Jake Merten: Excelsior!

0 Comments 31 August 2014

jake merten art

Spotlight on Chicago-based street artist Jake Merten.

By Daniel Barron


Hello, True Believers!

Dan “The Man” Barron here with the latest rumblings from the Yay! LA bullpen!  In this astounding article we have a pow-wow with the Windy City’s wall-scrawler himself, street artist Jake “Magic” Merten!  Recently transplanted from Los Angeles, Jake has spent the last few months bringing his four-color fantasies straight from the panel to Chicago’s barren walls.  We talk about that transition as well as the perils teenage nerdom, his history as a member of the Soap Company collective, and the superhero he’d most like to be.

Citizens of Chicago, have your voice heard: “Make mine Merten!”


You started painting in the summer of 2012. Can you recall some of your first memories from entering the LA art scene?

I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2011 after graduating school in Chicago.  I studied film in undergrad so that’s what I moved to Los Angeles for.  I worked in the industry for about a year or so and I didn’t really like my job at all, I was bored at work so I started hanging around the art community and going to shows, started meeting the artists.  Eventually I got fed up with my job and quit one Monday morning, and I decided I was going to try to pursue art.  I dabbled around with stencils and paste stuff, but then around the summer of 2012 I picked up a spray can for the first time and started painting and I haven’t looked back since.


Who are some of the first artists that you connected and with and collaborated with?  I understand you lived with Annie Preece for awhile?

After I had left the entertainment industry I couldn’t really afford the apartment that I was living in so I had to look for a place to stay and Annie offered her couch for me.  So I probably ended up staying with her for, I don’t know, four months?  She was really generous and saw that I had a lot of enthusiasm for the art scene, and I think she kind of appreciated that youthful naiveté of someone who was just getting into art.  She kind of took me under her wing and became my mentor for a little while.

Phobik and MDMN were two of the other artists that I started connecting and working with early on.


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I assume you were illustrating in your childhood a lot?

I was really into comic books and anime and cartoons growing up, so when I was a kid drawing I would kind of mimic everything that I was into, mostly comic books.  That came out naturally when I started painting.  I hadn’t really done anything creative from high school through college.  There was an eight-to-ten-year gap of me drawing anything, so as soon as I picked up a spray can the comic books and everything I liked as a kid kind of just came out naturally.


That’s amazing that you were able to get right back into it after such a long break.

Yeah, growing up all I did was draw and I was really into art, but in the Nineties it was a totally different thing.   Everyone was into sports and hip-hop and I didn’t really fit in with my friends and my peers so in high school I kind of put all of that stuff away and didn’t want to be identified as a creative type.  Even in college I never went back to it, which I really regret.  I would have loved to have studied art at least a little bit.


jake merten art

“See you space street artist…”


I’m twenty-eight.  Are you my age?

I’m twenty-six.


Okay, so roughly the same age.  Do you ever get the feeling that we were born in the wrong time?  All the stuff that you were into, that we were into, is now totally in.  And with social media it’s easier to connect with other people with your interests and gather a following for your work

I was just having a conversation about that yesterday with a friend.  We were talking about anime, and I told him that I felt kind of weird growing up because I was so into it.  Cowboy BebopSamurai ChamplooDragonball Z, and stuff like that.  And that wasn’t considered cool.  I remember feeling so ashamed of it.  But I totally own it now, and it’s exciting to see people reacting positively to my paintings and coming out of the woodworks.  There are way more fans than I realized, which- I guess the advantage of social media is that it makes the world so much smaller so you don’t feel so alone, as we did as kids.


What comics, anime, and video games really formed the basis of your creative diet growing up?

Let’s see, I was really into Marvel comics growing up, particularly when Todd McFarlane took over Spider-man, as well as Spawn.  I was really into Spawn.  In terms of anime, I really loved Cowboy Bebop and Dragonball Z.  For video games, I was always really into RPGs. I played Final Fantasy, a lot of Metal Gear Solid.  That was the stuff for me up through high school and now that I’m doing art I’ve sort of resynched my brain to those influences.


jake merten art


Yeah, I was into all of the above.

We grew up at a time where a lot of that wasn’t really accepted by our peers or by society as much as it is now.  At the same time, I feel like being into all of that stuff became sort of a fun secret.  It’s not something that everybody was into so when you’re at school and you’re with your peers you sort of feel like you have to conform to social pressures, but when you got home you could turn on the TV and you could watch your favorite Marvel superhero kick ass or play some Final Fantasy and become Cloud with his big fucking sword and his pointy blonde hair, or Solid Snake if you were playing Metal Gear Solid.  It was a fantasy that you could jump into really quickly.  They had the aesthetic appeal that you desired in the real world, or that you never saw in the real world.  That’s why I was so into anime and comics.  The aesthetic was so pop-y.  And now that it’s more popular we’re the connoisseurs of all of that stuff.


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Collab with Two-Bit.


Are there any characters or properties that you’ve wanted to paint?

I guess not particularly.  Obviously, there are tons of characters that I would totally be happy with painting, but I feel like I’m developing my own line of characters and so I’m trying to push that a lot.  I’ve really been getting into an anime called Attack on Titan and a manga called Cannabis Works.  I’m not sure if you’re familiar with those.  The anime imagery is just fantastic.  Those two are actually completely different, but the art is very distinct.  Great poses, nice thick black lines.  If I had a wall where I could do whatever I want I would paint images from either of those.  Actually, I did paint an image from Attack on Titan when I was in Denver.


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“Attack on Titan” mural in Denver.

You were in the now-defunct street art collective The Soap Company with Felix, Phobik, and MDMN.  What did being a member of The Soap Company mean to you?  When I look at the group’s aesthetic I think, “Children of the 90s remembering their favorite sci-fi and comics.”

I think that is a pretty fair stance to take, particularly if you don’t know any of us but were able to see how short-lived the Soap Co. collective was.  I think all four of us had a lot in common and a lot of similar interests, but we were all so new to the scene that at the end of the day we kind of had our own directions and our own mindsets in terms of how things should be going.  Some of those views were too strong for people to not speak their opinion about it.  That’s sort of why it fell apart.  But it was definitely an interesting experience.

I think we all learned a lot from it, I think we all learned how to work with other artists as a team and how to sacrifice an individual image for the team.  There were members like MDMN and myself who were way more into painting murals and traveling and pushing that aspect.  The other members had their own focuses and didn’t want to do that, which is fine.


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Based on your experiences with The Soap Company, knowing what worked and what didn’t work, what do you feel is important in being part of a collective or being a collaborative artist?  What will you look for in collaborations in the future?

You know, it’s different.  I look for collaborations with artists who have similar goals as me and who I can kind of bounce ideas off of.  But at the same time, there are artists where I just appreciate their aesthetic and their style.  It doesn’t mean that I necessarily want to work with them or join a crew.  I don’t know if I would do that again.  There’s always something to learn from the collaboration process, though.


Now that you’ve moved to Chicago what kind of perspective do you have on the LA art scene?

I guess I didn’t realize how abundant the LA art scene was and how quickly it moved.  I suppose I took it for granted when I was there.  I knew that the Midwest was going to be smaller but with a smaller market  it’s easier to develop a following and get the community’s eye on you.  Then again, it doesn’t have the sort of rapid inspiration that LA did.  There aren’t shows going on every weekend like there were in LA, there aren’t new murals going up every week or every other day like there were in LA.  I think LA is more accepting of a creative career where Chicago is more blue-collar.


jake merten art


How would you like to challenge yourself now?  What sort of direction would you like to take your art?

I would like to do larger murals, each one larger and better than the last one.  However, I’m also focusing on traveling and painting in areas that aren’t as receptive to murals as Los Angeles is.  That’s one of the advantages to living in Chicago.  There’s a lot more blandness, not as many murals or artwork up on walls.  So whether big cities or small towns I’d like to paint in those parts where they don’t see a lot of art.  I hope people can be moved and inspired.  One of my favorite things about painting is the reaction that you can get from the community.

In LA I would paint in all of these different neighborhoods and each one was totally different.  People would come out and ask about the murals.  The want to interact with the art, they want to meet the artist, they want to hear what the inspiration is.  They just want to come out and say “thank you.”  And that’s great.  At the same time, sometimes you have people who don’t get it and say, “What the fuck is this?  We don’t want this in our neighborhood.”  Either way, you’re getting a reaction where people are thinking about it.  I want to put something up there where someday some kid looking back will say, “I fucking remember that mural,” and it made me become creative.  I think that murals and public art have the ability to change social perspective and affect the cultural vernacular.


jake merten art

Collab with MDMN.


Silly fluff question time: Which superhero are you?

I think I am Spider-man.  That quote always resonated with me, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Not only does Spider-man have fuckin’ awesome powers- I would love to be able to swing through building and crawl everywhere- think about it, you would be an amazing muralist if you could do that.  At the same time you would feel the weight of the world and the weight of your role in the world.  And you decide to act.  That was what sort of resonated with me and that was why he was my favorite superhero growing up.


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Photo by Listak.


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look at art jake merten

Photo by Jennifer Jaimes.


From the sketchbook of Jake Merten…



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jake merten gudstuf phtography

Photo by Gudstuf Photography


View more work by Jake Merten and purchase his works on his website

Follow Jake Merten on Twitter and Instagram.

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- who has written 423 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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