Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones have been collaborating since 1998, developing imagery for the likes of Alexander McQueen, Cartier, Nike, I-D, Visionaire, Numero and The New York Times. Which brings us to their latest collaboration, creating artwork, music video’s and ethereal light installations for UNKLE and this week’s Daydreaming With…James Lavelle exhibition at Haunch of Venison. jotta visited them in their east London Studio to find about their collaborative process and their creative impulse.
“There always has to be colour, life and magic!”, I have been in the studio of Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones for about an hour, and after talking about a range of topics from philosophy, choreography, music and art to fashion, we are getting down to the fundamentals.
“It constantly comes back to this need to change the way we see the world”, says Warren, “…this need to go into the studio everyday and experiment until something interesting comes along.”
It is this constant experimentation allied to creating “their own distorted reality” that has enabled them over the last decade to create iconic images across fashion, music and advertising. Their photographs depict a world in constant flux, light becomes a tool to disfigure form. The figures in Warren and Nick’s work always seems to be at a point of dissolution. They have created something which is both immediately recognisable and indefinable at the same time.
The two met whilst Nick was working as an art editor at the Sunday Times in the mid-nineties, Nick recalls, “Warren’s work was the most coherent and eclectic portfolio of the bunch that came in, there was a level of experimentation and a need to look at something different that really stood out.” For Warren, after years of working as a prominent photographer he felt a need to work collaboratively, an attempt to “demise the ego” and work with a “fusion of popular forms”, as if his imagination and ambition could not be contained by one medium. Their collaboration has proved fruitful, with commissions for clients as diverse as Alexander McQueen, Bjork and BMW, it’s enabled this work to reap the benefit of their shared dialogue.
The strength of the work resides in their opposing sensibilities, their use of contemporary and seemingly antiquated technology. ‘”Our work doesn’t belong to a specific time or reference one thing,” Nick states, “it’s our perception of multiple things.” The abiding impulse is to “explore, experiment and try to create new resonance out of originality.”
Renowned for their “uber-futurist” aesthetic, this attempt to connect the modernist need for aesthetic renewal whilst conflating technologies from different eras seem integral to their approach. Or, as Warren says “People see us as very modern but from a craftsmanship point of view we capture everything in camera.”
Ten years into the 21st century it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between artistic, musical and other creative activity. Images and sounds are created, uploaded and downloaded into a continuous cycle of content. It is in these conditions that Warren and Nick work, and at the heart of their work is the desire to challenge artistic ghettos and bring their work into the broadest canvas, popular culture.
It is a move that is best articulated by their work on the new UNKLE album, which will be on display in DayDreaming With…”The artwork for the new UNKLE album was completed before the music, so that in fact the artwork inspired the music.” This loop of influence is an integral to the way that they work, it is impossible to know where one conversation starts and where it can lead to. All these images and sounds become cultural artefacts, telling us things about the way that we live. An advert can work on two levels, as a promotional tool, but also as a piece of pure theatre. These forms are resilient, cultural artefacts that will outlive the political and economic systems that create them.
And so we finish where we started, with Warren and Nick trying to explain the “magical” and “alchemical” process of image making. “We believe in magic, it’s almost like we are trying prove that there is something more out there, beyond what people are thinking about.” jotta leaves the sanctuary of their studio, the lab where the magics happens, into gloomy August weather, with this phrase echoing.