Unable to narrow himself down to just one color, Brooklyn artist Jonathan Bartlett, prefers to describe himself as a mood ring. Akin to his hobbies – those which include, leather shoes, rap music, rock and roll, ice hockey and Claude Monet – Bartlett is as eclectic as the people he meets on the streets of New York City, the very people from whom he draws most of his inspiration from.
Hailing from the rural outskirts of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Bartlett has had his mind, along with his pictures and topics uninhibited in ways that would not be possible elsewhere. The incredible diversity, melded with the extraordinary energy New York presents daily, has taught as well as driven Bartlett to cultivate an expanding portfolio; one that currently includes: The New Yorker, New York Times, LA Times, Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, Fortune, ESPN and Playboy, amongst many others.
Bartlett attributes the depth in his clientele to his time spent at the School of Visual Arts, where his experiences upon completion far exceeded his initial expectations of simply; learning about illustration and how to build a portfolio. “You realize you are learning about life, and that is what makes art better,” said Bartlett.
His upbeat nature is noticeable in the way he describes his work and everything surrounding it. Yet, his calm demeanor may be deceiving, as it can downplay any excitement exuded by Bartlett, especially with regards to his latest commission from the world-renowned Ralph Lauren.
Bartlett was approached by David Lauren, son of Ralph Lauren, to design and illustrate a 30’x80’ mural, wrapping the entire Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren store.
The 360 degree experience, entitled “A Cognitive Representation of Time and Place,” found Bartlett in the right time and place, as Lauren was energetically encouraging throughout the collaboration; an experience that was described as “absolutely wonderful.”
Bartlett’s boundless personal style ranging from a good suit and bowties, to more casually cuffed raw denim paired with a collared shirt buttoned to the top, coincided with Lauren’s desire for the store to embody an unfettered “rock n’ roll spirit.” Having left his everlasting – and literal mark on New York City – Bartlett recalls, “[David] was not afraid one bit to trust my vision. It was great to see him so thrilled about my ideas!”
Many, including Bartlett himself, have made it a point to note his work as reminiscent of Norman Rockwell. Yet, when making a closer examination, what distinguishes Bartlett from Rockwell is the reoccurring dark themes of conflict embedded in each of Bartlett’s illustrations. Unlike Rockwell’s theme of naivety, Bartlett prefers to tell his vivid stories with the complexity of conflict and how his subjects react to it.
When asked about illustration’s significant role in the future, Bartlett is unsure of what form it will take. However its timelessness and malleability as it grows alongside our culture is guaranteed, he assures.
Case in point for Bartlett’s recent exhibition of his work for Ralph Lauren, its various forms: a wrapping mural, interior displays, one-off apparel and a printed marketing campaign. “Sometimes it feels like we can only be on paper, in a magazine, but this proves we can be anywhere,” relished Anne Edmond, a fellow illustrator who attended the premiere of Bartlett’s RL showing.
Having already designed exclusive silk scarves and t-shirts for the RL project, Bartlett foresees further experimentation with his work, on a line of high-end bomber jackets in the near future.