Hideous Mink's Grassroots Spotlight: Cameron JL West
Words by Ursa Gregson
Cameron JL West is an illustrator, designer & videographer working primarily within the music industry. His extremely recognisable brand of sumptuous, colourful symbolism, quasi-iconography, easter eggs, recurring motifs and pop-culture-smorgasbord can be found bringing to life the pages of music magazines, websites and events of record labels and organisations and countless album artworks, t-shirts and gorgeously animated music videos.
Sports Team, Vistas, Spector, Alfie Templeman, L'objectif, Phoebe Green, Dirty Hit Records, The Lounge Society, Opus Kink, Pixey and Coach Party are among the heaving Cam West alumni, and he maintains close relationships with So Young magazine, Chess Club Records and award-winning writer/director Edward Zorab. We asked the man behind the pen/camera/screen/portfolio the important questions.
1. If existence precedes essence, can man truly construct meaning for himself in a meaningless world, or is death-drive nihilism the only rational option for sentient homo-sapiens?
Well I don’t know about all that, but I had a RoboSapien when I was younger and it was WILDLY disappointing. The year was 2004, it was that years must-have Argos Xmas gift. I’d just seen Will Smith’s ‘i, Robot’ and was expecting something similar… ended up being more of a jumbo tamagotchi. Such a letdown.
I see hundreds of them littering Deptford market like a cyber graveyard of broken promises.
2. Your work, as well as pop culture, seems to draw beautifully on a menagerie of symbols, iconography, pagan designs and frankly occult-smelling imagery. What are some of the base influences that might have led to this tendency, and if we're correct about this, why are they so enduring for you?
I’ve found that with the nature of my work and clients, I frequently end up working in quite a wide range of visual styles and mediums. I like lacing my work with little motifs and themes that stay consistent regardless of overall aesthetic. Like for example, I hide the number 43 in almost all my work, sometimes more obviously, other times it’s nearly impossible to spot… I see the number everywhere in my actual life; the time on the clock, busses going by, number plates etc. I’m not particularly superstitious and it’s never bought me much luck nor woe but it’s a weird confirmation bias I do find comfort in. I like to scatter that, along with other things… eyes and snakes, choice words and sentimental phrases throughout my work… feels like I’m snipping off a small piece of my soul and sticking it to my designs with Pritt stick.
Plus it opens up a fun dialogue with anyone that really looks at my work intensely.
I have no allegiance to the occult but they do say the devils in the details.
3. Of your many mediums which is the most consistently satisfying, creatively?
Is it cheating to say collage? I know that the very nature of collage is that multimedia element but I do love finding that nice juxtaposition of paint and photo, text and… crayon? I don’t know, I get bored easily and like to jump about in terms of mediums. A lot of the So Young stuff is very collage-led and that along with the works of artists like Peter Blake and Tadanori Yokoo has been incredibly inspirational. I used to worry so much at uni that I didn’t have a distinct and recognisable style, but I’ve come to love the freedom that my fickleness has allowed me. I’ve been getting into and enjoying experimenting with digital painting recently too, like on the L’objectif EP cover or the poster for Bartees Strange.
4. Tell us a little more about three of your close working relationships with So Young, Chess Club & Edward Zorab and the importance to you of continued collaboration.
So… So Young. Josh (one of the editors and at the helm of their collagey visual identity) was an alumni of my course of Illustration at Arts University Bournemouth. There were always issues laying around and when I started doing bits and bobs for mates bands in my first year (like FUR and Weird Milk) my tutor got me into the Mag and I became unhealthily obsessed. It’s like the magazine made it apparent that there was this whole world of blended illustration and music smoothie that you could get into and maybe even make a career out of.. so jump forward like 5 years and after multiple illustrations, articles and odd jobs, I’m lucky enough to be working with them (Josh and Sam) on a very new and exciting endeavour, but that’s all I can say for now.
Chess Club came about at the perfect time, just before lockdown. After a few cool poster projects for artists like Phoebe Green, I was bought in to work on some promo assets and then it just grew and grew. Each time they’d ask ‘Hey, do you know how to do [insert creative task I’ve never done before in my life]’, I’d say ‘yes', and then frantically learn on the job. They’re the loveliest team of people and I feel like I couldn’t have joined at a better time. Each release is more exciting than the last and I feel so privileged to work with their artists.
I also owe a lot to Team Mgmt and Dirty Hit in the same regard.
Edward Zorab is one of my closest friends. I did some work for one of his early short films ‘Spacemen’ as a storyboard artist whilst at uni and we quickly became non-intimate lovers. In a moment of madness he asked me to be Production Designer on his film ‘Junk Mail’ starring Joe Wilkinson, a job I was ferociously under-qualified for but loved nonetheless. Since then we’ve worked on a myriad of each others projects, my film ‘Shooting Up’ and his music videos for clients such as FUR and Pip Blom amongst other bits n bobs. Recently we haven’t collaborated on as much but we call/speak weekly. He remains a taught springboard for ideas and has impeccable taste in food and wine. We can always count on the other to say when an idea's too ambitious or needs a bit more polishing… eachother's creative canaries in a coal mine.
I think that’s one of the most important things one can do in this biz, surrounding yourself with talented and driven people.
5. Have you got a straight I can borrow?
No but you can have 2 bendys.
6. Are there any upcoming projects - or even dreams of ideas that you've had - that you could tell us about? What's the next step on your many-runged ladder?
At risk of my own safety, I can’t tell you about some things, but there’s definitely some BIG things on the way. BIG. Larger than a horse but smaller than a B&Q.
There’s a load of bands I would love to work with… Father John Misty, Black Country New Road, Porridge Radio… but with them their art direction is already so perfect, they feel untouchable in the best way.
I love working on interesting and unique vinyl releases and I’ve had the pleasure of working on some cool stuff for Blood Records recently and had some cool chats with them about future projects. There’s a load of stuff I want to try and the ever expanding explosion that is the vinyl industry (and it’s importance to album campaigns) has added (or re-added) this whole new dimension to package design which is very exciting for someone like me.
7. Please invent, describe and name a cocktail that completely encapsulates everything & everyone you've ever been and ever will be.
Okay this is a great question and the answer probably pondered the most.
It’s called the ‘S.G.T. Pepper’ - the name being a love letter to two of my favourite things; The Beatles and Dr Pepper (the best carbonated soda drink that’s ever existed). Recipe as follows
The S is for Sangria, an already perfect combination of holiday flavours, best drunk on the dusty floor outside of Primavera festival. - 4 shots
The G is for Gin, my favourite spirit. There’s a weird blueberry gin you can get in Lidl sometimes, make it that one please. - 3 shots
The T is for…Tequila? or perhaps Turpentine on a really wild night (that’d also align with the whole art theme). - pour from the heart.
Then all mixed together with a good slug of Dr Pepper (from a glass bottle) but then you also put chilli pepper flakes around the rim of the glass.
Then you also light it on fire.
And then there’s also a pickled toe at the bottom of the glass.
And a little paper umbrella.
Much like my portfolio, it’s all a bit random and doesn’t strictly go together but I like to think people enjoy the individual elements and appreciate the creativity.
Check out Cameron's work here
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