focus on a particular technique like cross hatching, I just draw with care.
Was studying at UJ what you expected it to be? Has your perception of the field changed since your first year? And if so, how?
Studying at UJ was an invaluable experience. When I started in first year, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my drawing; I had no insight as an artist. I believe I had a breakthrough in my third year where I finally discovered what I wanted to create art about and where I wanted to go as an artist. My new motivation and drive to create work was supported by my lecturers. Initially I was very negative about my studies and my future, but my experience at UJ definitely changed me.
What fascinates you about Japanese culture?
I find myself infatuated with Japanese culture because I have related to it since I was very young. I am fascinated with everything Japanese, but if I were to narrow it down I would say that even though Japan is so contemporary and high tech, it is still so traditional. It is this dialogue between traditional Japan and contemporary Japan which fascinates me.
How did you initially begin to explore ‘cybernetic connectivity’ through your work, and what personal significance does the concept hold for you?
My initial fascination with Japan sparked the theme for my work. I had always wanted to live in Japan, but could never get there. I became friends with Japanese people online who I had never met before and even though these friendships were formed “artificially” they felt so real and I longed to meet them. I therefore began imagining what these cybernetic conversations, connections and encounters would look like if they manifested in the form of images. The cyborgs I depict in my works are therefore manifestations of an in-between, non-physical space, they are an expression of my lifelong yearning to connect with Japanese culture.
In order to thoroughly research this theme, I based my thesis on Postmodern Transhumanism and referred to the works of the ‘guru’ of cyber art, Stelarc.
Which of your creative projects are you most proud of?
All of my works are created around a similar concept, but I think that my B Tech final work was my most significant piece. The two drawings, titled “Hana” and “Cybernetic Self-Portrait” are the first pieces that I drew on a larger scale and required me to be committed and focused on a new level. Each work took around a solid month of drawing to complete and had the biggest impact at my B Tech exhibition. The two drawings are a dialogue between two figures who are connected through cyberspace (the internet). The drawings hold many meanings, but the overall message is that two people who are spatially separated can be constantly connected through cybernetic innovation.
In addition to those you already work in/with, are there any other mediums you’re keen to explore?
I am very interested in exploring Japanese paper-making. I currently use basic ‘washi’ paper in my drawings, but I would like to make my own paper in Japan. I am also interested in digital media, specifically animation and 3D modeling. I have created some animated works, but I would like to develop this skill.
What are your plans for 2015 and beyond?
I will be operating as an artist in 2015 and beyond and will be moving to Japan in July.
Where can we stay updated with your work?