The works of artist and graphic designer J.S. Weis from Portland, Oregon, let nature and consumerism collide – and show us the world anew
In gloomy colors and with the precision of a naturalist, J.S. Weis displays what we humans are doing to nature. Influenced by a childhood spent mostly in the woods, and driven by the hope that we are capable of changing things, he takes us up to the treetops where parrots are nibbling on sugar coated donuts or down into the ocean where crawdads live in cans. We talked to J.S. Weis about antlions and octopuses, why it’s sometimes good to forgo color – and why being a graphic designer as well is not without conflict for him.
You have a close relationship with nature. As a child, you walked through the woods near your house, caught fireflies and many other things. What are your memories of that time? J.S. Weis: We moved around a lot when I was growing up. First my dad was in the Navy and then he remediated nuclear sites. We lived in California, in Ohio, Virginia, and at several places in each of these states. So that’s a pretty good range of different ecosystems (laughs). We were always out in nature, hiking, fishing, wandering through the woods, picking up insects and studying them. But we also piled up sand and put antlions in it to watch how these predators build cones of sand to catch other insects and execute them.
And your parents also cultivated an interest in science in you.
They always encouraged us to look up anything. If we didn’t know the species or the name of an animal, Dad pulled our Audubon Society Field Guide off the bookshelf. With his science background he raised us to explore things and to see them as objectively as possible.
Today, nature has changed. We live in the age of the Anthropocene. Has this altered your perspective on nature?
My work is about the ecosystem of plants and animals being replaced by an ecosystem of products. But at the same time, I see a lot of parallels between these systems. Capitalism is also about competition and that the best ones become dominant. Living in the age of the Anthropocene is scary but interesting as well. Our natural history took millions of years to evolve. But we separated ourselves from nature and built our own engineered world on top of it. Thinking about them coexisting has always fascinated me.