We chatted with artist Jared Rawlinson to talk about what inspires his creative practice and the artists that inspire him most.
Can you tell us a little bit about the moment you realized you were an artist?
Growing up, I was always interested in drawing, but I never took any of it seriously. It was in my early 20s and my involvement in music when I began to consider myself an artist. I played drums in a few bands and we were fortunate to work with some great people on our albums. It was in the process of writing, recording, producing and designing liner art I realized that, even within an environment of collaboration, I had a unique voice. I had something to say to the world. Over time, my creative notions evolved from music to graphic design/creative direction and ultimately into the art I create now.
How did you learn your necessary skills?
I am, for the most part, self-taught.
Are there specific opportunities or challenges that focused your career?
I took a job at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee in 2013. We spent 3.5 years in Chattanooga while I worked as a Graphic Designer and then as an Art Director. Up until that time, I had only been a full-time, freelance designer. Being thrown into the mix of a design team that was vastly more talented and embarrassingly more experienced than myself was both intimidating and rewarding.
What I learned during that time was invaluable. Having your work chewed up and spit out (in a nice way) will quickly focus your attention to your shortcomings as an artist. While uncomfortable at times, I realized in 3.5 years that there are people placed in your lives who serve to make you better. Not just as an artist, but as a human.
Who do you consider as your most influential mentor?
I want to talk about two people. Firstly, my dad, David Rawlinson. He is an amazingly talented water color artist and I learned about graphic design from him (which ultimately became my career). He taught me what it means to have an entrepreneurial spirit and to never apologize for my work.
When he was laid off from an ad agency in 1985, he was determined to make it work on his own. After struggling for years, all the hard work paid off. He had an extremely successful career in graphic design. It taught me that sometimes you’ve got to do what’s necessary to get to where you want to be; no matter how difficult or unrewarding. Once he retired, he embraced watercolor painting. His work has quickly become sought after around the region. I’m very proud of him.
Secondly, I want to talk about my wife, Stefanie. She is a talented photographer and I am extremely proud of who she is and what she’s accomplished. While not a ‘mentor’ she has always been my #1 advocat
When I first started pen and ink drawings, it was very difficult for me to see them as having any value. She has championed all my creative endeavors and ideas (no matter how crazy they have seemed) from the day we met. I encourage everyone to find people like that to enhance your life and affirm your creative longings. If you can marry them, well, that’s even better!
How do you measure success in your work?
A lot of my work is based around the themes of loneliness and isolation. Somewhere in the back of my mind, the story all ties together into a meta-narrative. If I can step back and feel that the piece sits within that emotional framework, then I consider it successful.
What artist inspires you the most?
I have always been fascinated with Memphis artist, John Robinette. When my wife and I were first married, we had an apartment across the street from his gallery on South Main. We would find ourselves browsing through the gallery and dreaming of a time when we could actually afford one of his pieces.
What has always drawn me to his work is the power of a theme. It is nearly impossible to create a body of work that is largely focused on a singular inspiration and make it work every time. And by ‘work’ I mean the beauty always shocks. Even if it's thematically similar to his other pieces, it never evokes the same feeling. There’s always something new to see in his paintings. I consider him to be very influential on my art.
Do you have a creative hour, or a time/ place/ or activity that inspires your creativity?
Any time I can get it in. However, I’m a morning person so a lot of my drawing is done at that time.
Do you have a ritual or do you set specific assignments for yourself?
My office sits right outside our kitchen. So with my wife, 2 kids and 3 dogs, it’s always bustling right outside my door. I love it! My ritual basically boils down to: get a few minutes you can and expect to have visitors!
As a kid what did you see yourself doing as a career?
Well, I always wanted to be a rock star. In fact, in second grade, I won 2nd place nationally in the PTA’s Reflections art contest. I painted a picture of myself on stage with all the lights, smoke etc. My art teacher misinterpreted the painting to be me as an astronaut. So, she titled the painting ‘Rocket Man’ and submitted it into the contest.
I didn’t even know that my work was up for consideration. But, when the letter saying I had won 2nd place along with a check for $200 showed up in the mail, I felt too bad to say anything to her about it. I mean, I had just won $200! In 1986 that might as well have been $10,000 to a kid.
What do you love about being a creative in Memphis?
I love being a citizen and a witness. I was welcomed into this world in 1979 right in the middle of East Memphis. Even if I didn’t always understand why, I somehow always knew that I was born into a city bursting with creative opportunities.
There are all these experiences from my childhood that became formative. I remember the feel of walking into Art Center and Garner’s Framing. I remember gazing out the window on Summer Ave at cars with ‘Kiss an Artist Today’ stickers awkwardly placed on bumpers.
There were conversations
about what the Memphis in May
country would be each year and who would create the poster. I still love seeing those old Zoo Rendezvous posters on the walls of Huey’s featuring food twisted and contorted into animal shapes. And I remember drawing on those walls.
I remember the smell of Pantone markers and the sound of X-Acto blades stripping away tiny ribbons of paper coming from my Dad’s office as he worked for years as a freelance graphic designer. And from that experience I heard names like Archer Malmo and Oden.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have grown up in a city like Memphis. This city has always had to prove itself against the odds and against common misconceptions. That pressure combined with the challenges we face produces a community of Memphians that want to be seen and heard. Creatives like myself don’t take those opportunities for granted when they present themselves. We embrace and cherish them more than most.
Born and raised in Memphis, TN, Jared Rawlinson creates unique pen and ink perspectives inspired by landscapes of the American South.
He comes from an artistic legacy of painters and storytellers including watercolor artists like David Rawlinson (father) and Fred Rawlinson (uncle). After years focused on graphic design and music, he recently committed his efforts to a new medium. Inspired by his love of clean design, his pen and ink work seeks to make simple statements that evoke complex emotions.
You will find his themes sitting somewhere between dreamscapes of the mind and the reality of his experiences. Jared’s minimalist compositions capture the beauty and loneliness that haunt the horizons of rural Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Shop works by Jared Rawlinson in our retail shop at 2535 Broad Avenue, Memphis or online at arrowcreative.org/retail