Interview with video artist Jon Clark

We  chat with L.A. based video artist Jon Clark regarding his work on the new LA Vampires video for “So Unreal”.  We were able to pick his brain and gain insight into his technique, creative process,  and ideas behind his body of work int he interview below.

s.o.t.r-How was it working with Amanda on the LA Vampires “So Unreal” video?

Jon-It was really fun.  Amanda is close friend, so it was a very natural collaboration from the start.  We also shot the video in our apartment, so we had as much time as we needed and that cut down on stress.

I think a lot of what makes Amanda’s work special is her ability to collaborate with people…that’s sort of the idea behind LA Vampires in the first place.  In terms of creative direction for this video, Amanda wanted a ‘Tokyo High Rise Luxury Vibe”…we obviously deviated from that a bit, but I think it comes across to some extent.  At this level, making a video is not worth it to me unless I get to explore some of my own ideas.  We all made compromises, but in the end, we are very happy with the way it turned out.

s.o.t.r-Where do you come across all the great 80′s looking props?

Jon-Thrift stores, comic shops, dollar stores, Chinatown, etc.  It’s nice to live in LA because there’s more pop cultural garbage here than there is elsewhere.  The way I justify buying these things is by telling myself I will one day use them as props in a video…and usually I do.  When Spencer Longo moved into my house in October, our prop collection doubled.  He is definitely responsible for at least half of the found items in the “So Unreal” video…such as the Breathless Fountain which is actually an illegal firework.  He’s an even bigger hoarder than I am when it comes to that kind of stuff.

s.o.t.r-How do you get that soft hazy nostalgic vhs look, is it old video equipment, or some sort of digital effect?

Jon-Amanda suggested we smear as much Vasoline on the lens as possible in order to achieve the soft focus look.  However, I refused to do that to my friend’s Panasonic DVX camera.  Instead, we put about 2-3 layers of saran wrap over the lens.  It was actually quite difficult to attach it properly.  I got frustrated and had to put other people in charge of it.  After watching the rough cut, Amanda said it didn’t look hazy enough.  She was right.  I added a soft focus effect in final cut.  It looked very authentic.  In retrospect, the soft focus effect would have probably sufficed and saved us a lot of trouble.  That saran was a real pain in the ass.

s.o.t.r-I love the multicolored birthday candles that spell out “So Unreal” in the LA Vampires video, was that your idea?

Jon-Yes.  I first discovered those candles 2 years ago in a party store and used them to illustrate a goth synaesthesia poem called ‘Monster Party’ (from my book TV Death Maze).  I love the way those melting letters look against a black backdrop.  They’ve got a really dark vibe which is interesting because they are supposed to look festive.  I’ve always been drawn to Over the Hill party favors and confetti graphics.  I like the spectrum palette: Black backdrop with bold rainbow colors.  Oddly enough, Spencer also shares my love of stylized confetti.

s.o.t.r-Tell us a bit about “Spectrum Hunter” scene 1? I totally forgot about pogs until I saw this video, I also really like the tv static paint splatter too.

Jon-Spectrum Hunter is a 30 minute Art/Adventure film about memory, fantasy, magic, and materialist culture. These elements combine to create a unique world filled with unlikely symbols and links to the collective unconscious.  Within the film, POGS (when ingested) give you magic powers that are directly related to the graphics depicted on them.  A mysterious cult called the Spectrum Hunters use and abuse these POGS in various ways.  In ‘Scene 1,’ we see a ceremony in which a group of Spectrum Hunters baptize their newest member.

The POGS are a re-envisioned item from my childhood.  As a child, you encounter unfamiliar items, ideas, etc. on a daily basis.  These encounters with the unknown are powerful.  They feed the imagination.  POGS were not very popular in the town where I grew up, but I was aware of them.  I knew that it was a game, but it sounded so ridiculous that I couldn’t believe it was real.  What confused me the most was that the graphics on POGS seemed to have nothing to do with the game.  So POGS, to me, failed as a game, and the graphics were, and are, confusing.  When I see a POG, I think, ‘What is this for?  And why does this amazing graphic say ‘POISON’?”  There’s no real answer to those questions, so as a kid, I had to use my imagination in order to interact with them.  That experience was interesting and is indicative of many other experiences we have in this culture.

Spectrum Hunter is about revisiting these ideas and putting items like POGS into new contexts.  In other words, creating a scenario in which that childhood fantasy can live.  When I look at a POG, I see LSD, the Eucahrist, Brand Logos-black magic.  Laura Brothers designed the POGS in Scene 1.  However, we intentionally used real POGS in most of the other scenes.  It was important to reference the original graphics.

s.o.t.r-Do you have plans on working with anymore more bands in the future?

Jon-I’m definitely interested in doing more music videos.  Compared to other quasi-commercial formats, music videos give directors a lot of creative freedom.  Even in my own non-music video work, music often motivates the way things look and feel.  Currently I don’t have any solid projects on the horizon.  I’ve had some negative experiences working with bands in the past so I’m very careful about which projects I say ‘yes’ to.   I’m still trying to shake down Anamanaguchi for money they owe me for a video I did for them in 2007.  A few bands have contacted me after watching “So Unreal” and that feels really positive.

s.o.t.r-I see you work with Spencer Longo, what does he offer to the table when you collaborate on projects? What roles does he take on during production?

Jon-I feel like Spencer and I were destined to collaborate.  I gave one of my zines (TV Death Maze) to Jacob Ciocci (of Paperrad) when he was on tour in LA about 2 years ago.  That zine would eventually fall into the hands of Jacob’s roommate…Spencer Longo, who was working on a very similar zine at the time.  Spencer was stoked to see someone making similar work.  We became friends online and wound up collaborating on a series of fake VHS tapes that were used as props in Spectrum Hunter.  Eventually, Spencer decided he wanted to get out of Pittsburgh and he moved into my place in LA.

But to answer your question, Spencer is an extremely gifted visual artist.  He’s way more skilled than I am.  So when it came down to actually making props from scratch, Spencer did most of the work.  Also, all of the animated sketches in the video, as well as the So Unreal album art, are his work.  He was working on that album cover when he first moved in.  I got to see his design process and look at all the work that led up to the final piece.  It just made sense to reference that creative process in the video because all of his sketches look amazing and it would have been a shame if no one ever got to see them.

s.o.t.r-I love the fact that your work is inspired from childhood memories of the 80′s and early 90′s, just like a lot of music coming out these days (chillwave, warped vhs-tape sounding pop etc). When all the 20 year olds turn 30 the whole 80′s influence wont be cool anymore, and a new generation of kids will probably be making music/art inspired by the late 90′s. It will be funny to see the day when rap-rock becomes cool again (Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine). How do you think your work will change by then??

Jon-That’s a great point.  And in some ways it is scary to think about how fleeting all of these things that have so much meaning to our generation are.  I have always referenced 80s/90s style with 100% sincerity because those references are related to personal experiences.  I was born in ’82 and I grew up in Lafayette, LA.  As a kid, I had no cultural experiences aside from watching TV, playing video games, and going to the mall.  If I continue to make work about that time in my life, there may always be references to the style of that era.  However, my work is always changing and I’m getting better at isolating ideas and using a more minimal approach.  Living in Los Angeles has helped to expose me to a lot more fine art and that is having a huge effect on what type of work I make.  It’s just nice to see people here get really far out and be appreciated for it.  I’m challenging myself to do the same and I think my work is becoming a lot weirder and much less reliant on 80s/90s style references.

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