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Saturday, 28 September 2013

GarconJon meets...Jonathan Freemantle - GQ x GAP

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South African artist Jonathan Freemantle moved to the UK when he was 17 to study at St Oswald’s Academy in London. He's since relocated to Edinburgh which has been his home, along with wife Anna and boys Leo & Max, for 7 years.

Mr Freemantle is a regular fixture at cultural events across Scotland so when living there I bumped into him on numerous occasions. It wasn't until this shoot that I gained a deeper understanding of his aesthetic, after a proper chat and meeting Max. Jonathan is wearing a GQ x GAP Bespoken suede jacket and his son Max wears a bodywarmer from GAP Kids.

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Jonathan Freemantle, Artist & Creative Director, Edinburgh International Fashion Festival

Where did you grow up and where do you live now? I grew up In Cape Town, South Africa and have lived in Edinburgh for the past 7 years.

What's your star sign? Gemini.

What music are you listening to right now? As I write this I’m listening to ‘Easy Now’, a beautiful album by an amazing South African polymath, Givan Lotz. Also, I’m currently making music videos for two very exciting Edinburgh based bands, both well worth following – The Machine Room and Teen Canteen.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I think I always knew I would be an artist. I remember the magic allure of my father’s studio (he’s an artist as well) and knowing I would always want to be in a space like that. I also wanted to be an adventurer on a quest of some kind, looking for the wider reality. I was often alone as a kid I think, off on some kind of mission and I think the life of the artist replicates this daily searching for answers and magic most succinctly for me.

When did you realise you had a knack for art? Was there a eureka moment? I think very early on I realized that there was tremendous freedom to be found within the four corners of a piece of paper, that the power of invention opened all kinds of doors to the imagination and the sublime. I remember one particular drawing - I must have been about 7 or 8 yrs old - I was drawing a goose from above, flying over a field and suddenly it all just worked, the goose actually looked like it was flying. From that moment I hungered for that thrill. I still do. After a good day in the studio I’ll close the door, knowing that coming back the next day will be tremendously exciting.

I feel a strong connection to nature and the environment in your work - is this an ongoing theme? You live in a city with both urban and rural elements very close - was this an intentional move? Well put, yes this is very much what is going on. I love the ebb and flow between social, urban, structured living - my studio is very ordered, it is a former laboratory and much of my practice is very structured and yet I feel a constant pull towards chaos, nature, the wild. So my work, and life is all about finding the middle ground between order and chaos.

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How has living in Scotland changed the way you work? Big question. We moved to Scotland blind but the reason we stayed was because of a number of things. For me mostly because of the wild – being in Edinburgh means you’re never far from the wildness of the North, you feel it blowing in with every wind. It doesn’t take long in a car before you’re out in the emptiness and I was longing for that living in London. My time in London was amazing, don’t get me wrong. I still love returning to the big smoke, drawing deep from the inspiration is gives but being up here allows more space to deepen my practice. I’ve definitely found my stride since being in Scotland and I think that’s something to do with not being surrounded by so much activity. There’s more space to hear the beat of your own drum. The downside is that you have to push much harder because there is less momentum here but that is also a good thing in some ways, it makes you more certain of what you are doing, and constantly question why. This goes for my work in the studio as well as our work with the Fashion Festival.

Who's been the biggest influence on your work as an artist? The search for the sublime.

Often I feel my best photographs occur fortuitously. You can plan a certain degree but on the day of the shoot I have to let go to the factors that can influence the final shot. How much of your process is conscious decision-making in a controlled environment? Interesting, your questions are very intuitive, must be because in some way we are engaged in a similar process. I totally agree, almost all of the good things I do whether they be paintings or photographs are a result of some kind of accident or chaos disrupting a very structured preparation. I think this is the creative process essentially. You start by building the most perfect environment for great things to happen but then you must invite chaos to ignite the situation. Otherwise you’re stuck with a work that is within your capabilities and of course you want works that happen beyond your own capabilities, works that are bigger than you. Francis Bacon said something like this. He said you begin by creating your version of perfection, of Utopia and then you willfully destroy it – after that you resurrect only the most important elements of the work, the bits that survive the fire.

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You've got two children - perhaps a silly question - do they affect the way you work? Yes, absolutely! Talking about inviting chaos into one’s practice, well bringing children into your life does exactly this. You think you have it all organized and then they come and smash it all up, make it bigger, bring in oxygen, light. I’ve learned so much just be observing both of them. Children don’t obey the small boundaries we set ourselves, they are always exploring the edges of what is possible which is very inspiring.

As an artist and man of the world, what advice would you give them about success and happiness? I would advise them to do what they love, and be with who they love. I would teach them that success IS happiness and that happiness is all about being conscious and present. But then they know this instinctively, the challenge is trying to remember!

Where did that idea for the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival come from? I started it with my wife, Anna and the idea grew out of a frustration that Fashion wasn’t generally perceived or presented as one of the key artforms. We wanted to work on a project together anyway and so it seemed obvious to create a festival that celebrated the mavericks, the geniuses within the Fashion industry and would search for the people at the origin of the great ideas in Fashion. We also wanted to create a dynamic platform for all of the arts to come together. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we are proud, after only two years, to be at a point where we are talking to so many inspiring people about future festivals and projects. There have been so many highlights. For me it has to be Amanda Harlech’s spellbinding performance at this year’s festival, it was so moving.

Any thoughts about the digital age we live in? You often work across media so I'd love to know how and if the digital realm enters your work. What are the positives and negatives of our hyper connected world? It’s a cliché but now that we are so connected we are faced with an ever-increasing alienation as well. I think we are at a very interesting time in our evolution; we have developed so rapidly over the past century and yet have lost some of our centered-ness. The digital age presents such an opportunity for conveying meaning, beauty, truth and yet it is used primarily to sell things, to move bite-sized pieces of information over the world and back again. We’re living in a malaise of connectedness and yet have lost a sense of ourselves, of who we are in all of this. But the flip side is that - if you’re looking – there has never been a better time to find answers. You have instant access to all of the most profound works of literature, science, art, philosophy, religion at your fingertips. You can watch interviews with the most inspiring men and women just by browsing Youtube. Ultimately you have to work in the time you’re living in, there’s no point wishing you were living in another time when things were ’simple’ There is no such time, there is only ever now.

What’s an average day like for you? I’m usually woken up by one of the boys – or Anna. I’m probably the slowest in the morning! We’ll then have breakfast together and I’ll head to the studio and work until about 6pm and then come home. I don’t usually do long days in the studio unless I have a lot I need to do and a deadline looming. Some days I’ll work very late but I love the evening ritual with the family. I’ll get away into the countryside every other weekend, either with the family or alone. I recently sailed around the Western Isles with a couple of friends and then the following weekend climbed an amazing mountain, Suilven as part of a series of work I’m exhibiting soon. The photographs can be seen at

Do you have a dream client? “Hello, this is the Guggenheim. We would like to show a large body of your work next year, unlimited budget. Are you interested?”

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How would you describe your taste in clothing? A simple, classic, black uniform with a slim silhouette and hints of tailoring.

Do you have a favourite menswear designer right now? I’ve always loved Hedi Slimane. I think what he’s doing at YSL at the moment is very interesting. Raf Simons has a lovely, simple aesthetic as well. I’m also particularly fond of Edinburgh based menswear brand, Common People.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job? Motivating oneself to constantly up the game. Working solo means being self propelled which isn’t always easy.

What do you like most about your job? The freedom to chart my own course.

I'm a huge fan of print publications - do you have any favourites? Yes me too. At the moment I’m loving ‘THE PLANT, Apartamento’ and ‘Hobo Magazine’.

What's on the horizon for Freemantle? I have two big exhibitions in South Africa next year and a small show here in Edinburgh this October. At the same time we’re building our programme for next year’s EIFF as well as looking at starting a festival in South Africa as well as NYC.

Finally, leave us with some words of wisdom... I’ll leave you with something from Andy Warhol. I have this written out and pinned to my studio wall: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” On that note, I had better go and make some art…

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