L.A. Designer: Jimmy Marble on Living Together in L.A.

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Jimmy Marble is an Echo Park-based artist and filmmaker whose mural “It’s Great We All Get To Live In Los Angeles Together” is currently on display on 6th Street in downtown as part of the rotating mural series curated by The Standard Hotel. Jimmy talks to DnA about drawing from art history, why it’s harder for an artist to capture optimism than gloom, and how LA transformed him from being “a pretentious early twenties kid.”


Jimmy Marble is an Echo Park-based artist, filmmaker, and aspiring wallpaper designer whose new mural It’s Great We All Get To Live In Los Angeles Together is on display on 6th Street in downtown as part of the rotating mural series curated by The Standard Hotel. His projects have included public service announcements, posters, short films and videos for Travel Portland and much more.

Jimmy (below left), a native of the Pacific Northwest, moved to Los Angeles in 2009 and was immediately inspired by the city, specifically  the emptiness of downtown. He says that since moving to L.A., he’s developed a strong sense of irony in his work.

DnA spoke with Jimmy about the wit behind the words in his new mural, why it’s harder for an artist to capture optimism than gloom, and how L.A. transformed him from being “a pretentious early twenties kid.”


DnA: How did you get the assignment to paint the mural?

Jimmy Marble: Jillian Kliewer, the art director for The Standard in downtown asked me last summer if it was something I’d be interested in doing.  And of course it was, but I’ve never done anything like it.

It was a real exercise in seeing what happens if I said yes to an opportunity, and before I knew it there was an email in my inbox saying the wall would be ready for me on April 22nd.

DnA: Tell us about the slogan.

The mural says ‘It’s Great We All Get To Live in Los Angeles Together,’ which I think is a really funny thing to put on the side of a hotel. In general, I like it when my work walks a line between irony and sincerity. It’s this super optimistic, unifying message, but it’s also kind of a joke, because most people who see it don’t live here. Just travelers and visitors. But, also, that’s sort of the story with L.A.’s population, anyway. We’re all kind of on a permanent vacation here.

Public art, to me, needs to be for everyone to enjoy, so I wanted to make something that was self-referential to Los Angeles and for everyone who sees it to enjoy. I chose something that was really pattern-heavy because L.A. has a great sense of juxtaposition. Things are being slammed together, different classes living close together, cultures, even my yoga studio shares a wall with a high-end bondage shop. And the colors in L.A. end up being sun bleached, so I wanted to choose those colors as a representation of Los Angeles. The incidental pastel is very L.A. to me so I wanted to work in that palette.

DnA: How long have you lived in Los Angeles? and has Los Angeles been an influence on you?

JM: I’ve lived in L.A. for five years this fall, and I think Los Angeles has changed me in ways I haven’t even begun to understand. When I moved here I was set on what I wanted to do and I had really specific goals. Something about this city, it was like I molted and bloomed into a new person.

Pretty much I was a pretentious early twenties kid,  I only liked art house movies and I only liked certain music, but something about L.A. changed that. I started being able to look at all art or reading all literature, all movies, all music, and figuring out what’s good about it, what its strengths are, what I could learn from it.  That might be because L.A. is such a dump of a city and you have to be good of figuring out what the beautiful parts of it are.


There’s something really cool also about how weird people are in L.A. There’s no way to be eccentric here.  No one in L.A. is ever thinking, ‘Whoa, did you see that guy’s funny hat?’  It’s just mountains upon mountains of strange ideas that don’t make sense all over L.A.  I guess all of that opened me up as a person quite a bit.  Or, maybe a better way to put it is that it evened me out.

DnA: Your work is in several media– how do you define yourself as an artist/designer?

JM: It’s really hard right now actually, more than ever. I’m in this zone where I moved to L.A. to be a filmmaker, but at the same time I do more photography than anything else. And for the past few years I’ve been making my banners and posters which has kept me thinking in a design way. Plus I’m always sketching. I just started this series of sketches because I was thinking it would be cool to put out a zine called Sketches for Wallpaper.  Something just to put into the world in case anyone wants to look at what I think cool wallpaper would look like.

DnA: What got you interested in Wallpaper design?

JM: That started about five years ago when I was living in Paris for a year, before I moved to L.A. The short of it is, I didn’t have many friends because I was new to Paris and so I took up watercoloring as a way to pass time. I got really into drawing patterns, and I’d give them to my new friends as gifts.

After that year I moved to L.A. I started filmmaking, but wallpaper design has always been this dream in the back of my mind. I feel like wallpaper is this nice cozy blanket or duvet for a room. It’s this wrap that closes a space that paint can’t do. With the design of wallpaper, there’s just a personality to it that painted walls don’t have.


DnA: You use a very distinctive color palette. Why is that?

JM: I think colors can express so much and emote so much and tell their own story. Using colors in unexpected ways, or at least in ways that we don’t experience in reality, can add a tremendous amount of subtext to work. It’s hard to imagine an Almódovar movie without his use of design and color being nearly as powerful as they are otherwise. You get more emotional real estate when you use color wisely. More bang for your buck!

I’m working on some new video projects that have a much darker tone, and I probably won’t be using as many bright colors as I have been lately. With that said, it will still be drenched in vivid colors, head to toe. I think colors can do something to an movie that dialogue can’t. But, when paired with all the other elements of a movie, it can evoke deep sensations and feelings. An inspiring example is the movie The Double Life of Veronique, by Krzysztof Kieślowski. He uses really, really unnatural and bizarre lighting throughout the whole movie. That crazy swamp-green light that he coats all of the city backgrounds with, coupled with that operatic score – it’s the most emotional movie I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t understand how he did it. But that’s the dream. Kieślowski lived the dream.


DnA: Your work has some unabashedly positive messages in it. What’s the motivation?

JM: I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I think the reason is that being an artist, which is the life I’ve chosen, is the most frustrating thing in the world and it’s full of a lot of misery and failure and disappointment and loneliness, and I think my work over the last few years has focused so much on being positive sort of as a way to keep myself motivated and excited. I think it’s kind of self-serving.

And also I think people are tired of the artist who’s glum and angsty.  I think it’s lame when artists focus on how hard it is. Everyone with a pulse understands that life is super difficult and I think to dwell on that or use that as inspiration can be a cheap trick. Creating art that goes after the more ephemeral sensations like the joys and the happiness and feelings that are so rare, that’s a much bigger challenge.  At least doing it in a way that’s not kitschy or gross, anyway.

DnA: What’s your favorite part of LA? Where do you live here?

JM: I live on the border of Echo Park and Chinatown. My mailman says it’s Chinatown. But, no one in their right mind would say I live in Chinatown. The first three years I lived in downtown in the Arts District. Even just five years ago downtown was completely different and was the most inspiring place I had ever been in the world. Mainly because there was nobody there. It felt like a dream every day! You could go on bike rides at sunset and there was no traffic.  I remember thinking, ‘This is the 2nd most populated city in the country, and I’m in its urban hub, when there should be miles of rush hour traffic, and I’m weaving my bike through 3 empty lanes at sunset.’ Total urban ghost town.

In my mind at the time, I made the connection of taking the aesthetics of something, like an urban cityscape, and playing them so they don’t make sense, like removing all the people. Getting to experience real-life dream logic like that had a huge effect on me.

Presenting something normal, and then figuring out small little details you can change to make it more unusual, more unique, and more new. Those kind of ideas got formulated while living in downtown.


DnA: How does your background in art history affect your aesthetic?

JM: I think studying art history made art a lot more relatable to me.  As a young person you hear about all of these great people who made these transformative things, and you think it’s unattainable. And then you find out about their lives and their relationships and how all these artists were just hanging out with other artists coming up with ideas and exploring their curiosities and inspirations together. All these guys were just trying to outdo each other, trying to figure out the best new way to do something. And that the reason art changed was because people were trying to improve the design of art to make it better or more understood than what their contemporaries were doing.

Plus, being able to draw on art history is a great tool to have in the tool shed. Loving Greek pottery and loving illuminated manuscripts and loving that in between era of painting that happened before they started nailing linear perspective – you can remix all of those aesthetics like you’re a visual DJ. People have been having super cool ideas for a very long time.  It’s fun being inspired by them all.

DnA: So how does this knowledge play out in your work?

JM: In all of the art I make, the big ambition is to kind of flatten the image as much as I can, and to play with dimension or space. Whether that‘s by using flat backgrounds, or using cool colors up front and warm colors in the back, it’s more fun to let the eye see something that’s not normal.

Early modern art is always a starting inspiration. Matisse is my homeboy and Georges Seurat fascinates me a ton. I love how neither of their work ever gets abstract totally.  It always has some sort of objectivity to it, but I love the way they express ideas and emotions through design.  The way Matisse will run the pattern of a tablecloth into the pattern on the wall. There’s so much design in his work, which makes it so memorable. I like work that says up front, “This isn’t real.” Because in the end, it’s not real life, it’s communication.  It’s ideas and feelings.

His subject matter is actually super boring.  Oranges on a table is a snoozer of a subject.  What makes it memorable is the way he does it. I don’t want my work to be super literal and obvious, but I don’t want my work to be super abstract, or hard to penetrate.  I just want to communicate as clear as I can an idea or a feeling.  And I want the way it’s presented to be the most interesting part of it.

The best movies to watch are the ones you can kind of enjoy as an intellectual and sensual feast, and also enjoy a message or story that’s being told.  In short, that’s the goal.

All images courtesy of Jimmy Marble. From top: Mural at Standard Hotel downtown, on display through June 21st: Jimmy Marble; image from The Hottest Day of the Year, photoshoot; sketch for wallpaper design; image from The Hottest Day of the Year photoshoot; close-up of mural at Standard Hotel; Be Cool PSA from JIMMYnADI on Vimeo; Swim Team, photograph; Video for Travel Portland.