A Conversation With - Jobe Burns
One of a number of young creatives hailing from the UK’s Midlands, Jobe Burns is on a one man mission to revolutionise the way we interact with our environments. As one half of Concrete Objects with Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall*, he has been quietly building an Internationally acclaimed brand that sits at the intersection of Fashion, Art & Sculpture. But the Walsall born designer has his eyes on redefining a more socially impactful prize. We visited his studio in east London to hear more...
So tell me about your background, you grew up in the west midlands right? How did that inform or shape where you have taken your work so far?
Yeah, Walsall in the Black Country. I wasn't great at school, as part of my GCSE’s I was able to go to college, which was more hands on, doing brick laying, carpentry and more practical work. I went to college after, I was going on to be an electrician but hated that. My dad's got a car body shop so I was also in there a lot, learning how to be a paint technician and my mom is maybe the more creative one, she ran a furniture and light store and was always arranging/curating things at home and in the store.
That makes a lot of sense to me when I look at what your doing now. You seem to be very much a product of the two half’s of your upbringing.
It does I suppose. My dad is a very practical guy and I was always quite hands on. I wanted to know how stuff worked, I got to use his painting equipment to spray up my motocross bike panels and other bits. I was always into fashion as well, I had a lot of friends who were creative. They would be shooting and making music videos all the time. I used to customize vintage clothes and take them to Digbeth when I was 16/17 and sell them on. I had been helping Chuck (Noah, Photographer) with styling on some shoots he was doing and I had noticed that Ejder had an internship going. I had seen what Simon (Suphandagli, Founder of Ejder store) was doing so I got in touch.
Was Simon (Ejder) still based up in the midlands then?
Yeah Ejder was more of a blog at that time, it was just him, me and Max working on the brand. Working out of Simons back bedroom and then his garage when he converted it. Thats how I got my foot into fashion and the more creative side of things - my friends at that time really helped mold who I am and what I wanted to do, as I still didn't really know what it was back then. I wanted to explore more avenues in design so, due to the lack of opportunity back home, I decided to study spatial design in London. When I was there, I didn't really know what I wanted to do longterm, but since I left uni I have been able to really hone my craft and its taking shape now.
I always think that as a creative you have an idea of what you want to be, but you don't really know what exactly that is… because of the way creativity works through your body, you're naturally taken in different directions, which you can't always control with your heart or your head.
Definitely. I've never been in a spot where I'm like oh, I'm comfortable with this. I think the uncomfortability is something that will come through my work in terms of the variety. My attention span is too short to just work on one thing, so you know, having sculpture, clothing and other products that actually fit as a whole narrative and then having Concrete Objects is great - It's the different pockets of work that I can focus across. in some ways I feel that perhaps the age of the specialist is dying off a bit.
Why because we are all becoming such multitaskers?
Yeah for sure. But I hope they don't die out, in some ways I can see that we may come right back to needing those specialists more. When you have so many people doing multiple things the quality can suffer due to a lack of focus I guess. I really respect people who can focus on just one thing, I just cant. Maybe it's a generational thing.
I guess that is why there is still the fascination with high end labels because regardless of whether you want to buy and would wear the product, you know its been made impeccably and to the highest levels. A lot of brands simply can’t attain that level.
Yeah I think the threshold of what defines something as great now has definitely dropped, there is a lot of noise & surface level acceptance on stuff that is seen as great or amazing when its really not.
Same goes for social media, it perhaps makes things to easy to emulate and follow a path of someone else.
Yeah I am trying to disconnect myself from all that. I tend to spend most of my time in the studio trying to find new forms, test new ideas. As you can see I have 20- to 30 sculptures chilling around the studio that aren’t finished but I’m unsure how to document that process.
Are you conscious that if you share too much via social channels that you're almost kind of ruining the unveiling of something when it's finished and ready?
I think its nice that people can share the process you go through but I just tend not to engage in it. My view on social media is that it can be poisonous but I understand the need to interact with in on a business level. I just tend not to mess with it. In fact I delete the app every morning after I check a few DM’s and then re install it again later that night. So I don't have the distraction during the day.
That's quite a mission to do that every day?
I am just in the cycle of it now, otherwise I find myself scrolling for more than 10 minutes, it’s pointless. you have gone past the point of taking in information and your just waisting valuable time.
Tell me about Concrete Objects?
Concrete Objects is basically collaboration between myself and Samuel (Ross, A-COLD-WALL). We are just exploring a shared view on things And then combining the process that I go through, with his view on finishing. It really is a collaboration based purely on sitting down and talking through ideas. We will discuss forms then I will go off and start to materialise these forms, then we review them.
So you bring a technical know how and use of materials etc.
Yeah we discuss a form, I will go off and engineer that form so it’s functional, this has been the idea or goal so far. We always wanted the objects to have functionality to them. Now, we are making a bigger push into taking that conversation in to a bigger art/gallery space.
I guess it takes a certain level of artistic respect or gravitas to open those doors and to have those conversations. You can’t just walk into that situation.
Exactly. We have got some works coming in the middle of next year that pushes that conversation even further.
I guess everything Samuel has done with ACW since day one has had one foot in that world aesthetically?
Yeah I think so, in many ways I think Samuel has always wanted to be more of an all round artist than a designer. His ability to cross mediums is obvious and he can do it… So it's a perfect combination in terms of what we can both offer the project right now.
So in terms of your own work, what is the philosophy behind the work that is purely yours?
Well I graduated in Spatial Design, which I also worked on a lot with ACW when i worked there but I wasn't into that as a medium on its own. I always felt a pull towards product and the physical experience of how that product engages us. I wanted to translate an experience that isn't just visual but has another sensory layer. Where I could loose my sense of foreground? Can I take the experience that I get with a sculpture and communicate that through product, As opposed to it being a mundane object? I want that to translate across all my work. It can allow me to produce something really abstract and sculptural over one side, but then also create something super refined like a ceramic collection on the other. How can this collection of objects actually create a different experience or disrupt what I already know?
So there is room for more commercial items alongside the more art intended sculpture?
It’s about finding that balance between art and commerce, and actually having an effect where people can engage with it. not so much visually, but also physically as well. I want to engage in sensory, visual aspects with the abstract sculpture, but also create a tangible physical experience with something that people can use day to day.
Do you look at other artists who inspire you or where you feel you have a similar approach?
Perhaps Faye Toogood in terms of how she spans her work across different mediums but I want to go wider with the experience. I'm working on a project at the moment that focus’ on disrupting a bigger market. Bringing luxury down to an affordable and accessible place where people can actually integrate a new system or a new emotional connection with their own space and what is in it. Which is this whole other conversation thats really lacking at the moment.
I guess Ikea came with a similar idea originally for homes wear, but they are now so huge and so widespread that there's no way they could ever really maintain that. It's too much…
It's too much information and too much product. So much so that you cannot actually curate your own space.
Yeah everyone's got a bit of Ikea, but they were talking ideas from establish designers and watering it down like Zara perhaps?
It doesn't create a connection with me and my space. Me having an Ikea chair and Ikea table doesnt create a bond to me, I really want to create that emotional experience within the home. How can we disrupt a system that we've been doing for so long? Great design should be accessible. Especially for my generation who have missed the boat on being able to buy houses. I want to create a new system. The way Vignelli created a whole system for the maps across London and New York. That's what I want to for the home.
That is a big ambition.
Yeah, you know. How can we introduce a new system that allows us to create more time to have fun at home, more of an emotional connection with our space. London has become more and more populated, the people who are purchasing or renting spaces are just getting white walls and laminate floor. It lacks complete character.
So how can the generation who are doing that actually create a space that feels like a home instead of it feeling like a showroom. Or a carbon copy of everything else?
I feel like my environment really dictates my mood. You know, if I'm having a bad time at home, my days are not good at all. If my house is messy or dull, there is something not right with my day. So if I can have a system at home, where I don't have to worry about the mundane boring things, and my space just inspires me then great. That's the goal.
So which designers inspire you… are there any design heroes that you feel just had it down?
From a furniture perspective, every time I sit in an Eames chair, I just get lost in how crazy the engineering is on it.
And when I look at Concrete Objects, for some reason I think of Erno Goldfinger and some of his architectural work with Balfron and Trelick tower.
Yeah me and Samuel definitely have a mutual appreciation for brutalism. That's where, our first conversation really stemmed from.
I guess that feeds into his work, about building textures and social barriers etc?
Yeah, I know that inspires a lot of his work. it was more the aesthetic that brought me to it at first but after understanding the philosophy behind it, I now actually think that it had a negative effect. I really think the philosophy of reducing things down to the most efficient way is, from an economic standpoint, fine. But from a social standpoint, I think it’s really bad. All the emotion that existed during the Baroque and Renaissance period has been completely removed. And I want to try and rebuild that positive emotion between space and mood.
Interview & Images - Graeme Gaughan