Q+Art: Illustrator Jeffrey Everett Finds Universal Loneliness Within Architectural Structures
Washington, D.C.-based illustrator Jeffrey Everett sees himself “as a designer first and an artist second.” While this pragmatic approach is evident in his sleek and structured compositions, Everett’s work contains a touching intimacy not often found in commercial graphic design.
Over the course of his career, Everett has produced work for a bevy of punk bands, movie studios, and left-leaning news publications. The multidisciplinary designer’s preoccupation with pop culture informs both his commercial ventures and personal gallery projects. Instantly iconic, many of his designs adopt a special place within a subculture’s visual folklore, appearing in rock clubs, dive bars, and on tattooed biceps alike.
To create each vibrant piece, Everett starts with a symmetrical composition that plays with light, shadow, and form. His most iconic work relies on architectural scaffolding to create a sense of balance and ensuing tension. Everett’s painstakingly precise constructions—Ferris wheels, haunted houses, and seedy motels—lend themselves to an inescapable melancholy. Silhouetted figures appear, anonymously, within windows or loitering outside of dark buildings. Their alienating presence both reassures and unsettles the viewer with a shared sense of cloying loneliness.
“I try to remind people that there is a place for them and they are not alone,” writes Everett in his artist statement. Though his architectural structures often trap people in their own solitude, Everett is wise enough to leave them faceless, so we might substitute ourselves in their place. “I think people identify with my work because we all feel small in this world at times,” he continues, “and they can project themselves into those scenes.” With his focus on creating imagery that is both inviting and disaffected, Everett taps into a contemporary heartache that’s equal parts uplifting and sobering.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Jeffrey Everett discusses the importance of authenticity, developing a skilled trade, and his "What the fuck, fuck shit up" philosophy.
What one book belongs on every artist’s shelf?
Jeffrey Everett: I'm that person who can't do a favorite book or top five favorite albums. There is too much rad stuff out there to pick one of anything.
Favorite book to inspire me as an artist: Have a Nice Day by Mick Foley. Pro wrestling and working with punk bands are not unsimilar. Both are frowned upon by polite society, but both have extremely finicky and dedicated fan bases. Foley discusses passion and drive and money that completely applies to my life. Except I'm not routinely set on fire while wrapped in barbed wire…routinely.
Comfort book to inspire me: Get in the Van by Henry Rollins. I still have my first-edition copy of this book I bought when I was 18. I can flip to any page, read a bit of his journal from touring with Black Flag, and glean some new insights. The quote, "What the fuck, fuck shit up" really does change meaning when you are 44.
Changed my mindset: Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson. I typically hate pop-culture psychology books. I hate the whole "no fear!" mentality. I live and cope with fear and depression everyday. This book helped me to pick which fucks to give and who gets those fucks.
Book that kicked me in the guts: In the Dreamhouse by Carmen Maria Machado. I read this stunningly beautiful and brutally depressing book about an abusive relationship and never quite recovered. Music and movies have so many tools to express an emotion. Turn on the Idles and you know where you and they stand. This book makes me want to pour more emotion into my work and let other people know that they aren't alone.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
JE: I tend to be an introvert. I would probably want someone who is an amazing interviewer like Steven Heller and then have two opposing designers, like Art Chantry and Shepard Fairey, and then just watch them go at it while eating at Vedge in Philadelphia. I'd also love to explore bookshops, record stores, and galleries with Joe from Idles and Henry Rollins.
What are you trying to express with your art?
JE: I see myself as a designer first and an "artist" second. I get hired to best interpret the needs of the client and I'm happy to put my touch on them. I think people identify with my work because we all feel small in this world at times and they can project themselves into those scenes.
Do you prefer New York- or Chicago-style pizza?
JE: Pizza is like boobs, and there is no such thing preference, as they are all amazing. As a vegan, I'm just happy to see and enjoy any pizza where I find it. Enjoy the pizza and boobs while you can.
What person has most influenced your work?
JE: My family—the best and worst art directors ever. I think Henry Rollins has kept me driven and progressing—that you must evolve and change to have a long career. ANYONE can do one good piece of art and drive it into the ground; applying it to everything for a while. But to have a meaningful and fulfilling career means you have to change, to be truly fucking excited about new things around, and to do the fucking work.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
JE: The last time I saw someone tattoo my work on themselves. I feel that is just the raddest thing ever.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
JE: Peter Saville wrote in his book about design that you should design to the client and the audience while being authentic. Speak to the deeper emotions of those lyrics and vision and make that message unique to that audience. The work for Slayer should not have the same solution as for Demi Lovato.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
JE: For me, yes. I saw design and illustration as a trade, not unlike carpentry. You can be a tradesman and turn that skill into artisan work, a level above. I went to grad school at SVA and it changed my life. I radically changed my approach, my design philosophy, and perspective. On a practical note, having a MFA opened more job opportunities.
That said, dropping insane money on certain degrees is just not worth it. When I went to grad school I realized I could double my designer salary when I got out. It was an investment in myself though it took fucking 15 years to pay off my 100k student loan. Seeing people drop that money on a degree that they have no chance of recouping is insane. Skillshare and YouTube is a thing. Use it.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
JE: I'd love to get it so artists are recognized as providing something wonderful and essential to the world and not seen as hobbyists or dabblers. There is a common belief that artists of all types need to suffer and be poor for their art, and that is all bullshit.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
JE: Commercially successful. Being able to provide for my family is my first priority. I'm sure Van Gogh would have preferred to get mental health treatment by selling his paintings rather than suffering his own life. Historically significant doesn't matter when you're dead and your family is on the street.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
JE: I'm a flurry of sounds. I'm either cranking to Idles and Bouncing Souls, listening to The Daily and NPR, or watching a myriad of documentaries. I need constant noise.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
JE: I am starting a book that will collect my 18+ years of working on concert posters. I'm working on a few gallery pieces at the moment that keep me happy, and hopefully gearing up for Expo Lucha.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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