Janine Wareham Is Nearly Neon

Excerpts from life. Selected works by Janine Wareham featured in various Semi-Permanent books.

Janine Wareham is that little dose of glitter and shine we need in our everyday—really, if only she were a vitamin. Her illustrations are like the doodles of a teenager, at home on a Pee-Chee folder, only more sophisticated and self-aware. She presents loud bursts of color—bright yellows, multi-hue showers of confetti, firework light explosions of pinks and blues. And usually, an animal or person is present. The bunnies and unicorns are slightly sinister. The women, often with a ’60s slant, sport bouffant or teased hairdos. And the men…Well, the men are bearded, masked in Speedos, or missing a leg because of a crocodile.

Often, along with the animal or person, a message is provided.  For example, the women with big hair say things like, “Let’s get together and talk about the man drought,” or “Sit up straight. We need to find you a husband.” On one hand, Wareham’s work is about love and longing. On the other, it’s about finding it: “Somebody Loves You (and it isn’t Jesus)”. Then there are pieces that herald positivity: A blue-haired lady recommends to “Laugh a lot”; or embrace a signature sarcasm: “Take bunny to parties and you will make friends. Everyone likes bunny. But, not everyone likes you.”

A native of New Zealand, Wareham has authored projects for Air New Zealand, Robert Harris Coffee Roasters, and most recently, a brilliant collaboration with the design firm, Esther Diamond, who have adapted her work on  textiles for the home. In this collection, the colors are more subdued, but Wareham’s aesthetic is unmistakable.

Esther Diamond Collection 11

Recently, Wareham relocated to the great state of California, where she continues to work on her doodles and designs.

Tami Mnoian: Have you always been artistic? When did you realize that this was something you would pursue professionally?
Janine Wareham: My mum initially pushed me into art at school, which I’m grateful for. By the time I left, it was pretty clear I wasn’t actually interested in much else.

What kind of kid were you?
I was an only child, so my imagination was my friend, as were books, always books. And there were a lot of adults around, a lot of ladies having adult, lady conversations. I’d eavesdrop, no doubt pretending to doodle. I’m sure that’s where my humor comes from, and my warped perspective; all my crazy, creative aunties telling stories over countless cups of teas.

What did you study in school?
I studied visual communications a thousand years ago, got a miserable job in a publishing company where three people died in my first few months. I decided quickly that publishing wasn’t for me and found a job at a plush ad agency. I started off as a graphic designer but made the leap to art director when I realized I was better at the conceptual stuff rather than the Mac stuff.  I’ve been doing that since. The illustration thing has happened independent of that. It satisfies my left brain.

Where do your color inclinations come from?
I like bright things and loud patterns. I’m like a magpie. You know, I also really like simple and clean too, but so far it always comes out in nearly neon. Perhaps that’s an unconscious desire not to be too serious in my work.  I’m probably terrified of being earnest. It bores me. Pop art makes me happy. I’d like to make others happy, to make them laugh.   

I consider you a dual artist and writer. Where do the witticisms come from?
Oh, I wouldn’t classify myself as a writer. I wouldn’t have a clue about such things. I feel compelled to put words with images. Sometimes I think it would be nice if I could leave them alone though. But there it is. I love words and typography, but I’m pretty sure being a writer is a lot more clever than that.

How do you describe your design aesthetic?
Eclectic. I have creative ADD. Even if I start off trying to keep it simple, keep it clean, inadvertently it ends up somewhere else. I can’t help it.  It’s constantly evolving and I’m pretty excited about where things are heading.

What is your current workspace like and how does it affect your creative process?
Ha! I’m currently working from home, on the kitchen table.

What’s it like being an artist in the US as opposed to New Zealand?
I moved to the US about six months ago, so I’m still acclimating. Culturally, it’s different. It’s hugely inspiring on that level—the signage, the street art, the Mid-Century design. My eyes feel like a kid in a candy shop. New Zealand is a lot smaller, but it’s pretty hip. There’s a lot of good sh*t happening there; a heap of talented musicians and artists.

Who or what are your influences?
My biggest influences are my personal relationships. My family and friends, my husband. The dogs’ floppy ears. I adore the works of Tracey Emin, Martha Rich, Maira Kalman, Annette Messager, Barbara Kruger. All strong female voices. I’m also pretty obsessed with Mexican folk art, music, and more recently, Dr. Drew.

Where else do you find inspiration?
Currently everywhere. Too many places! Creative ADD.  Sometimes, though, you know, there’s nothing, and the big dark clouds of creative doom are hovering. Those days you just have to do something else. Dance it off. Punch a unicorn.

Speaking of unicorns, you often portray them. Why are they awesome?
Because they are the magical horny gods of the double rainbow, of course.

Are the people in your work based on people you know?
Of course! And people that I think I know.

What is the difference between making work for a client as opposed to making work for you?
Freedom. But I like both. Sometimes having the restrictions of a brief is a grand thing.  Having worked in advertising for a long time I’m comfortable with the commercial process. At first doing things on my own was daunting, the blank canvas looked perfect as it was, you know? But you have to push past that and find your voice.

Wareham is currently represented by International Rescue or visit www.janinewareham.com.

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