Emotional Semiotics: The Artwork of John Washington

we_were_too_young_©_John_Washington We Were Too Young | Digital collage | © John Washington

I currently live in Greater Manchester, UK and work in a studio at home. I studied art and graphic design in my youth but I have had two careers; first as a police officer in London and Manchester (20 years) before embarking on a career as a graphic designer and graphic design educator. My professional background is in the medium of print-based graphic design, and after successfully running a small studio, I embarked on a career in teaching as a Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design. I hold a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design (1st class), a Post Graduate Certificate in Education and a Masters Degree in Graphic Design (Distinction). I have presented collage work at several academic conferences and had my work exhibited in North America. Other academic achievements involve the writing of graphic design degree programs of study and being on validation panels of other degree programs.

My work explores several themes such as concepts of time, memory, secret behaviour and the overall unpredictability or mystery as life which I see as surreal. I enjoy using new or existing well known metaphors and also finding connections from seemingly disparate images. I particularly enjoy using geometric shapes in my work and also symbolic objects, such as playing cards, which, of course, have universal meaning.

My collages are imbued with personal meaning, drawn particularly from my younger years. I also draw inspiration from my past lengthy experience as a policeman working in the tough inner city areas of Manchester where naturally, I have witnessed the best and worst of what life has to offer.
I utilize the knowledge gained from graphic design work and more often than not I keep images to a minimum out of preference.

Enough Rope | Digital collage | © John Washington

In collage the removal of facial features is cliched, but it adequately causes the viewer to project their own sense of emotion, or lack of, onto the work.

Deal Them Again | Digital collage | © John Washington

My interest in the psychology of visual language, particularly theories of ‘Gestalt’, has taught me to compose with the deliberate aim of forcing the viewer to complete the picture in much the same way as a fiction reader has to imagine the characters.

Close to Your Chest | Digital collage | © John Washington

I often use geometric symbols because they convey meaning.

Get In Get Out | Digital collage | © John Washington

Have you noticed how the man made world is dominated by rectangles – they are everywhere!

Life is a Mystery | Digital collage | © John Washington

Triangles, for example, automatically create tension and a sense of danger whilst circles can stand for unity, the universe and more – I’m fascinated by the science of semiotics.

Record Play | Digital collage | © John Washington

An awful lot of people strive to have control of their lives as much as possible – I know I used to. I became interested in Buddhist philosophy which I view as the bible of reality.

Wired | Digital collage | © John Washington

Essentially we are able to control very little and once you thoroughly understand this you can diminish fear and revel in the absurdity of life.


About his process

“I work exclusively on an 12.7 inch ipad using numerous apps – most notably ‘procreate’ which is usually used by concept artists. The app is not perfect, but I now prefer using this over photoshop. I hunt down vintage images from car boot sales and charity shops and firstly scan selected images at high resolution before carefully storing them in folders on three mirrored hard drives. At the time of writing I have cornered the market in buying vintage knitting patterns!

I work intuitively and almost never pre-plan the outcome of my collages. This is not to say that I no longer research my interest, but rather, that I simply allow my experience of life to come forward and as such it’s difficult to explain in much the same way as songwriters are often unable to articulate how a great song was constructed.

I’m aware that whilst my images are digital they have an analog aesthetic. I began simulating the ‘aged look’ long before the availability of plug ins and phone apps and I conducted academic research in this long standing trend. Nowadays, I no longer think about analog simulation as I work; it is just ‘my style’ and helps me realise the creative ideas.”