JonOne is the ringmaster of colour, an urban artist who knows how to create beauty midst chaos. He has teamed up with Hennessy to be part of their illustrious Very Special Limited Edition series which has featured artists such as Shepard Fairey and Scott Campbell. We popped over to London to catch up with him and catch his installation as part of London Cocktail Week.
JonOne describes himself as a “paint maniac” and this charming manic quality is evident when chatting to him also. JonOne exudes an effervescent energy which clearly belies his age (53). Born in Harlem, of Dominican Republic descent, JonOne was one of the true original street artists. Entirely self-taught, he became a graffiti artist at 17 and began tagging his work “Jon156”. In 1984, he founded the graffiti collective 156 All Starz as a way to move past the urban blight around him before heading to Paris in 1987 where he has been resident ever since.
Reflecting on his early days where he was surrounded, and influenced, by the likes of Basquiat and Studio 54, Jon reflects that: “It’s always a privilege to have been a part of it, and it’s not a given. When I was first exposed to this way of art-life, like going to Studio 54, I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to work.’ You know? I don’t want to get a real job, I want to somehow have my foot inside this world. You gotta work hard to maintain it, and to still be in it 30 years later, I feel blessed. I don’t have to flip burgers or do something else. For me, intellectually speaking, I had to be a part of it, or else I’d die.
“But, you know, there’s no faking it, nowadays some street artists are bourgeois”
His command of colour makes one draw parallels with Jackson Pollock in terms of his abstract style. When I raise this observation with him, he’s keen to point out the similarities and differences. “There is a lot of those Jackson Pollock-type splashes of paint. It’s more like I’m part of the painting, I go into the painting; nothing is immune to paint, not even my own clothes. There is that aspect, that energy, but I think the way I compose colours is completely different. My blend, the blazing blend, is what I’ve always been known for. My images are so abstract, which is why I think Hennessy chose me, because of the blends and mixtures.”
In terms of working with Hennessy, JonOne is quick to point out the benefits of exposure which a project such as this entails. The London leg, which includes his painting of a gigantic bottle in Boxpark in Shoreditch as part of London Cocktail Week, is the culmination of a global trip which has taken him to New York, Moscow, Saigon, Tokyo and finally London.
“It’s like having a PR group working with you, spending thousands and thousands on you. At the same time, I don’t think it would work for everyone: some artists don’t want to associate themselves with a brand or a label. But for me it’s great because I see myself as living in my times, creating. I grew up in the Andy Warhol and Keith Haring generation, for me it makes sense.”
“My images are so abstract, which is why I think Hennessy chose me, because of the blends and mixtures.”
He is also sensitive to the distance created by age and success between the scene he championed and was once an integral part. “In the beginning when I got to Paris, I was part of the subculture, with all these creative people and the French hip hop scene. But, you know, there’s no faking it, nowadays some street artists are bourgeois, there’s been a distance created between my life and reality and their reality. But I try my best to keep it real, to not be a sellout, not become a product of my new environment and start walking around with a Gucci bag. Everything is always coming back to me. I invest in myself and continue to grow as an artist.”
Indeed, his relationship with his adopted home city is one he describes as ‘love/hate’. He is a recipient of the Légion d’Honneur which is the highest decoration in France. “I came at a period where the Black Americans came to live in Paris, artists like Josephine Baker, James Baldwin and Henry Miller – in Paris you could have some recognition and you could survive. It is a place of exile, a very inspiring city to live in. It’s like walking around a museum, anywhere you go you see a sculpture or ornate doorknob.”
In terms of defining his roots and heritage, JonOne claimed to have “never been ultra-patriotic, you know, not like ‘America first!’ It’s always been Dominican, and I sometimes go back. I’m not really black, not really white. I can’t even tell you who my grandmother is, I can’t go back to the family line. I invent my own culture, and my culture is my world.”
“I invent my own culture, and my culture is my world.”
It is with this unwavering confidence and assuredness, though one borne out of moments of self-doubt also, that JonOne means to make his memorable mark on the world. His collaboration with Hennessy being one of these where he truly brought colour to the mix.
About Very Special
Quintessentially Hennessy, Hennessy Very Special is a reference in the art of blending for its unique style. Hennessy Very Special is the modern incarnation of Hennessy’s Three Star and the world’s most popular Cognac. The union of warm-hearted and full-bodied flavours, Hennessy Very Special endures through the ages and is for connoisseurs searching for a very special moment.
Tasting Notes : The Power of Blending
On the nose, Hennessy Very Special brings together an intense and fruity character with pleasant oaky notes. In the mouth, powerful flavours evoke grilled almonds, supported by the fresh, lively notes of the grapes.
Only the most distinctive eaux-de-vie are selected, matured and blended to create Hennessy Very Special. Savour its lively, fruity character neat, on ice or with a mixer such as Ginger ale.
The Hennessy V.S Limited Edition by JonOne is now available from O’Brien’s, Dunnes Stores and Eurospar nationwide.
You can watch more about this collaboration here