He ran away from his home in France at age fourteen, was homeless for five years and has lived in Africa and Sweden before settling down in Berlin in the eighties. His teenage decisions have caused him to live a raw but honest life, which shaped his perception and view on the world. He’s an artist by accident and you could call him a philosopher too. His name is Jaybo Monk: An internationally renowned artist, praised for his surreal paintings and innovative use of everyday objects. We interviewed him about his life, his views on the world and his art.
Jaybo Monk is a man with a distinct vision on the world and life. His ideas about symmetry as a cause of inequality are a great example of this. But before he became the man he is now, he learns life the hard way. Art was and still is his escape and the red thread running through it all. His first encounter with art is when his grandfather takes him to the prehistoric cave drawings in Lascaux, France: “The pictures painted on the cavern walls are still burned in my mind. I guess I later started to draw because of it, but that‘s a speculation. “ Although it awakens something inside the young French man, there isn’t one particular moment he knows he wants to be an artist. In fact, he still doesn’t consider himself an artist: “I never started neither stopped to be an artist. Drawing in my childhood was a form of freedom from the farm work. I could meditate through it, which meant I could stop my thinking process with it. Francis Bacon once said that you are not born an artist but through different circumstances you‘ll become one. What makes you an artist is the stamina to observe and question your world. Art is a spark moment which comes and goes and so is the artist.“, Jaybo explains.
Things take a sharp turn at age fourteen. The young Frenchman makes a rigorous decision to ‘quit his family’ and becomes a ‘runaway’ kid: “A runaway is a minor or a person under an arbitrary age, who has left their parents or legal guardian without permission. It is an art of rebellion mixed with pride and a stubborn attitude“, Jaybo says. The reasons for why he leaves his family are personal to him, but he does say it ignited his creativity: “Creativity never comes from comfort, but always as an emergency. Only in that kind of background you‘ll find creativity. Other people are just reproducers of idea‘s that have been made prior. By running away I have managed to find genuine answers, far from the things establishment tells you to do.”
‘Creativity never comes from comfort, it comes from emergency’
After running of from home he wanders around, begging and later doing street performances to earn some cash till age nineteen. Before going to Berlin he lives in Africa and Sweden doing all kinds of jobs, just to stay afloat. “I consider myself like drifting wood which landed in berlin, waiting for the tide to come and to push me somewhere else“, Jaybo states. He ends up in Berlin after following a girlfriend he met in Toulouse. He loses his ID-card in Berlin and has to wait for a new one to be made, but it takes ages, because of his situation as a runaway kid. In the end he ends up staying in Berlin, even though he never wanted to go there in the first place: “Berlin adopted me. I said to myself I had to be myself, so I felt comfortable enough to stop lying to myself. This happened in berlin, in Kreuzberg, because I was finally seen for what I was”, he recalls.
Berlin causes Jaybo to accept himself for what he really is. When he arrives there in 1984, the city is still divided by the Berlin wall, but it’s already bursting with creativity and free spirited living. “When I arrived, Berlin was still closed from the outside world, but the vibe was very special. The city was in a snow white sleep. Everything was possible for people who wanted to try things out“, Jaybo tells. “The places to be were easy to find and the Prussian way of living was a rough but honest one, without the gloss and glam of a province town. All kind of excess would be somehow tolerated. The city back then was and still is poor, but this makes it a creative town. After the opening of the city in 1989 everything changed radically to an opportunist community of clubbers. The Berlin revival happened from that time on and the rest is history.”
‘Everything was possible for people who wanted to try things out’
It seems like an interesting move for a lot of us mere mortals who got stuck somewhere along the lines of our lives to just leave everything behind and start over somewhere else. But even the French-born artist himself doesn’t recommend everyone doing it. He does say people should look further than what education teaches us though: “What I have decided to do in my life regards only me. Everyone else should find his or her own convictions and urgencies. School doesn’t teach you anything, but being a citizen who can be controlled, if you ask me. It‘s being used to teach you things you don’t need. It is used to teach you fear. I am a man of practice and not so much of theoretical stuff. I rather see things for myself, before I start believing them. I prefer to investigate myself, rather than to swallow every solution that’s being handed to me.”
Jaybo’s artwork reflects his way of thinking. Not in a direct way, but in a more subtle manner, like the absence of symmetry in his paintings. He once said that symmetry is the symbol of squareness, and so it becomes the seed for racism, intolerance and other fears: “The idea of symmetry is a form of aesthetics which relates to perfection as a form made by humans. I believe in the perfection of nature which is by definition in perpetual movement and evolution and very asymmetric. Symmetry denies the dynamic of chaos and so the acceptance and the objectivity needed for us to evaluate. Racism and other fears are based in ignorance and are built with the past. It’s a bit like going into the future backwards. My life and my experiences brought me the love of the unconventional and the unperfected. Accepting all things that are not symmetrical will make all visions evolve”, Jaybo asserts. It’s an interesting and deep conviction and something to think about. In a way it makes sense. For instance, people with symmetric faces are often seen as more attractive. It creates a notion of asymmetry being less than symmetry and it influences the way we judge people.
The real message Jaybo’s tries to tell us with his work is something else though. His art firstly represents the many roads we take to the same destination: understanding life. But despite his wisdom he hasn’t figured life out yet and he doesn’t think he’s going to till he dies: “By understanding life I mean ‚to find our own position on earth‘, our true position. I will understand life at the moment when I will quit it and before that I am observing hypotheses. I believe in nature where every star and the smallest neutron dust are connected and depending on each other.” He would also love to see people reopening themselves to new ideas as they did when they were kids: “If my art can help to do it, that‘s fine with me and if not it means that I need to work harder on it.”
His hopes for the world are: “A non-elite form of education open to everyone. He wishes that all the money would be used for making the world a place of shared knowledge. My art can only show what I reflect from our environment. It will never be a solution, but it‘s the mention of problems.”
Jaybo is currently working on exhibitions in Los Angeles and Amsterdam and he’s always working on new art and new ways of expressing himself.
All are photo’s used with permission of the artist