Bringing dreams to life in bitmap form

Jonny Tanna talks us through the inspirations behind his dazzling prints, and the reason he chose to name his gallery Harlesden High Street.

January 12, 2019

Infinite Multiple: The prints you have produced for Infinite Multiple are taken from illustrations from your graphic novel ‘Smarter Child’ and a larger installation piece (pictured above, installed at the Gazelli Art House, London). Can you give a bit of backstory to the inspiration behind ‘Smarter Child’?

Jonny Tanna: Smarter Child came to me when I was working with a publication and was asked to submit a piece. I wrote something on the spot via email within about 30 minutes, based on my obsession with airports and the fantasy of having a child. (I say fantasy as in reality I know raising a child is a lot more difficult than one would envision.) I was also asked by my mother about finally settling down at the age of 35 and having children before I get too old. So I said to her, “I'm not worried because I'm going to adopt a 25 year old son, so it'll save me 25 years of child raising investment, and I can send the poor bastard straight to work so he can support me financially”. The boy is also named after my adopted cousin Nathan who featured in my first short film 'Chicken Nugget' (2003), and is also partly based on my friendship with Peter Geronimo.

IM: How was the novel interactive in the gallery experience?

JT: Initially I wanted to make an interactive LED panel, but time was a factor, so I decided to create a short interactive game. The game is played from the child's perspective as he meets his new father (the narrator) for the first time, and you get to further explore elements from the story that wouldn't be possible to enjoy in text form.

The piece was featured on an obscure Sony Vaio computer, which was built to rival the iMac, and featured a Blu-ray player and television. It was in full HD bitmap art (I always create my bitmaps in the largest size possible, to future proof them).

IM: And why did you choose to work in the bitmap format for this work? (And what exactly is bitmap imagery?)

JT: I generally find it difficult to colour in drawings well, but at a young age, I saw videos of someone drawing the video game 'Putty' (1992) and noticed that squares were a lot less daunting to draw with than circles (for me anyway). So a few years ago I repurposing pre-existing screen captures of MSX games blowing them up (keeping the image intact without compromising the quality and avoiding artifacts) and began to re-edit them using square brushes, from there it became my way of painting.

IM: In your practice you produce video games, animation, video, and even bootleg fashion and cultural items - why is appropriating different mediums key to your work?

JT: I'm heavily into a multitude of forms. I tend to only execute ideas that I feel do not exist, and if they do, then I shall leave the medium. My practice revolves around informing a newer audience of stuff I feel should be acknowledged but were there is very little information online, or just generally, most artists wouldn't specialise in. Also, my upbringing and social background is a key factor in my practice and often would seep unconsciously into my work.

IM: The colour palette of your illustrations is dazzling. Are the locations and consumer items in your prints based on real places and products or are they creations of your imagination?

JT: Colour mapping is vital and is a bit of an arduous process in terms of being wary of colours that would clash.

The majority of items and places are based on things I dream about. I have a consistent map of the alternate locations I frequent.

IM: Tell us about your project space, Harlesden High Street. Why the name? And what kind of work can we expect to find there?

JT: Harlesden High Street is based on an area I live in, and grew up in, in North West London. I've been there all my life and nobody has heard of it, nor do I know of any artworld people who would venture here as it's not been gentrified and they're probably too scared to find out. It's predominantly Afro-Caribbean and is host to a large variety of great eateries, fishmongers and grocery shops. I want to promote the area as well as build a portal for people who are alien to the place. The name itself was inspired when I came home from an opening of one of my exhibitions and realised the contrasting nature of my life as I left this fancy gallery to come back to my more humble surroundings of my home town.

We are currently showing Roxman Gatt's solo show 'Perfiction', which is on until the 16th of February. The other artists to come reflect an extension of my own practice, as they tend to be non-arts educated and mostly outsiders who I am currently working with to prepare for showing in our space.

IM: Is there another Infinite Multiple you would like to own or do own, and what is it that attracts you to it?

JT: I already own an edition of Jon Rafman's 'The Girl’.

There are many works on the site I'd love to own. I like the 'Chicken and Ribs' tea towel by Sean Lynch and Roxman's 'Female' t-shirt - both of which are interesting pieces of apparel that I can relate to politically. 'Plaything' by London Fieldworks is another great piece, as well as Max Colson's work, and Adrian's 'Doormat of Consent'.

IM: What exhibitions do you have coming up either as an exhibiting artist or curator that we should know about?

JT: Most of my time is currently focused on the gallery, but I'm preparing a few projects in the future that I am still developing. I don't tend to do many shows, as I feel I have to make new work each time and I now want to focus on making larger scale installations.