Summer 2009

The orderly chaos of James Joyce

John L. Walters
James Joyce
Illustration: profile

The blank canvas of a monthly flyer gave this graphic designer the opportunity to become a full time illustrator

James Joyce is an illustrator whose work is rooted in the practice of graphic design. His images are colourful, hard-edged, ‘positive’ (to use his favourite word), subtly amusing and seemingly ubiquitous. In the three years since he set up shop, his work has been widely used in club flyers, newspapers (the New York Times), magazines (Wallpaper*, Blackpool), advertising, websites, galleries (Kemistry), T-shirts – and now a tea-towel for Eye. After a decade of working as a designer who did a bit of illustration, he has reshaped himself as an illustrator with a designer’s mind.


Joyce studied design at Kingston. ‘Graphic design appealed to me because it was a different way of being creative,’ he says. Drawing was ‘a means to get to an idea rather than the thing itself.’


An opportunity for temporary escape from the daily grind emerged when he, Leo Wilton and a handful of DJs (including Creative Review’s Gavin Lucas), started ‘It’s bigger than’, a club night in Hackney, and Joyce did the publicity. Over the subsequent three years Joyce produced a series of 36 collectable club flyers. By the time the club had run its course, Joyce had left Exposure, and was making a living as a full time illustrator.


The flyers gave Joyce a monthly ‘blank canvas’ on which he could develop and refine the elements that still define his mature style: flat, coloured shapes arranged like an obsessive collection; sound equipment – decks, mixers and tape recorders – dismantled and reassembled as simple shapes; and visual puns, pushed beyond cliché, such as the light bulb with a filament that says ‘yes’.



This work may exemplify the ‘reunification’ we discuss in ‘The graphic designer as illustrator’ (pp.32-43), if from a different angle. He notes that ‘illustration is more intertwined with design’ now than it was when he first left college. ‘My history is graphic design and a lot of that thinking comes through in the illustration,’ says Joyce. ‘I couldn’t call myself purely a graphic designer and I wouldn’t call myself purely an illustrator, either.’ …

First published in Eye no. 72 vol. 18.

EYE 72 cover 1000 pixels

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