Drawing inspiration from decades ahead of his time, Jamie Edler's colourful illustrations take cultural references from the 1960s through to the '80s and mix them with more contemporary themes that reflect society today. Recently signed to UK-based illustration agency, Oskar, we sat down with Jamie to find out how his style has evolved.
With intimacy, humour and wit, Jamie Edler's works give us more than a sense of the person behind the drawings. "I've always loved the aesthetic of the decades before I was born and draw a lot of inspiration from advertising, music, fashion and colours from these times," the London-based illustrator tells Creative Boom. "It's fun to reimagine this aesthetic in a modern and more personal context. Make it fashion, make it queer, I suppose. My work aims to be an accessible comment on modern society with a cheeky no to the past and works to blend normality with the slightly surreal."
Jamie admits his confidence has soared since graduating in Illustration from Falmouth University in 2017, putting this down to being able to make work that he wants to see, both creatively and out in the real world. "As a queer person, you grow up in a society that says that you're wrong for being what you are, what feels natural to you," he explains.
"I'm not talking about individuals here but society as a whole: from section 28 to being unable to donate blood, the list goes on. If you were to line up my work over the years, you would see a growing comfortability and confidence in portraying myself and my community. Not defiance as such, but acceptance and enjoyment in who I am." This realisation has helped Jamie process and reprogram himself with his identity and turn it into something he celebrates and aims to normalise.
Taking a closer look at his inspirations, Jamie admits music has a massive influence, not only because he's always listening to it when he's working but also because of the aesthetics around different music genres. He points to Japanese City Pop of the late 1970s and '80s as one that springs to mind. He urges us to check out Tatsuro Yamashita's 1982 album, For You, as a reference point, "if only to just brighten your day," he says.
Alongside music is what he describes as the most obvious inspiration, and that's other artists. Specifically queer ones from history. "Often with a Wikipedia page using the age-old disguise of 'never married, didn't have kids', it can be hard to track these amazing queer artists down and research them, but they are out there," says Jamie. Some of his favourites include Yannis Tsarouchis, Sadao Hasegawa and James Bidgood. To add to this passion, Jamie has just started an Instagram account called @homofactual, where he collates his own research in his spare time.
Aside from this, Jamie has been exploring his craft by recreating vintage gay lifestyle and erotic magazine covers, mixing digital with hand-drawn media and techniques. "Studying and looking at these images and media gives us a secret look into an industry and community that mainstream society chose not to see and shows us the development of queer identity throughout the decades," he explains. "Because so much of queer history has been erased or dismissed, it's important to hold onto what we do have and looking at these images reminds me how much change and progress has been made and how much needs to be made still."
He continues: "They provide visual documentation of the vast amounts of charge in acceptance, or lack thereof, of LGBT people. It's an insight into the last 70 years, the AIDS crisis (and the world's response to it), LGBT rights under attack and being campaigned and fought for, Stonewall and police brutality, the part decriminalisation of homosexuality, the creation of the Internet, and a journey into the mainstream media and wider acceptance. It gives us a look at a lost generation, with the HIV pandemic leading to a lack of elders within our community, a vast amount of these adult stars and other members within our community succumbed to AIDS. As camp, sexy and fun as these magazine covers can be, they're also an important part of modern queer history and hold much value in reflection and education."
But when covering important topics he feels passionate about, Jamie likes to add a dash of cheeky humour to his work, which he admits reflects his upbringing. "Like most kids, I was awkward and uncomfortable within my own skin, and drawing and humour became a way of me processing this, whether that be the coming out process, being diagnosed with ADHD, and mental health"
"My family have always encouraged me to be myself and to question everything," he adds. "But I also grew up in a society that left me struggling to find a place for myself and, recently, for my work. So I think mixing the humour with the important stuff, the surreal within the mundane, became a natural place for me and where I took my work," he says.
Jamie enjoys this approach because he felt so displaced as a kid. "It's almost fun to work humour within my work and make it slightly jarring. Soft but in your face and stuff. A big part of my art will always be for myself, reflecting moments of my life and childhood and portraying things I wish I saw more growing up, such as positive representation, open conversations and a celebration of the normality of queer existence without shame or censorship."
Another recent project that caught our eye was Beauty in Mundane, a series of still-life artworks that take seemingly ordinary objects and turn them into something wonderful. A lockdown project, Jamie wanted to bring a little joy to our feeds and help us appreciate things we often overlook. "It was fun to take a bottle of beer or soy sauce and combine it with a flower to make something soft and emotive. What started as a drawing practice became one of my favourite projects I gave myself."
Alongside music, Jamie is hugely inspired by film. It's something he occasionally turns to when he's in a creative rut. As an example, we love his recent Wes Anderson poster collection. "It's such a different medium to still image making, and it's a great challenge to try and make an image that encapsulates the whole film experience. Wes Anderson has a fun aesthetic to try and work into my own style." Other films Jamie has explored include anything by Wong Kar Wei and films like The Favourite and D'inconnu Du Lac. "I often start these posters alongside watching the film or tv series."
Despite its challenges, 2022 has been a successful year for Jamie. He's just signed with UK-based illustration agency Oskar, joining artists Haley Tippmann, Paris Anthony-Walker and Ryan Anderson. "Oskar really feels like an agency that can see where my work fits within the illustration world," says Jamie. "I've been told before to make my work less queer and have had comments on my Instagram before that are homophobic, so it feels great to have an agency that celebrates that and realises it's only one facet of my creative practice. With illustration being quite an insular profession, it's great to feel that I've got a support system to cheer me on and encourage me to continually challenge myself and develop my practice."
As we look to 2023 and a fresh year for creativity, Jamie hopes to embrace more projects that challenge and inspirit him. "I don't think you ever stop learning and developing, so it's exciting that my work could be in a completely different place by next year. It would be great to get involved with some collaborative projects with other creatives and continue working on my personal work.
"I'm looking forward to working with Oskar Illustration and creating some great work together! And then comes the simpler, less work-orientated things – more dinners and hangouts with good friends, more seeing my family and a lot more laughter and probably a few (needed) tears along the way."