Jordan Zantow is a painter, cartoonist, and musician who grew up in Boone and currently lives in Ames. He has a distinct visual style that is characterized by an eye-popping barrage of colors and shapes that are loosely arranged around psychedelic cartoon characters. His work has been on display at Stomping Grounds in Campustown for the month of April. Like every venue where he shows his work, his paintings dramatically alter the energy of the room with their bright colors and startling imagery. The Ames Progressive spoke to Zantow about his show, his improvisational painting methods, and his favorite tattoo.
Nate Logsdon: You have a show at Stomping Grounds right now. It has a lot of your work in it. How do you feel about the quality of the show?
Jordan Zantow: It’s a pretty good collection of stuff. I had a friend help me pick out the ones that he thought he would put up, so I had some input. It’s pretty good; I wouldn’t say it’s a collection of all of the best ones but it’s a pretty good collection of different styles and different stuff I worked on.
NL: Each painting has a lot of color, a lot of motion and energy. How do you go about starting a painting?
JZ: Sometimes I have ideas about what I want to paint and other times I don’t have any ideas at all, I just start painting. A lot of painting has to do with reacting to what is on the canvas and making decisions. Most of it is improvisation. Even the ones where I have an idea of what I want to do, a lot of it is improvisation.
NL: When you start with an idea, is it a visual idea? Or is it something you are trying to symbolize?
JZ: I don’t really have an exact idea of what it’s going to look like in the end, but sometimes I have concepts that I come up with while playing around with different colors and with what’s on the canvas. I don’t have it down to an exact science, that’s for sure.
NL: There are a lot of cartoon-like figures in your paintings. Would you consider cartoons to be an influence?
JZ: Oh, definitely. When I was a kid I would always watch “Looney Toons” and all that stuff was really influential. Early comics and all kinds of comics. Not really super heroes all that much. Basil Wolverton is probably my favorite cartoonist if I had to pick one.
NL: What is he known for?
JZ: He’s kind of the person who invented the really ugly-faced girl. He did a lot of stuff for Mad magazine when it was first coming out. He’s very wild and imaginative; I like his stuff a lot.
NL: You have a very bright palette; you use lots of primary colors. What kind of visuals are you drawn to?
JZ: I don’t know if what I like as a person relates to what I paint. I prefer to paint with bright colors because I like color a lot. I haven’t really mastered shading too much, but that’s probably because I just haven’t gotten around to it – I’m working on some different things. Mostly, I try to come up with good lines and colors and trying to get all the colors to vibrate a lot.
NL: Some of your paintings have a strong central figure, but many of them are decentralized, they have many figures throughout the painting. When you are working on a piece, are the different figures part of a unified concept or story?
JZ: I really don’t do a lot of planning. When I was in art school they tried to emphasize that you should plan a lot for it. But I always thought that when I get going with an original concept and just see where it takes me, that’s how I work the best. I base what I do next on what I recently have done to [the canvas]. It’s hard to say because sometimes I have a concept and sometimes I don’t. But I’d say that 75 percent of the time I don’t have a concept and I just come up with one as it goes along. Some of the paintings are really abstract and have no concept at all. You can tell, it’s just colors and stuff. But some do.
NL: One that people comment on a lot is the one with the figure that has a gun and his brain is on fire.
JZ: Robot Gun Beer Bottle.
NL: Is that one where the concept came ahead of time? It’s a strong image.
JZ: That’s one that I did in art school. I had this canvas and I was experimenting with lines on it but it really wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t know what to do so I brought it to my painting class to work on and I took it to the spray booth and put all this black over it. So I had this pretty good background but I still didn’t know what to do. I guess I probably just came up with the concept when I was in class because I painted it in one day. So that was kind of a crazy one because it happened so quick. But I hadn’t really been going over the idea. The title implies that it’s kind of a still life: just three items. I would say that one I had a concept for. Sometimes I just come up with a concept midway through a painting.
NL: You’ve designed a number of tattoos for your body that very much have your style: lots of motion, lots of colors, cartoon-like characters. Do you have a favorite tattoo?
JZ: Definitely my tattoo of Kamikaze Party Dude, the cartoon character who parties until he dies, but he’s a superhero and he saves lives while partying and he always comes back to life the next day, resurrected with a giant hangover.
To contact Jordan Zantow or purchase one of his paintings, write to email@example.com.