Inside the Mind of Illustrator Johnny Terror
Influencers, content creators, creatives – some small words in an Instagram bio that you will find all over the app and your phone screen. For some people these words are the start of a long discussion about creativity, realness and fake online worlds; for others, these words do mean a lot and represent their creative hustle. Being creative on Instagram was never as popular and never as difficult at the same time than today. How can you stand out among a million other people? How can you stay true to yourself and not become a plaything of brands and an easy target for people that love to hate on people that love to share? To be an artist in these online worlds takes a lot. It drains your energy and makes you question yourself while it throws you out like a piece of raw meat into the masses of likes, shares and comments. Johnny Terror’s world is part of this online mess, but his art and his work have found a balance to navigate between his own visual language, the taste of his audience and the likes of big brands and characters such as NikeLab, ACRONYM® and Errolson Hugh.
As an artist, Johnny Terror develops his style continuously, switches from one visual vibe to another, shifts his output in the same direction his mind wanders. From Neo Tokyo worlds to ACRONYM® jackets, manga influences, erotic nuances and self-reflective illustrations – Johnny Terror is a true artist who uses his art to free his mind. At the same time, he exists and shares on an app called “Instagram”; a platform that lives and breathes on the likes of a diverse audience that might or might not connect and merge with an artist’s vision. The easiest way to be successful on Instagram is to cater to your audience. Just look at the most successful accounts, and you will find a lot of monocultures of the very same content pieces. It’s either “just” sneaker pictures, “just” pictures of food, or just one of the previously mentioned. Only a few artists dare to break this mono-circle and dare to create and upload content that might not gain the same amount of likes as that one picture or drawing that will always be a safe bet. Johnny Terror belongs to this circle of creatives who keep creating art for themselves first and for the audience later. A trend that might become bigger and more impactful on social media in 2019. Stay real and authentic. To find out more about Johnny Terror’s thinking we met him in his home base to talk about Neo Tokyo, a special ACRONYM® jacket and Berlin creatives.
Interview & Portrait: Adrian Bianco
Johnny Terror, can you please tell us who you are and what you are doing?
I’m a cellular-based shell, a cybernetic ghost in the endless simulation. I’m an illustrator. I’m an artist. I’m just a regular guy.
What does your normal day look like? Where do we find Johnny Terror in Berlin?
I usually sit at my desk a lot. Drawing, sketching, working on things, writing down concepts and staring at my laptop way too much. Sometimes I ride my bike into the inner city and go to bookstores where I flip through all the books without buying anything and then put them back in the wrong spots (not on purpose, I’m sorry). In the summer I often have a route of different benches where I sit down, draw a bit and then stare at the people as they walk by. Observing things has something to it that’s quite relaxing.
Berlin is pretty much in the spotlight right now when it comes to influencers and Instagram accounts. Would you say you are part of this Berlin generation of creators, or are you living a different life?
No, I’m totally not, I’m special! Bullshit. I’m definitely a part of it. I still criticize it because a lot about it is messed up and pisses me off. But I’m still part of it. I never made advertisement for products on my Instagram but I had shoes sent to me, jackets as presents, gifted bags etc. I could lie and say I don’t care about these materialistic things but that would be pretentious and simply a lie. I care a lot about fashion as a lifestyle and an artform and can’t afford to buy everything. I wouldn’t even have the time to buy things. Connections between creatives in Berlin is great too but could be better. Way better. Less commercial product parties please. More non-branded art things. Thank you.
It’s pretty easy to see that your tech-wear and sneaker-focused illustrations gain you a lot of likes and follows, but you still choose to push and create a lot of more personal work and art. How hard or easy is it in this digital day and age for you as an artist to not create content and work solely based on your audience preference?
Creating something that perfectly fits everyone is impossible and depressing. I like the diversity because it’s like dreaming different dreams at the same time. Imagine dreaming the same dream every night. Come on, you really don’t want that. You need to continuously recycle yourself over and over in order to advance and fight against stagnation. I will always include fashion in my art to a certain extent. It’s part of my inspiration. But if I do something then it’s because I like it and my brain demands me to do it. Whether people like it or not is not my responsibility. This often reminds me of Massimo Osti who when asked about hooligans and high-end fashion people wearing Stone Island said that he just makes the clothes. He can’t control who wears it. Nor does he even care.
When did you start to illustrate and what were the first objects, characters and worlds you created?
I started drawing when I was very small and never stopped, but I think it was in the first or second semester of my graphic design studies at the University of Arts Berlin that I started referring to my drawings as illustrations and myself as an illustrator. I honestly can’t remember the first paid illustration I made. I think it was some badly made, horribly paid cover for some SoundCloud track. But it was also the time when I really started studying all the mangas and art books I owned and spent hours scrolling through dystopian, futuristic mood boards online. I basically got up, drew cyborgs, girls and fashion pieces I couldn’t afford and went back to bed.
When did your love for Japanese culture start, and what were the main influences from that scene?
I spent 10 years of my life living in Düsseldorf, a city in the deep west of Germany. It has a huge Japanese community and my life was thus connected to Japan. When I was younger I was influenced by the “boring” obvious things like samurais, ninjas and sushi. Later in life I tried to focus more on art like Hokusai, Buddhism, Japanese architecture and non-sushi Japanese food. I’m very much looking forward to visiting Japan for the first time soon. But I don’t think I’ll completely fall in love with Japan. The people there are so nice and well-mannered and I’m just so cheeky. They’ll treat me well but kick me out after two weeks (understandably!).
Is there a day when you don’t draw anything, and could you imagine living a life without your art?
Yes, these days do exist. Sometimes they feel like lost time and sometimes they feel like a well-deserved good break. But I couldn’t imagine a life without art. Maybe I lose my hand some day and can’t draw anymore. Then I would draw with my left hand. If I lose that hand too I’d paint with a brush in my mouth. It’s not strictly about drawing. It’s just about expressing the thoughts that are stuck in your brain and need to get out. The train never stops. There are no stops. The train just keeps on rolling at maximum speed.
Besides your personal art you did a couple of interesting projects for bigger brands. Can you tell us something about your favorite projects last year and how it felt to work for brands like Nike and Solebox?
Working on the Nike ACG and the React 98 Solebox release were very valuable experiences. It showed me how these things work and what can and cannot be done in the realm of brand art-collaborations.
Of course, we will also talk about sneakers and streetwear. So tell us Johnny, when did your love for Acronym start and what’s your favorite piece of clothing from the brand?
I discovered Acronym during a random stroll through the depths of the inner internet. I came across several dark cybernetic goth Tumblrs. On one called OTAKUGANGSTA I first saw pictures of Acronym pieces. I couldn’t find the source of the pictures and started doing Google reverse picture searches. Finally, I found the Acronym Archive site which sadly doesn’t exist anymore. My mind lit up with sparks as I saw all the collections and f lipped through every piece. In the end I found the actual official website and saw the prices. I told myself that I’d work hard and maybe in 10 years be able to afford one Acronym piece… There were three pieces that immediately stuck with me. One was the P23-TS. It was a pants that strongly resembled the karate trousers I wore when I was small. This was an anthracite military gabardine version of that. The other two were the J1A-GT jacket, which I own, and the J39-S, which was a black trench coat with a big front bag-pocket. It looked like it came straight from the future trenches of the human resistance fighting against the bots of the Skynet AI.
Streets are also talking you even got your J1A-GT directly out of the hands of Errolson? Can you tell us a little more about that?
That’s true. It was shortly after my flyer collaboration for an Acronym party in Paris. It was really nice to see the studio and talk to Errolson face-to-face about art appreciation and inspiration. He was really humble, which I didn’t expect from a fashion overlord like him. He gave me some really good life advices that still make sense for me today. I admit I was quite nervous though. Funnily that was just three months after I first discovered Acronym. Good things happen in life sometimes.
Is there a sneaker that represents Johnny Terror or your mindset the best?
The Acronym x Nike VaporMax Moc 2 “Light Bone”, which is actually nicknamed “Johnny’s Icy Passage” – funny. It’s light, it’s futuristic with its VaporMax sole and its colors are utterly loud. I mostly wear my shiny polished black leather boots though…
What are your dreams and goals for 2019? What can we expect from your output this year?
I’m lousy at resolutions. My current two are tidying up my room and travelling to Tokyo. I think I’ll manage the Tokyo part. As I said, the train just keeps on rolling. I hope my output will be surprising even to myself and most importantly fun. These are the essentials that keep you going.
Follow Johnny Terror on Instagram