At this year’s Pick Me Up design festival at Somerset House, we wandered into a room that was part gallery, part fantasy vinyl grotto, part pop-up radio station. Beautifully decorated record sleeves of imagined albums sat in mystifying genres – Yacht Gaze, Hippety Bop, Amble Step – and a rainbow of tapestries celebrating all things musical hung from the walls. This smorgasbord of audio-visual awesomeness was the work of ultra-prolific illustrator, music obsessive and all round creative whirlwind Joe Rogers. We caught up with the man to learn a little more about his myriad endeavours…
Kit Records: Hello Joe! How are you?
Joe Rogers: Hey, I’m good thanks.
JR: Thanks. Well Colourbox is the name I go under when I do my visual artwork, when I first started out I didn’t really want to go under my own name. The name came from a bit of music in a mix by Chicken Lips, which said the word Colourbox. It was only sometime later that I realised that the band who made that song were also called Colourbox! It kind of also fitted with me as I have a tendency to use bright primary colours in my work, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that I am colourblind. I think having a moniker to go under does help in some way to bring in all the different work I do under one banner. Quite a few people have in the past thought it’s a design company or something but no it’s just me working in my bedroom!
Comms Bureau is a group radio project that I set up for this year’s Pick Me Up Festival. I had been to Pick Me Up in previous years and there was always music being played on different stalls, or on the late night openings, but it didn’t seem to be co-ordinated in any way. I thought there was room for a more curated musical presence in the festival and something that could reach out and resonate outside the festival too. I have a strong love of music and I knew of many other illustrators and designers who did too – either playing in bands or DJing – and I thought it was a good opportunity explore the links between these artists’ work and their music, or musical tastes. It was always meant to just be a project for that festival but it went well and I would really love to do more music based projects under that banner in the future, though I have nothing planned for it yet…
KR: How do music and illustration go together when you’re working? Some illustrators do things like form actual bands together, like Owen and the Eyeballs. We feel that illustration and art are separate things but can inform each other. Your mixtape collection is clearly something you put a lot of thought and effort into (and we loved Comms Bureau at PMU). Are there any other ways you use music when working?
JR: Generally I don’t think the music I listen to consciously informs my artwork (but unconsciously I’m sure it has). I do listen to music whist I work and I also tend to form ideas for mixtapes when I am listening to music whilst working. My music taste does seem to be similar to my taste in art in some way though: I like to see the artist’s hand in both. Generally I am not a fan of highly polished artwork or music, I seem to like art and music that is wonky and has some form of “character”. I don’t really like music or art that is overproduced. I have been trying to reach this state of freedom in my own practice for quite a while, trying not to be too precious about what I make.
I am interested in sound in general and have done a few projects where art and sound have been interlinked. During my MA I did an audio-visual project called “Territories” which explored the link between sound, text and visual representation in abstract ways. It was great because I really got to explore different sound and art theories in depth and put some of them into practice. The end result was a soundscape that was supposed to represent a journey across and through different territories. This was created using various recording and manipulation techniques, and an accompanying book.
I explored this theme further for a group exhibition, producing a material-based piece which accompanied by a soundscape. The combination of the two was supposed to represent a journey along the Thames. I would really like to develop these ideas in the future, my MA was labeled “Territories Vol.1” because it was really supposed to be the start of a wider project with further volumes, which would continue to explore these themes. I would really like to one day produce a gatefold vinyl album, with the music in one side and a visual book in the other, time will tell.
KR: We believe you live outside of London – whereabouts are you based? How do you feel your local surroundings contribute to your work, or otherwise? Do you feel location has much importance in scenes, whether it’s music or illustration?
JR: Yes I live in a town in Worcestershire. I don’t think where I live really influences my work, it can actually be really hard getting inspired living here. Although saying that, on the soundscape project side there are a few places that I really want to record and explore – the local amusement arcades and the funfair, the river and surrounding countryside. I just have been a bit lazy and have not got round to it yet!
Yes, I think location is quite important for scenes. There are little to no art or music scenes of any sort here, which is a shame. I think most major scenes are found in larger cities. However even though my local big city Birmingham has some pretty good music scenes but has a very small art scene compared to London.
KR: Who are some of your favourite artists and favourite musicians?
JR: In art and music I think it is really hard for me to name favourites and I try not to, there are far too many for me to single out or remember. I like a range of stuff equally, however like I said before I think in both art and music I seem to be more attracted to work that is wonky, slightly loose and pared down.
KR: What does the future hold for Colourbox and Comms Bureau?
JR: I would like to do more projects with Comms Bureau but I am not sure exactly what yet. I would quite like to do more music events and broadcasts, maybe club nights and broadcast more interviews too. In the future I would also like to do some boutique music releases, turning it into a bit of a music label, but I think that would be way into the future… We’ll see what happens.
On my own side I am currently taking a pottery course, I have been painting ceramics recently and would love to develop that side of my practice further. I continue to make my own work and potter about with my music in my spare time but have no major projects on the horizon right now (apart from re-decorating my bedroom!).