There’s no denying that a recent influx of ’80s-themed Tumblrs has showcased the decade’s fashion, interiors, pop culture and art in vivid detail. And no Tumblr offers a more comprehensive and well-sourced collection of 1980s artwork than “80s art,” created by Jason Cawood. Vibrant geometry, abstract forms and bold designs reign on Cawood’s Tumblr, which is a clear fan favorite. This past week, I had the honor of corresponding with Jason Cawood, who shared his thoughts on a range of topics, from ’80s art trends to Tumblr’s role in the decade’s unfolding revival…Your “80s art” Tumblr is quite possibly the most comprehensive source for 1980s artwork online. What inspired you to create it?
When I started working at a library a while ago, I quickly realized that I had access to a pretty massive collection of magazines from the last century, particularly the art and design titles like Graphis, Artforum, Domus, Flash Art, and so on. I would flip through the 80s issues and think “someone really needs to sort through and compile all this stuff.” But that seemed like a really daunting task so I just let that idea sit for a few years. Then one day I realized I needed a new side-project, so I just started systematically going through the entire decade of all those magazines, one by one, taking them home, scanning them, and bringing them back.
I suppose my habit of scanning and archiving vintage images goes back even further to the mid-2000s when I posted a tonne of 60s and 70s architecture, interior design and random Canadiana on my Myspace page. Eventually I exhausted that aesthetic to some degree and I suppose that’s why I moved on to the 80s. Also by then everyone had stopped using Myspace . . .You showcase the work of so many talented ’80s artists. Any personal favorites?
On “80s art” a few names keep coming up over and over: Masoud Yasami, James Havard, Michael Gallagher, George Green, Joe Doyle, Dorothy Gillespie, Ida Kohlmeyer, and a few others. Now these aren’t necessarily the best artists of the 80s but their work does reflect the essential style of that decade better than the rest, and so they’ve all grown to be favorites of mine. It’s the art that I would have gravitated towards when I was a kid in the 80s. Some of the more established names like Keith Haring, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol are featured repeatedly as well, and they are personal favorites, but I tend to post their work less often because it’s already so ubiquitous. It’s territory that’s already been covered so I don’t feel the need to go there.
This is also why I hardly post any Patrick Nagel even though I have no problem with his stuff. I enjoy including both “serious” and “decorative” art (or “high” and “low” art if you prefer, though I don’t) in the blog, without any distinction. I like what happens when you post some decor art print of a cactus that looks like it came from a commercial gallery in Santa Fe alongside, say, a Julian Schnable. It’s no disrespect to Schnable, because I think he’s fine (though not really a favorite) but it all would have been the same thing to me as a kid in the 80s. I didn’t discriminate then and I don’t now. Essentially the blog is just a big exercise in self-indulgence – it’s a really long visual list of everything I loved or would have loved when I was 10.Why do you think there’s such a renewed interest in ’80s art? And much of it from young adults who are seeing it for the first time?
For artists in the 80s it seems like there was still a lot of new territory left to explore and either fail or succeed at. A lot of people were trying out new, bold ideas for the first time, and while some did fail miserably, they did so with total sincerity. Whereas today the idea of the “sincere gesture” seems pretty quaint. By now it seems as though all the artistic forms have been discovered and established, which means that from now on it’s just a matter of referencing and/or recycling them in increasingly layered or ironic ways. So I think people like to romanticize the old-fashioned notion of the solitary painter slaving away in the studio, creating “beauty” or making something “dazzling” in an unashamedly earnest manner. I think that naive dedication to surface and artifice is what’s appealing to people today, even people who didn’t live through the 80s themselves. I think people miss the outrageousness of that era in light of how conservative things have become.Things accelerated very fast during those ten years, so something that was made in 1980, whether it was fashion or art or film, looks very different than something that was made in 1989. Whereas the gap in style between 2000 and 2009 doesn’t seem nearly as big. You can pick up a magazine from ten years ago and it doesn’t seem especially dated. Whereas in 1990, a magazine from 1980 would have been ANCIENT. Perhaps there are some kids today who realize that we’ve reached a bit of a cultural plateau and they yearn for a time before they were alive when things were more exciting. One of the few things that does seem to be changing rapidly is, of course, the internet. Most other forms of media seem stuck in recycle mode. (Though obviously I’m aware these are pretty big generalizations.)
Also, the farther you get away from any era, the more appealing it becomes in retrospect, and so I reckon a lot of these kids who are seeing 80s culture for the first time are getting a very idealized version of what the decade was really like. Nostalgia has a way of compressing everything through a very narrow lens into an easily digestible and commodifiable set of cliches, and all the decades of the 20th century (except for possibly the 90s, though maybe it’s still too soon) have fallen victim to this inevitable dumbing-down process. I guess one of the goals of “80s art” is to not only revel in those cliches but also to expose some of the more obscure artworks and artists that have been forgotten during the intervening decades, in an effort to expand the collective memory of what 80s style actually was.
A variety of visual styles are showcased on your Tumblr, from clean-lined geometric pieces to free-flowing abstract paintings. Through your curation of work for “80s art,” what are some other 1980s visual art motifs that have grabbed your attention?
The biggest one I noticed, in painting at least, was this idea of “illusionism” where brush strokes and splatters have shadows underneath them, so that they appear to float above the surface of the canvas. I don’t think it was ever really identified as a “movement” per se (although Architectural Digest did do a spotlight on the phenomenon midway through the decade) but nonetheless SO MANY ARTISTS WERE DOING IT. I suppose it was the 80s response to action painting, which to me is kind of hilarious, the idea of taking this sacred modernist trope and giving it a shameless “wow” factor.Let’s talk about the EXPLOSION of ’80s-themed Tumblrs! When did you first notice a renewed interest in ’80s art, fashion and design in the Tumblr realm?
Since I don’t reblog anything on “80s art” from any other blog, I’m actually a little oblivious to what’s happening on the rest of Tumblr in general. I’m mostly just scanning and posting in a bit of a bubble. I do, however, follow a few 80s-themed Tumblrs, and I suppose there have been more of them popping up lately. There seems to be quite a few that present images as anonymous examples of “80s style” (juxtaposed with other random things) as opposed to the ones like mine that present images explicitly as the work of singular artists. Which are two very different ways of reading and processing images.
The fact that I label everything on “80s art” with the name of the artist is a bit at odds with Tumblr logic to some degree. I could easily follow the pattern of a lot of other Tumblrs and strip the work of all identifiers, presenting it as just a stream of generic 80s style. But I’ve always wanted “80s art” to act like a useable archive and so providing the artists’ names is kind of the bare minimum I can do to achieve that. Also it’s a way to assure the artists get the credit they deserve. Sorry I think I’ve veered away from the point of this question a bit . . .
When you launched your Tumblr, were you responding to this interest, or did you start it before the ’80s art revival hit?
Actually I think I started “80s art” precisely because there was no interest, or at least that’s how it seemed to me at the time. Previously, if I ever wanted to find any work by any 80s artists online, there was only these tiny, low-rez images, and not even much of that. So I wanted to fill that gap. And I guess if you wanted to go back further than that, in the 90s I was making collages and scrap books of cut-outs from 80s art magazines (among other things), which I guess was a kind of proto, paper Tumblr.
Why do you think Tumblr has been at the center of a full-fledged ’80s revival?
Well Tumblr has always been a platform for recycling, recontextualizing and regurgitating artifacts from the recent past, and so in that respect it’s leant itself very well to the revival. It’s built right into the structure of Tumblr – the ability to quickly reblog imagery from others and work it into your own aesthetic stream without much, if any, commentary. And so this has allowed images to just flourish and replicate exponentially. I think the most popular thing on “80s art” is currently at about 8000 notes and rising, which is funny to me because it’s this really stark, black and white Jean-Pierre Raynaud installation that nonetheless seems to really resonate with a lot of people.
’80s fashion design, ’80s graphic design, ’80s soundtrack music, ’80s art. Revivals have hit each of these arenas. Do you think an ’80s interior design revival is in the works (or will be soon)?
I’ve seen 80s style re-emerge in some contemporary interior design, though usually it’s incorporated into an eclectic mix of other styles. There isn’t much full-on, textbook 80s mimicry going on, at least not in the same way that people do with older decades (I’ve seen some pretty faithful 1950s re-creation in people’s homes, which is always a little bit too self-consciously “adorable” for my tastes.) There are some people who are really good at intuitively referencing 80s style in interior design without resorting to cliches – New York’s Keehnan Konyha comes to mind.
Now let’s talk about you! Tell us about your…
favorite ’80s films:
“The King of Comedy” “Brazil” “The Shining” and “My Beautiful Laundrette.” But I think in the actual 80s themselves my favorite movie was probably “Tron.” One of the best things I’ve discovered recently from the 80s is the Peter Greenaway short “26 Bathrooms.”
favorite ’80s music:
Today I’ve been listening to a lot of classic 80s slow-dance ballads – “Live to Tell” and “Father Figure” and so on. Most of the music I listen to is actually pretty new but there is still a lot of Prince, The Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, Kate Bush, and so on, and quite a lot of high-quality 80s diva cheese. I mean if you wanted I could go off for hours on the craft of the 80s pop song but I will exercise some restraint here.
favorite ’80s memory:
My friend Tim and I watching Madonna’s “Lucky Star” video for the first time in his house together, sitting on the floor in front of one of those giant cabinet televisions. Afterwards I turned to him and said “I think she’s going to be really important.” No joke!
Some of these aren’t strictly 80s Tumblrs per se, but: “Queenpalms,” “Dear Abra,” “Palm & Laser,” “deargenekelly” and “Acid Soul” are favorites. “80’s Touch” is a big one I guess, though I prefer “Aerobics” (again, it isn’t strictly 80s.) No doubt there is lots I’m forgetting.Do the 1980s play a role in your personal style or design aesthetic?
Surprisingly, it doesn’t play much of a role. My apartment is pretty 70s actually. I guess I just prefer to live amongst autumnal colors instead of pastels.
A special thank-you to Jason Cawood for taking the time to share his ’80s art expertise, and for archiving the decade’s best artwork in beautiful detail. “80s art” will continue to be a Mirror80 favorite!