James Jarvis is an illustration hero to many. His company, Amos Toys, is the creator of incredibly entertaining items that have made kids and adults smile – not to mention ignite the designer toy craze which exploded circa 1998. This Thursday, James launches his latest book De Profundis, at The Standard Hotel in New York. We’ll also have his toys and drawings for sale starting through to December 10th. Can’t make it? You’re in luck, the book is available online, so snag your copy before it’s a distant memory. In the meantime, here’s a chat and visual walk into James’ mind to get you warmed up…
The Standard: Hi James. First off, a hearty congratulations for a stunning piece of work. Can you share with us who the charming protagonist is in your new book… and the journey he embarks on?
James Jarvis: I think the protagonist is probably me, and his journey mirrors my own struggles with drawing and small children.
The universe in De Profundis seems like an abstract world with shapes, colors, and a philosophical “vision quest” of sorts. As a Londoner, were you raised with Dr.Seuss at all? If so, do you feel any kinship with his work?
I’ve been interested in stripping back the environments I draw, almost to the point of abstraction. I’ve been looking at the work of Sol Lewitt a lot an that has been an inspiration. I did read Seuss a lot as a kid, and am reading him now to my own children. He has been a big inspiration, particularly the absurd and unreal nature of his realities.
Can you remember your earliest doodles as a child and when your voice began to crystalize as an artist?
I do. I used to copy Richard Scarry obsessively, and for a long time I wanted to be him.
We understand you speak to other students about your work. What do you find most prevalent in youth today in terms of animation students and how they are pushing this genre forward?
Perhaps their acceptance of technology.
When you are not working, what is the single most favorite hobby you like to do?
I used to love running to the point of distraction but unfortunately a hole in the cartilage of my left knee has put paid to that. I love walking up mountains when I get the chance. Altitude gain is my main goal in my leisure time.
We noticed that Albert Camus is a reference point in your work. Can you explain how his body of work influences yours?
Existentialism has pretty much defined my world view.
Tell us the latest albums you’ve downloaded and feel most inspired by right now when you spend hours creating in your lab?
I think the last thing was Joe Byrd and The Field Hippies, American Metaphysical Circus.
The character in your iconic first major toy, Martin, in 1998 was instrumental in launching the toy craze back in the days. What was the impetus for that character?
Martin was actually an homage to my similarly-named Dad. We made the toy at the suggestion of friends in Japan. I had never thought that the process of making toys was something that could be accessible to an artist so making Martin was done without any idea of where it might all go.
How has raising two kids affected your work… considering the fact one has to relive their childhood through their eyes?
It’s lowered my productivity, but I’ve always been a bit lazy so perhaps that’s just an excuse. It’s given me a lot of perspective - “Too much fucking perspective” to quote SpinalTap.
KAWS is hosting your book signing at The Standard, New York on Nov 10th. How did you two meet, and was it love at first sight?
We had mutual friends in Japan and knew of each other’s work for years but had never managed to meet until I visited New York a couple of years ago. I think we share a similar perspective on the fetishising and abstraction of cartoon characters.
You’ve managed to create successful illustrations, toys, a short film, and a comic book. Is there a mountain you have yet to scale?
James Jarvis’ book, toys, and drawings will be available to buy from November 10 - December 8 at The Shop at The Standard, New York. To read more on James, visit his studio site, blog, or toy company site, Amos Toys.