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Jon Barraclough, Artist/Designer

Being a British photographer at a time when punk was turning into New Wave was very good! Plenty of subject matter and lots to talk about from a European perspective.

—Jon Barraclough, Graphic Designer

Since starting The Independent Map Company we've been fortunate enough to meet some inspirational, genuine people and our latest 'In Conversation' certainly reaffirms this. We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Liverpool-based creative all-rounder Jon Barraclough at his city centre home in the Georgian Quarter. Sat in Jon's study, it was almost impossible to stop our eyes wandering across the desk and book-cases, filled from floor to ceiling with interesting artifacts. Surrounded by scatterred photographs and works in progress, miscellaneous objects occupying the rooms furnishings all suggesting personal memoirs of Jon's long and distinguished career as a multi-directional artist.

Born in Bradford, Yorkshire in the 1950's, Jon began his path as an artist studying Fine Art Media at Bradford College of Art before moving further North to undertake a BA degree in Graphic Design at Newcastle Polytechnic. While at Newcastle, Jon gained invaluable knowledge from Terry Dowling, a lecturer at the time and as Jon explains “a great unsung hero of the graphic arts world”. It was at Newcastle Polytechnic that Jon built up his impressive skill-set, although the course was graphically focused he tinkered with animation, photography, printmaking, typography typesetting. Jon's dedication to his photography alongside an introduction by well-connected Terry led to Jon travelling to New York to pursue his ambitions to develop his photography. Jon was only six months into his New York adventure when he unfortunately had to return to the UK following the unexpected passing of his mother. Having made quite an impression with the people he met during his short stay, Jon's return from New York turned out to be only a stop gap when a collective raised the funds to get Jon a flight back to New York to carry on where he left off.

In the 1980's Jon returned to London to work in the film industry where he worked on graphics for films including Bernardo Bertolucci’s 'The Last Emperor' and Nicolas Roeg's 'Insignificance'. It was in London that Jon became a founding member of the Unknown Studio, a collaborative studio in pre-gentrified Shoreditch where he exhibited drawings in group and solo shows. Passing knowledge on followed for Jon having taken up teaching roles at Newcastle and Liverpool Schools of Art. In 1991 Jon became Director of School at Liverpool until 1996 when he became a director at Liverpool's visual communications consultancy Nonconform.

Jon co-founded the Drawing Paper with fellow graphic designer and DJ, Mike Carney. The not-for-profit publication that's ‘concerned solely with drawing’ looks to showcase the work of various artists and is designed, curated and published by Jon and Mike in Liverpool.Since it's creation, the Drawing Paper has grown from a collaboration publishing project into a standalone platform which was nominated for the Liverpool Art Prize in 2012. Regular drawing sessions followed which have been featured in the Liverpool Biennial and music events such as NHK’Koyxen’s gig at the Blade Factory in Camp and Furnace. Currently on issue Seven which features work by 23 artists including David Begley, Ria Fell, Hondartza Fraga, Ioanna Gouma, Sophie Jodoin and Barbara Jones, visit the drawing paper blog to find out more.

LF: You were born and raised in Bradford? How did you find growing up there?

JB: I loved Bradford and I still do. Maybe that's part of being from somewhere. I appreciated the cultural mix very much. It was a place that was used for making films - Billy Liar (with Tom Courtenay) and Room at the Top (with Laurence Harvey) I guess because it matched the 60s notion of the grim north. My dad appears as an extra in both - he was out of work at the time. Rita Sue and Bob Too is the other Bradford film that comes to mind. Very good indication of life there in the 70s! Growing up in a post-industrial, multi-ethnicYorkshire city was in some ways the perfect springboard for aspiring to be something too. But that sounds a bit negative. I wasn't going to get stuck there like many. Opportunities were thin on the ground.

LF: What age did you start to consider art as a career path?

JB: The thing I always enjoyed doing - and would get a pat on the head for, was drawing. I could be relied upon at an early age - 6 or 7 - to knock out a convincing drawing of a flower or an animal. Sort of family party trick. I didn't consider art as a career until after working in an engineering factory for a few years. A good friend suggested I'd be good for it. I was unsure. But just managed to sneak a place at Bradford College of Art (one time students include David Hockney and David Oxtoby).

LF: Who were your inspirations growing up?

JB: Artists Sickert, The Pre-Rapealites generally, David Hockney, Bridget Riley and Vincent Van Goch. On a trip school to Amsterdam I saw a minor work at the Van Goch museum that brought me to tears. Musically, I was into experimental and intractable stuff like Faust, Can, Hawkwind, Gong and later, Bowie - after getting Hunky Dory. RIP. Writers - Arthur C Clarke, Kerouac, Spike Milligan, Tolstoy, Hermann Hesse, Karl Marx. I read voraciously.

LF: Following Bradford you went to Newcastle to study Graphic Design, was Newcastle an obvious choice?

JB: Newcastle was a highly respected Graphics course in the 70s. I wanted to do art as a degree - but also knew that I wanted to make a living doing something - so the graphic arts would skill me up for something more realistic in that respect. I meet lots of young graduates of Fine Art who are envious of that diverse range of skills - typography, printmaking, photography, film making and editing, presentation skills... you get the idea.

LF: You was taught by Terry Dowling? In what way did he influence your work growing up.

JB: Terry Dowling is a great un-sung hero of the Graphic and Fine arts. His influence was huge - on many very well known graphic-ers. He was a very hard task-master and would push me to the edge - to see what I was made of. I don't recall him ever congratulating me for anything I did as a student. He was very well respected and connected and he brought many top illustrators, designers, thinkers to teach at the Art School.

LF: How did you get into photography after studying graphic design?

JB: I was into photography from being a teenager. So before doing any formal art training I used to photograph things, people, places - usually on a Kodak instamatic or early - generation Polaroid camera.I used a Pentax K1000 at Bradford Art School and thought - this is it.

LF: How long was you in New York City for? What was it like being a British photographer there at that time?

JB: My relationship with NYC began in 1980 - I originally worked there as a photographer's assistant and graphic designer - then continued to revisit the place for chunks of time ever since. Being a British photographer at a time when punk was turning into New Wave was very good! Plenty of subject matter and lots to talk about from a European perspective. I dressed like a UK second-hand shop post-punk weed. Bleached hair, shades, drainpipe jeans, bum-freezer italian cut jackets, doc marten shoes (never boots!). By comparison, New Yorker's were conservatively turned out - more rock and roll I guess. It was a bit brave being dressed like that - New York was pretty scary in the 80's. Not like now.

LF: When we first met you told us about a hotel room you designed? How did this come about?

JB: I was asked to 'do' a hotel room by a Polish/German artist friend who worked there. All the rooms in the Hotel are painted or created by different artists. It's true old New York. A one-time speakeasy and flop-house turned artsy.

LF: When did you began teaching?

JB: First began teaching as a visiting lecturer at Liverpool School of Art in the late 80's.

LF: You became Director of School at Liverpool in 1991, how would you describe the city's art & creativity scene during this period?

JB: I was Director of the Art School between 92-67. Liverpool was struggling to re-invent in many ways. The art scene was driven by the City's troubled politics and was yet to become a 'Heritage' Capital of Culture zone. The Tate was established and the City's incredible collections of historic art provided an excellent backdrop for creativity. But the independent festival 'Vision Fest' was the highlight in my view. It brought artists into the City from overseas - and provided a platform for local artists to express themselves in an international context. It was the fore-runner of Liverpool Biennial. Design - wise, the City offered lots of opportunities for creativity as organisations like the Everyman, Playhouse, Philharmonic Orchestra and various gig and club venues (Cream etc) were helping to make the place a visitor venue. Independent fashion houses sprang up and helped to harness and monetize the Liverpool 'look'. But fees were low and times were hard!

LF: When did you start the Drawing Paper with Mike Carney?

JB: In 2008/9. The idea for Drawing Paper was Mike's originally. We both had a love of drawing and quirky printed things.

LF: How did you and Mike come to meet?

JB: I was Mike's boss at the design company Nonconform. He was (and still is) the best typographer in the City. I also really like his music (he operates as the producer Bantam Lions).

LF:How has the Drawing Paper been since it's inception? As a not for profit newspaper based publication concerned solely with drawing?

JB: It is very hard to sustain a not-for-profit without getting any reimbursement for the effort. If anyone out there fancies funding an issue let me know! Originally all contributors made a small payment to appear and we used this to pay for print and distribution. More recently we have partnered with others (Tate, MMU, other institutions) to raise the costs so that we can make it free for artists to appear.

Michael and I would like to thank Jon for taking time out to take part in our 'In Conversation' Series and inviting us into his home.