Meet: The Jaunt

In Interviews by Claire

The Jaunt is an art + travel project. It takes artists to somewhere they’ve never been and asks them to create a special unique print. The results are beautiful. From flight to finish, the artists document their story. The Jaunt is now launching its first book to share the first ten trips.

Beautifully, it involves absolutely no brief. Artists are hand-selected, sent off on their trips, and no one knows what that final print’s going to look like until they receive it in the mail. Ten trips in, there are ten stories from around the world through the eyes of artists all documented with beautiful visuals, explorations tracked through cameras and sketches. Jeroen Smeets, the guy behind the entire project, came to London for the April book launch at Beach London, we grabbed a coffee on Brick Lane to talk about how The Jaunt’s grown since the first trip back in 2013. You can listen along to the interview with a small segue into me ordering muesli as part of it, too. Hell yes breakfast!

You’ve been doing the prints for two years. Did you just get to the point where you thought ‘well we’ve got so much information let’s turn it into a book’ or did you always plan to turn it into a journal?

I always had it in my mind – like I told the first artist who went on a trip: save all your photos. Or better yet, send all the photos you’ve taken from the moment you stepped on the plane to the moment you came home. Just send me a USB stick with all the photos. Save all the sketches. Don’t throw anything away. Maybe we’ll make a book in the future. So I told that throughout a year and a half to all the artist and we were [at the point where] the ninth artist was just about to go on his way and the tenth artist would be end of november. So it all just collided very well with Christmas times, we thought let’s make the book and have the book out halfway through December. It took about two months to put everything together.

I know you hand select people but how did you go about finding the first artists?

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The first few artists were – aside from this project – I run an art agency and connect the right artists with the right clients. I publish a magazine called Eight Magazine which is very much focused on illustrations and art. So I’ve always been in touch with artists. I’ve also been a freelance journalist writing for different magazines, like the V&A – London-based magazine. So I was always talking with artists and being in touch with them.

Hedolf; he mentioned to me once – he didn’t even know I was thinking about doing this project yet – he mentioned that he really wanted to go to Helsinki. Because for him it was a city that all his favourite artists and illustrators were coming from. A city that he thought was going to be magical. But somehow he’d just never booked a ticket there. So I did that for him.

Were you planning to start the entire project before you had that conversation with him, or was it him talking about wanting to go that helped drive the idea?

The first trip we did was April 2013. I think about a year before I had the first glimpse of the idea of what it would become. It took me a year to really fine-tune it, talk about it with other people, and go ‘alright I want to send artists on trips but how? How do I do that?’ How does that work?’ We can sell prints but I didn’t want to sell the prints afterward and make all the costs before myself. So the whole time, the crowd-funding thing in the art world was getting more and more known and legitimate. That seemed like a possible route to go, but I didn’t want to go to a Kickstarter or IndieGogo website. I wanted it to be its own platform.

It took a long while before it happened and then I think in January of February I said to Hedolf that I was doing this project and would he like to go Helsinki. He didn’t say no.

Do the artists have input on the specific countries that they want to go to or do they decide where they haven’t been, where they might be interested in?

The most important rule is that they haven’t been there before. So I check with all the artists – I don’t ask for a list. But it depends. Some artists when I contact them I know right away the city I want to send them to either because I’ve been there myself and I think certain parts of it are really interesting or I think the artist matches the style of the destination. I think there’s an excitement there with the synergy between the artist and the destination. But sometimes I email the artist and ask: “which five destinations in the world would you love to travel to?” And that can be anything; it can be a cabin in the woods, to a city to a train ride, to a mountain. Like some people want to go hike on a mountain or whatever.

When they go to the countries to do they have any sort of brief on what you want them to do when they’re there? Do you say go for a hike or go and enjoy the city?

I book a ticket, I book a hotel and there is no brief on what they should or should not do. They are free to do as they please. We usually send a briefing document along saying ‘these are interesting places to see, galleries to visit, maybe people to meet.’ But they’re free to use that as they please.

We had one artist who received a full PDF document – he went to Belgium, to Artwerp – he received a full list from one of the other artists who lives very close to Antwerp of every person he should meet, every gallery he should go to, every restaurant he should eat at. And he just spent five days in the city wandering around by himself not talking to anyone and he just loved it. He’s a really busy guy back home and he never has the time to do that so he wanted to take the time to do nothing and just clear his headspace, sit in a cafe and draw in his sketchbook for five days. Part of the beauty of the project is the freedom of it and once we start making briefs that the freedom is lost and it’s not the same thing anymore. Sometimes I talk with artists before and I say ‘well if you’re going to this town I think you should do this thing and we make a plan. but it’s whatever the artist wants to do and if they don’t want to do it that’s fine.

Would you ever send two artists to the same city?

One part of that is the finical logistics. But I have been considering the idea of sending one artist to a studio of another artist in a different city so they can work together in a new studio for one of the artist. I don’t know what to call it yet but it’s like a studio-residency-visit-type-of-thing.

That’s a good title.

Yeah, isn’t it! So, I’ve been exploring that but for now I’m really just building the project and getting the project known. Like, you buy the prints before the trip so you don’t know what you’re going to get, and I thought it was really important for the first two or three years to keep everything the same so that there’s no surprises on any other levels. So that people – even though you don’t know what you’re going to get – you know what it’s going to be like.

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The Jaunt in print

Are there any trends with what the artists are doing in the cities or are they all totally different?

Completely different. I think i’s a lot to do with the personality of the artist. One guy went to Los Angeles and he made a meticulous plan of every day. Like ‘at 12 o’clock I’m going to visit this. At 2 o’clock I need to be over there, so drive safe but fast so you get there on time, don’t forget to fill up the car. A very very detailed plan of everything that needed to happen. He thought ‘if i don’t make a plan I’m not going to see what I wanna see and I’m just going to get lost.

And the other artists, like the one who went to Belgium, he just got off the plan and was like ‘alright, what am I going to do?’ So it totally depends on the artist, and I think that’s the nice bit too. You get to see the trip and the travel through the artists’ eyes, it’s their vision and their creative process.

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Creative process in action

Have you always worked with the artists in some capacity or was there a point when you started reaching out to new artists?

The first few artists were definitely artists I’d worked with before – I think the first seven out of ten – in some capacity. Some I’d worked with extensively, others I just knew personally but didn’t really work before an exhibition or anything else. David Shillinglaw was the first artist that I’d never met before. He’s a London artist.

Yeah – I recognised his name and thought ‘oh hold up, that’s a much more local one.’

Friends of mine had worked with him before but I’d never met him before. He was the first artist I emailed without personally knowing and asked to be part of the project. Since then, we’ve had a few more as well, especially now going into 2015 there are more artists that I’ve never worked with before that are now participating in the project.

But it definitely started with my personal network and my connections with people, which is in a way very nice because I know them; where they’d like top go, what they do and don’t like. So I feel I can tailor-make the experience for them. But at the same time it’s super nice not to know them and to see what they come up – so they take complete ownership of it.

When you were thinking where to send David, how did you start deciding?

Actually David’s was the most different from all of the trips. Before his trips we’d talked over half a year of three quarters of a year as to where he should go. My first suggestion was Serbia. I’ve been to Serbia myself and I thought it was one of the most interesting countries in that region. A lot of new stuff happening, a lot of galleries popping up around contemporary art. So that was our first option but nothing ever landed. Then I came up with another option which was Denmark: his eventual country where he would go to.

I live in Denmark myself, I have a Danish girlfriend, and they have a summerhouse. My girlfriend’s Grandparents built and designed it by hand themselves – they’re architects. So they put every nail in the house. It’s a beautiful ‘70s style cabin in the woods. There’s nothing around it. That just seemed so much more of an interesting trip than just sending him to Servia and being in Belgrade. And he loved that as well. He’d just painted the biggest wall ever, like 300 metres in two months, so he was really overdue for a break. I’d never met him before but I’d heard he’s a really busy guy. It sounds like every impulse comes in has to be translated – like he can’t sit still. Just can’t.

I think not knowing him before, we’ve seen him at his quietest at the summerhouse. That’s what else made it so different. It was my girlfriend’s family’s summerhouse. So we were there to host him because if you’re there alone you’re either going to get very lonely, very depressed, or very lost. It’s in the middle of the woods – if you don’t know your way around you won’t find the house basically. So it was a safety thing to be there ourselves. And also, for me, it was very nice to witness the actual creative process of him being in a new place and showing him around there and walking along the beaches. It sounds very romantic.

Just following him from afar down the beaches.

Yeah! “Look left, look left!” No, it was very beautiful. Barbecues every night on the beach – it was amazing.

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David’s final piece

Sounds brilliant. How long was he out there for?

Trips are usually 5-6 nights. It depends a little bit on the travelling time – some trips take a little longer. Like we had the guy go to SEYONG with the time difference, and that was a difference of 7 days. usually it’s 5-6 days. It’s just long enough to be in the place and get to know your surroundings, but it’s not too long that you get bored or that you’ve seen enough of it. i think it’s the perfect time to leave you wanting more, yeah, 5-6 days.

So was it just David that stayed in a place that was quite personal to you? Does everyone else go in a hotel?

Hotels and AirBnB. That’s definitely the most personal space, yep. I don’t have any other summer houses at this moment, unfortunately. but we just found a beautiful place in Norway, just off the coast of Norway on a small island with only about 50-60 people on the island. It’s a beautiful AirBnB place that has a view of the ocean, you can fish there, and it’s amazing. We’re sending somebody there in June.

Amazing. Are you particularly interested in isolated places or a mix?

No, not really. This one was also very much in talking and discussion with the artist. He reality wanted to find a solitude place where he could be on his own. He makes a lot of calligraphy work which traditionally come from a monk age and you’ll practice for months, weeks, years. So he wanted to take his time to be on his own and lock himself up to work on it.

You said David’s trip took six months to plan. Do they always take that long?

Usually. And also just to find the right tickets at the right prices. I mean, I mean I found out if you’re willing to be flexible with your timing then you can buy really cheap tickets to almost everywhere. So, we talk with the artist a long time up ahead, pick a location and a timeframe. Sometimes you shift about a bit from left to right. I think right now we have the next three or four artist lined up and booked.

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So where does that take you this year?

In a week we’re going to go to Iceland to a small town called Schizfischfedora [Seyðisfjörður]. I can’t pronounce it. It’s a small town on the east coast of Iceland. On a place it’s two hours away from Reykjavik. Its a town that, in history, has had the most connections to Europe because they had a harbour. Being on the East coast they were closest. So they have a lot of European influence and it’s always been a cultural retreat. There’s a girl there who’s very much involved in the culture there and she has a residency there. A beautiful house that they built themselves with their friends. So the artist is going to stay there.

Then an English artist called Daniel Frost is going to go to the Glacier Express. It’s a train ride in Switzerland taking you from one mountain top to the other mountain top. It’s a seven hour train ride with panoramic train – big windows on the side and on the top.

Then we’re going to go to the island in Norway. We’re going to go to Ethiopia hopefully. We’re going to go to lots of exciting places hopefully.

That’s really cool.

The worst thing about all the project is that I look for all these amazing trips but don’t go myself. I only book tickets for other people, which can be pretty sour.

You said that for some of them you’d been to the countries yourself and came away saying ‘I’d love to send an artist here’. Are you finding that you’ve exhausted all the countries you’ve been to and now you’re just holiday shopping for everyone else?

Yes. I think for the book, with the first ten trips, I haven’t been to two of the cities. That’s pretty good! I haven’t been to Porto and to Glasgow. But the rest I have, previously unrelated. But now it’s getting harder.

Are you planning to release another version of the book – a number two?

Hopefully, if everything goes well. If we have a good response.

What are your hopes for the project in the future? Do you see it scaling, or want it to stay very much as it is?

I definitely want to keep going as it is right now but I hope we’ll be able to make more exciting side trips. Like the – what did I call it – to the artist-studio-residency visits. I think that’d be a very interesting way to make one of the trips. Maybe hopefully in the future we’ll do sculpture, like work with sculpture and 3D artists to make an edition of 50 sculptures. I think that would be super interesting. For now we want to stick to the format of the sending-an-artist-on-a-trip.

Super, thanks Jeroen.

My pleasure.

ClaireMeet: The Jaunt