Be he in Stockholm, Los Angeles or London, as long as Jwan Yosef is creating art then he is in his natural state. This Syrian-born Swedish artist has been creating since his childhood and has always turned to two places for inspiration: inwards to his roots and personal experience, and outwards to the world around him.
That being said, Yosef is as open as he is (let’s admit it) dashing and the artist is certainly not afraid to welcome the world into his work, too. You might even recognize him from his almost 400K-strong social media page where he gives us an insight into his creative process and what inspires him, including life in the Yosef-Martin household of four in Los Angeles.
Today, not only has Jwan Yosef become one of the hottest award-winning names in the American and British contemporary art scenes, he helps run a successful art space and education program in London. Through his use of a variety of multi-media to address the dynamism of sex, identity, and belonging, this artist embraces a state of limbo that we believe is relevant to the increasingly hybrid audiences of today.
In the middle of preparing for four major solo-shows in the fall, Jwan Yosef takes the time to talk to L’Officiel USA about his work and the inspiration behind it.
Your work has autobiographical themes. Born in Syria, raised in Sweden, educated in the UK, and now based in the United States — has your varied background influenced the decision to address the concepts of identity and belonging?
If anything it definitely has, yes. I think mainly I’ve been playing around with the notion and importance of belonging or not to belong. It becomes a delicate thing, like something we are in constant search of but not always landing in. In a way I’ve always seen my multi-layered background as a foundation for that search, it becomes a very personal thing in my work.
Have you always known you wanted to be an artist?
For sure! I was painting and drawing since I was a kid. It was the most natural state for me and I had great support from family at an early age. Art in itself is for me a very practical thing, I did many years of Art College but the work remains process and action based really. It all comes down to a foundation of making the work rather than laying a ‘base coat’ of theory.
You're quite active on social media about your creative process, does this transparency affect your work?
It affects my work big time. I think I actively chose to bring ‘the audience’ into my studio through social media. It’s a sensitive thing really, to reveal your process while you’re still working on it. It has its ups and downs as in the work can easily be affected by outsider opinions before it’s even finished. But I appreciate it at this stage of my career. Besides I spend most of my time in the studio so if I wasn’t posting anything from there Id most likely have not much to show from my everyday life. [laughs]
You also post a lot about your family. With art that is autobiographical and deeply personal in essence, are there instances when your family is involved? Is your L.A. studio at home, for example?
Totally. My immediate family and the history that comes with it becomes the foundation for all my work. Also having my studio built in our home with my husband and children in LA also takes that one step further. My family is always present in my work, past, and present, both directly and indirectly.
You helped start The Bomb Factory Art Foundation — a non-profit committed to supporting and advancing contemporary artists at all stages of their careers and of all practices — why was this important to you?
Frankly, we needed cheap studio spaces in London, and London is not exactly known for being affordable. It all started with fellow artist Pallas Citroen and a gang of close friends and artists. We got a chance of developing an old derelict Victorian Bomb Factory in North London and we had it built within months and have been setting up a full-blown arts program ever since involving people inside and outside of the Foundation. It’s both super ambitious and a fun project that is very much thriving today.
You describe your work as both “painfully political” and “critical.” What message are you communicating?
Material and medium and our relationship to them play a highly important role in my work, in a way that it describes a much larger and wider subject involving, sex/sexuality, religion, and duality.
I think artists are political whether you have a direct political message or not. On the other hand, there is a lot of ‘beauty’ in art, it has the ability to comment on both disturbing and highly sensitive subjects through it's aesthetic that can choose to be less didactic and more poetic.
Tell us about your upcoming solo shows.
Yeah, it’s truly a full on fall coming up! I’m working on four major solo shows, starting off with a show at the Goss-Michael Foundation in Dallas, a stellar space with a great program working mainly with British artists. Following with my first solo show at Praz-Delavallade here in LA, I’m truly excited to show with them as we’ve developed a wonderful relationship throughout this past year. I’m ending the year with a show at Guerrero Projects in Houston and then finally in December I’m doing my second show at Stene Projects back in my hometown Stockholm. It’ll be like a homecoming. [laughs]