Jonathan Ryan Rajewski was born in Bismarck, North Dakota in 1986. He grew up in mostly the northern lower peninsula of Michigan before moving to Detroit in 2009. He earned a degree in Philosophy from Michigan State University, focusing on the works of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Derrida. He started painting shortly thereafter. His works have been shown in Detroit, Brooklyn, and New York City.
Jonathan was kind enough to sit down with us for an interview. Here’s what went down:
RA: Your photographs (the ones featured at RAC) depict scenes of urban living. How has living in Detroit inspired you as an artist?
JRR: I should have mentioned this earlier, but, I’m not really a photographer. I am a painter, living in Detroit, who happens to have an old camera. I was more or less poking fun of the “ruin porn” phenomenon happening in Detroit over the past few years. People of other cities really enjoy creating a narrative here of abject poverty and desolation, hopelessness and struggle, and their general response to it is to photograph buildings that are falling a part. Then they go flip them to the New York Times or some other newspaper and make fat dollars — or, at least that’s how I imagine it happens. It is a bit nauseating. I’d imagine there are as many photographers visiting here as there are on a sunny day at Disneyland. A lot of my photographs at RAC are more or less augmented versions of “ruin porn.” Instead of photographing a building with a caved in porch, I did that but added a creepy doll I made. It just felt better. I threw in some other photos from a shoot involving some young kids playing basketball in an abandoned school yard — one of them wearing 3D glasses. To answer your question though, Detroit inspires me because it is vast, gritty, real, alive, open, and without pretense. You rarely have to decipher between the realness of the person and the superficial transcendent image of themselves they want to project on others. That is to say, the community is small, we know each other, and it’s hard to lie about how great you are because everyone knows where you get drunk and say dumb things.
RA: What else influences you as an artist?
JRR: Other artists’ work — both good and bad. Philosophy and language. But most importantly, the multiplicities of a symbol and how they leave things radically left open for further discoveries. I like to use multiple mediums: watercolor, acrylic, oil, ink, spray paint, wine, balsalmic vinegar, et cetera. The way they interact with each other influences me to do things differently or the same.
RA: What bit of advice would you give to a young, aspiring artist trying to succeed in this industry?
JRR: Get a studio. A big one if you don’t live in New York or LA. Make a mess. Make sure you buy a shop-vac if you plan on living in it. Repeat. Don’t listen to what people want you to do. Do what you want to do. Think of art as catharsis. Avoid addiction. Repeat.