Former director of Special Projects, Millennium Park Inc.
Jason entered my orbit through a well-respected art consultant. My first impression was he was super “cool,” as in hip, but more importantly “cool” as in calm, cool, and collected. It only took a short time to learn how talented this cool dude was—talented beyond measure, artistically gifted, organized—which is music to my mind. He impressed me as a decision-maker and extremely confident.
I met Jason when I was working for the Millennium Park Foundation. At the time, the Foundation was looking to redesign the Park’s logo. When Jason presented his designs to the Foundation Board of Directors, there was no pushback; that was a phenomenon to me! I had supervised similar projects in previous lives in which I experienced months of edits and redesigns. It turns out I found the star in my orbit! Jason’s star shone brighter when he was subsequently tasked with designing the Millennium Park Foundation website and App. He was the guy! During my tenure, Jason executed every design project for Millennium Park with his signature flair and enthusiasm.
Jason’s designs are “cool;” they are strong and soft—with hard lines and soft curves—lyrical and inviting, and exactly the message Millennium Park wished to express to the visitors from Chicago and the world.
I shall always remember the day Jason invited me to a “gong bath” at his studio with an array of his friends. I thought to myself, “wow, I’ve been invited into Jason’s inner circle, I must be cool too!” My favorite part of working with Jason is that I now call him my friend. His love of life overflows into his art, music, family, and friendships. He’s strong and soft, which comes without an ego. His world and his work are filled with love and truth, creativity, and spirituality.
I’m proud to say Jason Pickleman is my friend.
Executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP)
I cannot overstate what a wonderful journey it has been working with Jason and JNL Graphic Design as a whole. For decades, JNL has been the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s lead designer for exhibitions, publications, special events, merch, and much more. Jason’s designs brought the MoCP’s vision to life, and I was always impressed with how the JNL team worked diligently to understand each individual project, no matter how big or small.
Jason is responsible for the design of some of our most popular exhibition publications, including #AiWeiwei; Reproductive: Health, Fertility Agency; Petcoke: Tracing Dirty Energy; and The Many Hats of Ralph Arnold: Art, Identity, and Politics. I especially recall sifting through thousands of images for #AiWeiwei with Jason and him saying, “Holy whoa!” numerous times as he put together a stunning publication.
Among his countless contributions to MoCP, we are honored that one of Jason’s final designs for JNL was for our 2023 DARKROOM auction gala. His eye-catching designs always captured the energy of the gala and added an exciting visual element.
Jason is a force and working together will be deeply missed but never forgotten, as his creativity and personality are embedded into the fabric of MoCP.
Founder and director of Lampo
Among Jason and Leslie’s successes, their greatest collaboration surely is Willem, their son. I first met him many years ago. He was maybe ten years old at the time. Bright, curious, and boundlessly enthusiastic. That day we sat across from each other at a booth at Eleven City Diner, where Willem was also the designer of the kids’ menu and placemat, with word jumbles, a maze, and deli puns… and a sophisticated sense of typography beyond his years. The Pickleman-Bodensteins were still new to me back then, but it was apparent that J and L had cultivated these skills in Willem, so that JNL could employ their child to help support the family, just as other families did during the Industrial Revolution. These were the kind of people to make lifelong friends, and I am lucky to say that I have.
Founder of MAS Studio and MAS Context
Jason and JNL have been part of my visual understanding of Chicago since I moved to the city two decades ago. His smart, humorous, thoughtful, and to the point work defines some of the most coveted books for revered institutions and identity of some of the best restaurants in the city. But it can also be found in pins, posters, stickers, invitations, napkins, popcorn bags, and all sorts of everyday items that make you smile every time you come across them. Always the right design, always the right word.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jason on many occasions, some as part of my practice and through his involvement with MAS Context. In 2005, working on my first book, I was comfortable putting together all the content, which had some complexity due to its diverse nature, but I needed a design for the book. I wanted a “finished” book before pitching it to a publisher. A former professor shared a space with this designer called Jason Pickleman and I checked his work. I loved it. I went up the precarious wooden stairs in the decommissioned post office on Chicago Avenue that was JNL and asked Jason if he would design my book. He had no idea who I was, and I certainly had no real budget for this project. Luckily, Jason saw past those two things and agreed to design the book. It was exactly what it needed: a design with rigor and personality, thoughtful and playful. It became the backbone for much of my subsequent work.
I would go on to work on many other projects with Jason, including the amazing opportunity to redesign the entire signage system for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin: bent signs to relate to their history of bending trees in forests to point the way; color-coded horizontal bands of varying lengths to accommodate multiple pieces of information; new typefaces to reflect their own new identity. After a long wait, Jason and I were excited to receive a CD in the mail with photographs of dozens of signs installed all across Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.
JNL Graphic Design has had an incredible run. Over three decades, Jason and Leslie created a unique studio that produced things only that studio could come up with. A combination of life, art, and design that is impossible to separate. A personal world shared with all of us. It is impossible to understand Chicago during the last three decades without their work. It is impossible to understand my work and my time in Chicago without them.
Founder of Patti Gilford Fine Arts
Jason Pickleman and his wife Leslie bought my home in 1997, in Chicago’s northern suburbs. Looking back at the last twenty-six years, I know I’ve been blessed to be his colleague and his friend.
Working with Jason is wonderful. Through several corporate installations and a comprehensive book project, I’ve always found him to be a great listener, smart and witty, able to quickly synthesize—and to understand his audience.
Bearing witness to his curiosity and positive energy, Jason takes every assignment as a new experience. His wealth of experience and his ability to maintain uncompromised integrity invariably turns a complication or a detour into new opportunities.
Working with Jason and JNL Graphic Design has propelled me to stretch myself and explore my assignments with new perspectives. His gentle push has led to successful and richer outcomes.
My work and my life have been impacted by Jason, and I’m forever grateful.
Founder of Normal
I first met Jason Pickelman in a meeting. I arrived early and was preoccupied with setting up. There were a few curt introductions. The air felt heavy. There were no smiles or light remarks flying around. As the meeting transitioned from anticipation to presentation, a skinny guy walked in. He was the final person to arrive and didn’t say a word—he just made a brisk yet reassuring hand gesture, as if to say “please, go on.” Normally, if a presentation is going well, a smile might give you a hint that things are going to be okay. Sometimes a subtle nod of the head does the trick. This meeting had none of that. I could sense nothing at all. Faces were still tense and expressionless when the very last slide was shown on screen. Then, out of nowhere, the skinny guy blurted out, “I like it. Can I go now?” Only as he made his exit was I introduced to him: Jason Pickelman. The Jason Pickelman, of whom I had heard so much before. JNL had designed the brand for this particular client, and Jason was brought in to either give his blessing or kill the project.
Years later Jason gave me a ride from Corkins, a lodge in the mountains of northern New Mexico, to the Albuquerque airport. During that long car ride, I asked if he happened to remember that meeting, and we shared a good laugh. Once the laughing had subsided, he exclaimed, “Clients!” and gave out a sigh. In the same car ride, Jason shared some of his principles on how to run JNL: always work with people you like, on projects that are exciting to you. A couple of times, during the ride, Jason would interrupt our conversation and point to something, “I designed that!” Trucks on the road in New Mexico, carrying some of JNL’s designs, were used to punctuate his presentation. I told him how surprised I was that I rarely saw JNL’s work in design awards, to which he responded that they never entered any contests. He joked that he would not like the idea of losing, should his work not have been selected. But I have a feeling Jason does not need the reassurances that some of us do.
President and director of EXPO CHICAGO
Jason Pickleman and JNL Graphic Design have been the go-to designers for Chicago’s international art fairs for many years. His iconic rebrand of Art Chicago in the 1990s was legendary and he did the same for the Merchandise Mart in 2007. There was no question in my mind when we announced EXPO CHICAGO several months before the first fair in September of 2012, who would be shaping our identity. In addition to Jason’s design acumen and his love of words and fonts, he brings his joyous love of art and artists into the process. From the beginning, we embarked on an extraordinary collaboration to build EXPO CHICAGO’s overall branding and all of the marketing and advertising that we have presented over the last eleven years. It is difficult to pick a favorite project as every year we found ways to refresh our initiatives, but one project does stand out. Prior to the digitalization of VIP passes for art fairs, all of the fairs would mail plastic cards and a presentation piece to collectors to make them aware of fair and the programming in place as an enticement to attend. We felt that we needed to stand out so we designed a VIP card bag or kit that would make a big impact and hopefully have a shelf life that would be used longer than a disposable printed vehicle. This audacious idea worked and, to this day, we continue to see the early EXPO CHICAGO VIP bags being used by collectors all over the world for their travel documents and items. Jason is not only a great graphic designer but a passionate collector, a lover of the arts, and a tireless supporter of Chicago’s art galleries, museums, institutions, and the creative community. Bravo!
Founder of KOO
When I first started the firm in 2005, one of the first tasks was to find a graphic designer to create the logo for the firm. I happened to be eating at Avec and loved their logo and menu design (and food) and they shared Jason’s information. I visited his studio and knew right away that he was the perfect fit. He has an architectural sensibility that can be seen in all his work. He provided options, but we both agreed immediately about the one that was the best—a logo that says KOO oriented vertically that makes it as much a symbol as a name. It was perfect and has withstood the test of time. It’s the one thing that hasn’t changed about the firm. There was also an embossed business card design (remember those?), which was widely admired and had a great hand. Subsequent to that, Jason worked on KOO’s first project—theWit hotel. He not only designed the graphic identity, but also witty collateral and signage. He also created custom art that embodied theWit, a series of book jackets that, when assembled, portrayed the faces of famous wits!
His logo and a piece of art he created for our original office in the Monadnock still graces our entry today.
Andreas E.G. Larsson
Owner and designer of HabHouse
I was instantly drawn to Jason when I met him. I photographed him a few times for different magazine spreads and was inspired by his incredible drive and knowledge. I knew immediately that I wanted to be friends with this person. Eventually, we did become friends and I was honored to be among a group of people who love him.
I later worked with Jason on a publication to promote the project that Iker and I worked on and that was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago. Watching Jason design our brochure—laying out images to make the story flow—was like watching a genius at work. I go back to that brochure often and still appreciate his artistry.
He showed up for me again when I had a career shift. He provided expert guidance on branding and establishing an identity. In return for all his help, he asked if we could go dancing, so we did!
Jason has been a guiding light for me professionally and personally since the day we met. He is a force to be reckoned with, an inspiring teacher, an unapologetic tennis partner, and a true friend.
Account Manager at Classic Color
When asked to reflect on Jason Pickleman’s impact, it’s challenging to pinpoint just one defining project or moment. Our collaborations were always unique in some way. Over the years, we partnered on many projects including EXPO CHICAGO materials, the Driehaus Museum catalog featuring Nate Young and Mika Horibuchi, the Ai WeiWei exhibit book, and the Life of Lewis Manilow.
Working together to help bring his vision and creativity to life through print media was a pleasure, as well as an honor. His creative brilliance often pushed the boundaries of print, making each project a meaningful journey.
Jason always knew exactly what he wanted—he was a no-nonsense type of guy. He was straight to the point with a clear vision, making it so easy to work with him.
He will be missed deeply in the design community and his contribution is great. We’ve had a memorable run together, and for that I am very thankful.
Partner at One Off Hospitality
I had the pleasure of meeting Jason in 1999. We were both asked to take part in the Columbia College Photography Department event honoring Victor Skrebneski. Jason, of course, was doing all the graphic design invitations, etc. and Blackbird, the appetizers. I remember the phone conversation went something like this: “Is this Donald Madia?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “This is Jason Pickleman from JNL design. I was asked to call you regarding some information for the Victor Skrebneski event.” His voice was direct in his request of the font for the Blackbird logo. I provided it with confidence. (Mechanic). He seemed very interested to know why. The little I knew was learned from my relationship with Michael Edwards, who designed the logo and all the design, and who collaborated with Thomas Schlesser, the design architect for Blackbird. Luckily, I was always inquisitive about every aspect of the making of Blackbird. It was a font used in the 1920s but hardly used in present day, and probably forgotten thanks to its masculinity. This was also shortly after we opened Blackbird.
Back to the Skrebneski collaboration. What started as a small project, turned into one of the most meaningful relationships cultivated, not just for our hospitality brand in our twenty-five years in business, but also a great endearing lasting friendship. Jason played an integral part in all of the graphic design, including invitations for Blackbird and its new private dining room, as well as the artist series. We collaborated with local renowned artists, pairing food and art for a successful dinner series. Jason created all the invitations for each artist and also showcased his art one magical evening.
For our next restaurant project, one could say that design played an essential role. Jason played that role in every one of our projects. Interior design and graphic design went hand in hand, along with food, service, wine program, and hospitality. When creating the avec brand, I specifically remember when Jason introduced the menu typography. People would ask us why we deliberately decided to
strikeout the font in each of the section headers of our menu. Jason explained that “there’s only one important word, and that word is ‘avec.’” Instantly, everyone was dumbfounded and understood the deliberate intention. Jason is a visionary, brilliant thinker, and equally a savant. While we all operate in a micro capacity, Jason has always understood how to extract all of our various preferences and opinions from a macro perspective. He can operate in both, micro and macro, and not many people can. Jason sees through the lens like a great cinematographer and a great director create a beautiful story that ultimately lands on exactly where the design should be, equaling quality in his design.
He was recognized for his incredible creative work at avec with a prestigious nomination for graphic design by the James Beard Foundation. And all of those creations are assembled at the Art Institute's Department of Architecture and Design. Jason subsequently played an integral role in conceptualizing the look and feel of The Violet Hour, Big Star, The Publican, Publican Quality Meats, Publican Anker, Publican Tavern, Publican Quality Bread, Café Cancale, Dove’s Luncheonette, AVEC River North, Bar AVEC, and ultimately, the one I am most proud of, Nico Osteria. We worked so closely together on this beautiful project. Our brand grew, and Jason grew right alongside us.
I am thankful to Jason for his innumerable contributions to One Off Hospitality and the world of design for continuing to inspire our brands through his creative vision, which will live on forever! I am also forever grateful for Jason . He has been such a mentor of design to me. I see life differently, down to my family Christmas card, which we have collaborated on together for the past ten years. I am forever changed in how I see words and my life thanks to my long-standing friendship with Jason!
Creative director at Wright Auction House, Rago, and LA Modern Auctions
I met Jason in 2007 just after graduating from school. A young graphic designer looking for her first opportunity in Chicago, I set out to meet with established creatives in the field, with the hopes of getting some feedback, a reference, or ideally… a job. He was pointed in his feedback and generous when he liked the work. I was impressed (and maybe a little intimidated) with his directness; nevertheless, I was pleased to have been granted an opportunity to step into his world. The studio was filled with works of art, found objects that intrigued my eyes and, of course, examples of his studio practice. Fast forward sixteen years, and I am again setting foot inside the space, this time with the opportunity to art direct the auction that Wright would hold to honor Jason’s legacy in Chicago. Jason spoke of collecting artwork that spoke to him, hanging the works on the studio wall, and being surprised that clients and visitors never inquired about the pieces. With the opening of Lawrence & Clark, he sought to share the works with his city: “From 2015–2020 I ran a non-commercial art gallery (Lawrence & Clark). Much of the work in EVERY DAY IS DIFFERENT would have been on exhibit at Lawrence & Clark. When a collector buys a work of art, it usually gets sequestered away, and publicly seen again only very rarely. The gallery was a way of giving my collection a second public life.” In presenting the auction at Wright—aptly named by Jason: Every Day is Different—my colleagues and I had the opportunity to extend his vision across our platform. The consolidation of Jason’s own thoughtful works, woven together with pieces he collected, serve as a rich snapshot of Jason’s hand, heart, and eye. He is the kind of graphic designer who is an artist and maker at heart. What a pleasure to interact with these works, to work with Jason, and to celebrate his passion.
Executive Director of the Elmhurst Art Museum
Working with JNL Graphic Design was always a personal pleasure for me.
I got to know Jason and Leslie well while working with them on projects for the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. They were present at artist talks, dinners, and trips with the group. Through JNL, they generously gave their time and expertise on publications, invitation designs, benefit materials, and committee work. All the designs and print media were highly thoughtful and simply mind-blowing.
Jason’s supportive and contagious presence was especially known within the museum and its social circles. For example, he once sent me a note commenting that I was a “cool cucumber” while directing events—a high praise from a Pickleman! Jason and Leslie even helped orchestrate a party for me as I left for my next job.
When I started working at the Elmhurst Art Museum, I reached back out for a few design projects. It just so happened that Jason spent his early childhood in Elmhurst! JNL helped us with graphics for a fundraiser that honored the late artist Suellen Rocca. I remember when agreeing to the project Jason said, “This needs to be done right.” And, oh, how Suellen loved that invitation! Leslie and Jason very generously bought tickets to attend and support the event. I still remember Jason sitting close to the podium soaking up Suellen’s tribute with a tear in his eye, and then later proceeding to the dance floor with his usual enthusiasm.
We had a unique opportunity with the catalog for Mies van der Rohe’s McCormick House, which JNL recognized right away. The house’s full exterior had been hidden for nearly twenty-five years, so it was about to become a more visible part of the museum’s identity. We unveiled the restoration of the home’s façade with an expertly curated exhibition by Barry Bergdoll appropriately titled Mies’s McCormick House Revealed: New Views. Jason designed the catalog to commemorate the event, but to also last longer since so little scholarship had been done to date on Mies van der Rohe’s prefab prototype. Five years later, I’m still very, very grateful for JNL’s work on this book, which is instrumental to the public’s knowledge about the McCormick House’s unique story and design.
With appreciation for all of JNL’s contributions.
Interior Design director at SOM
Before their digs in the former post office on Chicago Avenue, JNL Graphic Design was located in the same building as the firm I worked at when I first started my career in Chicago over twenty years ago. I initially met Jason working on a small, local project when my boss suggested we hire JNL to work on the project’s graphic design scope. I was a young architectural designer; Jason was a more experienced graphic designer and artist whom I learned a lot from during that brief experience of working together. The way he thought about design, the way he interacted with our team and the client, and the influences he brought to the project had all caught my interest and I continued to learn about Jason and the work of JNL over the years. One of my favorite memories was going to see JNL’s 2008 exhibition No, better at Devening Projects and Editions—a body of work that had been rejected by clients, accompanied by the (often ridiculous) feedback. I found it so bold—he knew that the work was good, and he was going to put it back out there and reject the rejection by doing so. I loved that show. As he became involved with MAS Context, I had the opportunity to work with him again. Our working relationship with Jason eventually evolved into a friendship. Beyond the work (if there even was a boundary), his love of language, poetry, dance, and art is infectious and his knowledge on these subjects always expands our horizons. While JNL has closed its doors, the legacy will undoubtedly live on. Maybe even dance on.
Founder and principal of Jordan Mozer & Associates
I met Jason “Captain Cucumber” Pickleman in the ’90s.
He was feisty and out of the box.
We matured as artists, designers, and parents together.
Our first collaboration was for graphics for Wow Bao restaurants.
Jason transformed our rough sketches
into a crisp logo, at once modern and classic.
After a Wow Bao meeting,
while we were test driving skateboards on his driveway,
I asked Jason if he could help curate our imagery.
He immersed himself in our work.
We sketched together, back and forth.
He was patient, witty, and unpredictable, smiling, eyes twinkling.
After he finished our logo and card
he completely reinvented our Propaganda Packages with Karen into
elegant, simple books that punctuated our projects.
Jason’s work is as timeless, fresh, and on-message today
as they were twenty years ago.
And that’s what a true artist does, right?
They see things differently.
Lately we’ve been sketching exquisite monsters together.
Member of The Aluminum Group
I don’t really even remember when we met and it all started, but, when it did, the whole thing was magical. Jason has an ability to be completely present in the moment, and he makes you the one that is most important in that moment. It is a unique quality that makes you explode, expand, and blossom, like human fireworks. Jason was the catalyst for any idea I threw his way. A pure soul that would only help to expound!
Once, I bought Leslie and Jason a bottle of wine and sewed a bag out of old printers’ celluloid film to put the bottle in. It was absolutely crude and ill-sewn. Jason marveled at the bag and, mainly, the beauty of the imperfections. I will never forget that because he saw the beauty in me. He saw me and loved me for what I was, and never saw me for what I wasn’t.
Working with Jason Pickleman and JNL Graphic Design for my monograph New Deal Utopias was one of the most significant inflection points in my professional life. I was familiar with JNL through the Museum of Contemporary Photography, where I was a curatorial assistant during graduate school, and quickly became aware of JNL’s fingerprint everywhere I looked in Chicago. I knew shortly after I signed my contract with my publisher that I wanted to work with Jason Pickleman, and was thrilled when he took me as a client.
New Deal Utopias (Kehrer Verlag, 2017) is my long-term photography project focusing on three planned communities constructed by the federal government during the Great Depression. The towns of Greenbelt, Maryland, Greenhills, Ohio, and Greendale, Wisconsin—collectively known as Greenbelt Towns—were conceived and planned with the hope that residents of the towns would prioritize cooperation over individualism. In addition, the towns would offer egalitarian architecture and open green spaces as an antidote to overcrowded and polluted cities. My images of the built environment and social spaces, made seventy-five years after their founding, are a meditation on how these utopian aspirations and idylls aged over time.
Jason was patient and inspiring, and his design brought a fresh perspective to my photographs. It was exciting to meet him in his beautiful workspace that could easily double as an art gallery. He asked me thoughtful questions as he spent time with a box of my prints, and looking back, I think I felt very vulnerable, not knowing what shape and direction the project would take. Looking around the JNL studio, surrounded by incredible work, I watched Jason at his drafting table and knew I would be in good hands.
When Jason showed me a draft of the cover of the book, with the title in Amarillo USAF font, placed above a row of lawn chairs lined up for a Fourth of July parade in Greendale, Wisconsin, it felt like his bold and subtle design matched the visionary plans of the Greenbelt Towns. He filled every page of the book with care and intelligence and my photographs found their home. Also, I appreciated that Jason tolerated my neophyte questions throughout the entire process.
Publishing New Deal Utopias was an enlightening and rewarding experience that involved putting together a team of talented, supportive, and generous people. I couldn’t be prouder of and thankful for the beautiful photobook that passed through the hands of Jason Pickleman and JNL Graphic Design.
Co-Executive Director Hyde Park Art Center
When thinking about Jason’s impact on Hyde Park Art Center, a few iterations of his work come to mind immediately. Allison Peters Quinn still gushes over the Artists Run Chicago original logo: it’s so no-nonsense and connects to a hard-working ethos of the spaces and Chicago vibe. I have always admired the organization’s brand identity: it’s distinctive and asserts both the quirkiness of the Art Center and the quality of the work while being quiet enough for the art and artists to be the focus instead of the organization.
Founder of Rohner Press
Whenever Jason called me, I knew I was in for fun. “Rohner,” he would say, “I’ve got an interesting job for you.” He never called me by my first name, always Rohner. I loved working with Jason because of the creative concept behind each project. He knew what he wanted and did whatever he needed to get his vision to completion.
One of my favorite projects was a set of thirty-two memory match game cards that were housed in a custom storage box. The imagery Jason chose for the cards was whimsical, so bright and vibrant. Jason asked us to triplex the cards and corner die cut them so they would be super thick and hold up well over time. He always had quality and originality in mind. When it came to the box, Jason leaned on me for some box engineering and together we came up with a hinge box with magnetic closures. But the magic was a drop-down panel that allowed the cards to slide out.
Right down to the materials, colors, and concepts, Jason’s creativity was always inspiring and Jason always a treat to work with.
I am honored to have been a part of JNL’s creative legacy.
Daniel W. Dietrich, II Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania
In 2007, I worked with Jason to acquire some of JNL Graphic Design’s work for the architecture and design collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. I had then only recently met Jason and Leslie and learned about their multifaceted practice. Alongside record covers, restaurant identities, and posters, among many other designs, an exhibition catalogue for Judy Ledgerwood, an artist I admire, stood out. Made for Judy’s exhibition Basement Love in 2001, presented at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, the use of pattern, pops of color, and unexpected compositions spoke not only to Judy’s eye-catching work but also JNL’s exuberant and artist-centered practice.
There is a saying at JNL, “Every day is different.” It is a way of communicating to each other that whatever challenge is presented today will pass, and that the pursuit of creativity is a worthy one. It is something we would emphatically remind ourselves of when we were wading through knee-high water in the fountains of Lurie Garden on a perfect summer’s day in order to map a design plan for wayfinding, while the band performing that evening at the Pritzker pavilion did their soundcheck. It is the refrain we would say to ourselves as we dragged 30-foot ladders across the length of Navy Pier before transforming it into a venue for an international art fair. We would whisper it to each other as we stepped into the newest restaurant in town that we had named, or branded, or both. “Every day is different” became a statement of celebration and a way to boost morale, a perpetual reminder that we had all chosen the design path less traveled. A punctuation for the highs and the lows that accompany the rigor with which we pursued our creative practice.
Those of us who have been lucky enough to call JNL a design home know how special it is: a space where interesting objects and ideas flow freely, a culture that is simultaneously serious and weird. Intense and joyful. If you are a creative professional, client or collaborator who has crossed its threshold, you have felt the warm glow of natural light and neon radiating from every corner of the atmosphere. As someone who has called JNL home for nearly a decade, I cannot fathom a world in which this technicolored enclave does not exist. And yet, I also know in my bones that every day is different, not always better, not always worse, just different.
Dirk [Denison] and I are so lucky to have worked and played and schemed and commiserated and celebrated with Jason and Leslie over the years. A memorable and ongoing collaboration—from which I have been so enriched and educated—has been in the creative direction and fundraiser event planning for the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. A way to encapsulate JNL’s generosity and breadth of creativity is to present the following “Save the Dates.”
The as it is catalogue was made twenty-three years ago. The book is very much a snapshot of my art up to that time. The design, however, is a little more than your average tasteful document. I believe the book has a unique graphic sensibility because Jason and I are such good friends. I trusted him and he went for it. Riffing on the pop aspects of my art, Jason had fun with title pages, using contrasting hues, saturated colors, and giant texts. I love Kathryn Hixson’s seminal essay in black on yellow! If you took all of my art out of the book, it would still be a very beautiful object. Likewise, Jason repeated images like Neil Young to create a visual rhythm and give a nod to Warhol. That’s my theory anyway.
I do remember feeling a bit uncomfortable with his choice for the cover—a cropped image of me pretending to be Neil Young. It’s probably the most embarrassing image I’ve ever made, even more embarrassing than peeing in my pants. Neil Young is a raw depiction of the artist’s ego. At that time, Young was just starting his comeback with Rust Never Sleeps. He was a rock star, but he still retained some idea of integrity. He was a throwback to ‘60s ideals which some of my art is too. as it is was made when I was forty. Neil Young is a perfect image for that moment. Young was a model of survival for an aging artist. It’s still super embarrassing for me to look at, but it’s a great cover.
The title as it is is one of those Buddhist aphorisms, like “be here now.” It refers to accepting life as it is—accepting everything as whole and perfect. That idea drives some of my aesthetic choices. Often, I simply remake something that already exists in the world—a cup, a tree, a snowman, etc. Jason took as it is as a title for the book and squeezed the letters together. Although there are very subtle separations in the three words of the title, it reads almost as one word, making as it is appear almost as an anagram of Tasset. Clever.
I’m thrilled to have the book today as a lovely document of my art up to that point, but also as a work in itself. A graphic collaboration with the very talented Mr. Pickleman.
Producer, director, and collaborator
You’re good at words.
Better than anyone I know.
(available to me at least)
Can capture the essence of you.
Are so so shallow
They ring hollow, but they’re all I got:
Especially fails me when I reflect…
my love for you.
Letters work better:
Founding principal of Wheeler Kearns Architects
I first met Jason when he was teaching at UIC, in the Architecture School. A graphic designer teaching studio—an odd assignment I first thought—and then was quickly convinced by what he brought forth in the students. Having worked with architects for years—the Helmut project—he made students and the faculty see architecture in a new way. Ever curious, gracious in his time, you always were on your toes for a zinger of skepticism or a valued endorsement, a touch of irony yet always empathic, simply a live wire, whip smart, fun.
We were thrilled when Lakeview Pantry accepted our recommendation to hire Jason/JNL to collaborate with on their new consolidated home. Just as every inch, every material had to work hard in this bootstrap nonprofit, every decision Jason made was on point, purposeful, bringing an unexpected clarity and brightness to the space, its mission.
A joy, Jason, in all ways!
EVP Head of Design at Leo Burnett, Chicago
A wooden staircase.
Books, maps, menus, catalogs archived together.
A stack of my favorite napkins.
A heart, a hand. Many arrows.
The handmade scraps of something, collected into rhythm and enlarged in multiple.
Typography on a wall.
Neon in a pile on the floor.
Images on canvas or underneath glass or maybe lost in a notebook.
A David Bowie record. A sushi dinner. A dance party.
A gallery wall that always has room for more.
Pieces of Chicago stacked in a corner.
A poem, turned into a song.
A poster into art.
A studio into a gallery.
A mish-mosh of togetherness.
Fused by the letter N.
I met Jason and Leslie in the early ‘90s. Jason designed my first-ever print ad in trade for a credit from my small design store on Lincoln Avenue. Around that time, I purchased this chair from Jason and Leslie and have lived with it ever since. For the last fifteen years it has been a prominent feature in my office. The chair riffs on the “organic” expression of Charles and Ray Eames design, the role of comfort in modernism, and the absurd. It is an expression of the way Jason’s mind works: taking a design classic and moving it deep into left field. In both Jason’s design work and his art, the subversions are there to make you smile.