An Interview with Joey Goergen of ‘Joey’s World’

Joey is an illustrator originally from Buffalo, New York but is currently living in Lakewood, Ohio which is a suburb of Cleveland. Joey’s work popped up on my radar due to work he’s done for the Connecticut band Anxious. Joey has perfected a style that’s all his own and is consistently finding new ways to evolve that personal style. Many artists spend their whole career attempting what Joey has accomplished so early in his 20s. Working in a few different disciplines he hits his stride with simple illustrations that he packs with personality. It would be disrespectful to pigeon-hole his work as cartoon-ish because you’d be failing to acknowledge his larger body of works. You can find him on Instagram which he also has links to his website. Go give him a follow!

When did you move?

Around 5 years ago, I went to school out here, the Cleveland Institute of Art, and I loved it and there is a good artist community so I decided to stay. 

I was expecting you to say Connecticut for some reason just due to all the work I’ve seen you do with Anxious and the other CT dudes.

[Laughter]

And how old are you?

I’m 26, well I’m 25 but I’m going to be 26 in two weeks. 

Ah! Well, happy early birthday.

Thank you.

When would you say you developed a passion for the arts?

I’d say really young. In 5th or 6th grade I’d say I wasn’t ‘good’ at school.

[laughter]

But I got really into skateboarding and instead of doing math homework I would take Transworld skate magazines and copy all the logos from the different ads. I would copy them over and over again. I was inspired by how normal it all was. 

That’s cool. I had a similar process around that age because I didn’t care for school either and I’d spend my time copying punk logos like the Dead Kennedys “DK” logo and The Misfits skull. Are there any other moments that made you want to pursue your young passion for art? 

Due to my lack of interest, I got put into all remedial classes in middle school. Apart from the basic subjects, I was also put into an organizational class in place of any art classes. 

Wow.

So I didn’t have any art classes in middle school then I went to high school and it was a little more serious and by my senior year there were only 3 people in my art class and I was the only one to go into an art college. You could say my style now is almost a rejection of traditional art because my teacher then didn’t understand what I wanted to do, at all. I had a vision and knew what I wanted to do, with or without [them]. I also started going to hardcore shows around that time and meeting a bunch of new people that were also interested in art and zine making. 

In regards to your artistic style, I scrolled back through your Instagram and I found it interesting that your style has stayed pretty consistent over the years but you’ve also managed to evolve it and elevate it. Has this always been your style through high school and into college? 

Yeah, well, yeah. In high school, my style was kind of dark and gruesome. A lot of skull imagery, I wanted my work to look like a metal album cover. One of the first bands I worked for was a noise project and I did a skull with an eye following out and it was pretty realistic looking. Once I got to college things changed. During my first year, I learned to draw realistically or realism. So if you put an apple in front of me or still life I can render it spot on, but that doesn’t cut it for me. I think people fail to realize that crafting a style takes some time. 

Speaking of realism, during my two years at community college I took two art history classes and I realized that normal people or people outside of the art world have a deep admiration for hyper-realism. Do you find it boring since it’s almost polar-opposite of your work? What are your thoughts on it? 

I respect it and I understand the skill that’s needed. I think there is an importance of learning traditional techniques but only so you can undo it. I think even though I’m doing a non-traditional style I know to some degree basic composition and basic design skills because I learned a traditional way. The conversations I hate about hyper-realism is, let’s say I paint a portrait of my grandma. The conversation is going to be more focused on the fact it looks realistic but it fails to acknowledge things like the composition, the pose, the lighting, or even the spirit or the aura the person gives off that makes you want to capture them but again everyone just wants to talk about how smooth the paint looks. 

[I go on an incoherent rant about a tweet that says a hyper-realistic rendition of Cafe Terrace at Night by Haixia Liu is better than the original by Van Gogh]

What is your artistic process like?

It depends on the piece. If I’m doing personal work it’s a lot of repetitions. A lot of my drawings are stacks of stuff. Like there will be an island of things. A TV, a guy with a hat walking around. It generally starts off this way. Then something new will happen from there when I sit down to do another stack of drawings. From there I can isolate single images I like and combine them with others. A lot of my ideas come from my everyday life. For example, the Digital Future piece ties into my work very well because the subject matter I deal with is human interaction or the lack-of. 

For commissions, I do enjoy it when people seek me out for my style in particular. I usually take input from them as well. I like to view commissions as collaborations and not just you hired me to draw this exact idea for you and here it is. I’ll do those projects but they’re just not as fun. 

Are you drawing a lot in your free time or are you only drawing when it’s work-related?

It’s 50/50, or I can really break my time into 3 categories. As of recently, I’ve been taking on a lot more commissions so my personal work has been on the backburner. I also spend time doing work for clothing but that grew from my free time/personal work. I view the clothing work as wanting my work to be accessible to everybody but also still make a living as in putting my work on a t-shirt is more affordable for my friends rather than a 1 of 1 painting that is priced accordingly. 

When I did that Instagram scroll, I noticed you do a lot of ‘for fun’ pieces of bands, and I really admired that. On the topic of sharing artwork, do you have any thoughts on artists sharing work that is unfinished or maybe even their sketchbooks? 

What really got me started in doing band work was when I ordered a Praise record from Deathwish and it came with a poster and I was just amazed by the patterns and colors; it looked like a coloring book almost. The picture was of the band in a bodega and it had a checkerboard floor and they were up against a freezer case and the pop* cans were almost like zigzags and stripes. I ended up coloring it in then posted it and I tagged the band to see what would happen. It ended up opening a lot of doors for me. 

I’m terrible at keeping sketchbooks. I will fill up about 5 pages and I will lose it or forget about it then buy another one. I like seeing people’s process and seeing how they got from point A to the finished product. I’m currently in the process of learning how to share that more. 

[Another incoherent rant about social media and its impact on artists needing to only share perfect pieces of work. I rambled a lot more than I should have during this interview but I have a lot of thoughts on sharing work in progress and sketchbooks.] 

Do you create most of your work digitally or are you an analog guy?

I’d say my process is 75% analog and 25% digital. I love paper and I love the feeling of paper. Especially ink on paper and the immediate reaction. I have been toying with making digital textures since I have a scanner. I do really enjoy hand-drawing stuff though like for the Anxious record I hand drew and hand wrote everything for the insert. I did recently buy an iPad though and it’s been really helpful. 

Are you afraid of a 100% digital art world?

No, I’m pretty competent digitally. Especially with the iPad and the iPencil. 

Have you had the opportunity to show any of your work in a gallery setting?

Outside of school, I’ve had a solo exhibition in Buffalo at a cool gallery where I had a big opening and closing ceremony. I’ve also participated in the DayGlo (paint company) Art Show in Cleveland where they donate paint to all the artists participating and they show all the work at the end. 

[Joey talked about American artist Sol Lewitt (died in 2007) and how you can still purchase his work through his estate because he left behind the instructions for some of his work and they will come put it together with you]

How do you combat ‘writer’s block’ or being generally uninspired?

If I’m not having a good time with my work I like to put out ‘feelers’ for commission work as a means to getting new ideas because they may present subject matter I haven’t tried drawing before. I like thinking of new ways to challenge myself. When Covid hit I revisited a lot of magazines and my scrap papers and started doing collages. It was spontaneous and I ended up putting them all into a zine which was about 30 different pieces. It was a good exercise to see how different colors and shapes interacted with each other. Once that project ended I could revisit the pieces I was working on and apply the ideas I liked from the collages creating new ideas. 

Do you like to revisit your old work?

Yeah! I like to look back and see how I can use old stuff for new stuff. 

Do you ever have to step away completely? 

If I’m frustrated at home I like to go for runs. Right now I’m currently working on a piece for a coffee shop and I, unfortunately, can’t draw a coffee mug that I think is interesting to me. I’ve drawn about 50 in a row and they all look terrible. If the idea is cool in my brain but it’s not translating I’ll go on a 5-mile run. I read an article a while back on NYT that said when you’re stressed about a project and you leave it alone to go do something else, or fun, your brain subconsciously trying to solve the issue so when you come back to it later you might have that “ah-ha!” moment. 

That’s interesting. I love learning new things about how the brain works and saying “I can’t believe my brain just does that”

Shower thoughts.

[laughter]

What words do you have for your younger self?

That’s tough because I’m still learning so much every day. I’d say time management and think about what you’re doing. I recently got a weekly planner but I still find myself climbing through a pile of things I neglected to do. Above all else, I would tell myself to be kind and not be afraid to be yourself. I knew I wanted to do stuff but didn’t know-how. I looked at the world around me and the art I liked so I started manifesting my own voice through music and painting.

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