2 Minutes With … John Glasgow and Jonathan Kenyon of Vault49
With his background as a printmaker and street artist, John Glasgow leads the creative vision for brand design agency Vault49: to integrate brand strategy with image-making to deliver bold artistic solutions that disrupt everyday experiences and delight consumers. Jonathan, with a background as a street artist as well, guides the agency's strategic direction and client partnerships. He is dedicated to delivering transparent, actionable brand strategy that unearths powerful ideas to transform brands and businesses.
We spent two minutes with John and Jonathan to learn more about their background, their creative inspirations, and recent work they've admired.
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
- John Glasgow (JG): I grew up in Shepherd's Bush, London. I've lived in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, going on 20 years now. I decided to move to Bed-Stuy because I wanted to live where Biggie Smalls was from.
- Jonathan Kenyon (JK): Grew up in Huddersfield, U.K., now live in New York.
How you first realized you were creative.
- JG: When I only achieved one GCSE at secondary school (high school), and that was an A in Art & Design.
- JK: I always knew I had a talent for drawing and painting, but that's different from realizing I was creative, at least by my definition. Growing up in a working-class environment, being good at drawing didn't mean much; it was just a way to keep myself occupied. When I asked my careers advisor at age 15 whether I could have a job that involved drawing, I was told that, at best, it meant I could have a vocational career as a sign writer. It wasn't until I had the good fortune of interning with a graphic designer at age 17 that I realized that my ideas were appreciated and I developed the self-belief that I had creative talent, not just practical skill.
A person you idolized creatively early on.
- JG: Andy Warhol. I loved his brave approach to portraiture, bold use of color, and how he had the confidence to reimagine iconic celebrities and everyday consumer brands with a provocative twist.
- JK: I was in awe of children's TV artist and presenter Tony Hart. This might sound trite, but I truly idolized him and would practice and copy everything he did. He made art playful. My upbringing was full of rules; even the way I was guided to draw and paint was to render imitations of real life faithfully. Tony Hart made messy art, and I loved that.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
- JG: Meeting this guy in the screen printing studio at London College of Printing who decided to give me some premature advice on my work before I had laid down all my colors, then he realized I knew what I was doing. That person has been my business partner and best friend for 21 years now.
- JK: At the age of 19, I was drifting. I had a job selling double-glazed windows, I had my own car, and more money to spend at the pub than my friends. Then I broke my leg, spent six months in a full-leg plaster cast, and many more months on crutches. Breaking my leg was the best thing that could have happened to me. It stopped me in my tracks. I lost my job, and there was nothing to do except sit still. I picked up my pencils and paintbrushes for the first time in a couple of years and built a portfolio of work, and I applied to the London College of Printing to study graphic design. In the years that followed I had some incredible life experiences and met my future business partner.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
- JG: Bob Marley, Kate Bush, Sade. They were all innovators in their respective genres—reggae, pop and soul.
- JK: Nick Cave. The man has depth and authenticity, makes profound music, and does not give a fuck.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
- JG: Fredrick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
- JK: Courting the Wild Twin, by Martin Shaw. I've become intensely interested in mythology and the lessons that old myths and stories have for our lives today.
Your favorite fictional character.
Someone or something worth following in social media.
- JG: Williams Chechet, an artist using collage to remix traditional Africa imagery in a modern context.
- JK: The mythologist and storyteller Michael Meade.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
- JG: It's made me want to connect with people more, to check in and see how they are doing. And it also helped me open up and talk more about how I was feeling, in both my professional and personal life.
- JK: I am learning to become more connected to my body and to listen to what it has to tell me. For so long I took pride in the responsibility and workload I was able to carry on my shoulders and figured that if I wasn't showing outward signs of stress or dropping any balls, I was doing well. Then the responsibilities of running our agency throughout Covid nearly broke me. I learned to look inwards and realized a lot had to change! It's a work in progress.
One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.
- JG: I have to go back to the birth of Vault49 and the very first designs/street art series Jonathan and I collaborated on as students. This may be because it's our 20th anniversary this year and there has been a lot of nostalgic reflection, but there's something about the novelty of those early days, the bravery to become street artists, and our freedom of thought to do what we wanted to do, on our own terms.
- JK: Vault49 created a limited edition for Smirnoff called X1, which paid homage to Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. We did this the right way. We spent days talking, breaking bread, and laughing together with Mexican families as they taught us the cultural significance of their family celebrations. We even spent the night of the Day of the Dead celebrating in graveyards with different families, understanding the deeper meaning behind the famous iconography. Then throughout the design process we collaborated with Mexican designers and illustrators to ensure this was a truly inclusive and respectful brand launch and celebration. This is the kind of commercial work that I'm interested in. Culturally in-touch, creatively superlative, and work that delivers outstanding commercial results.
A recent project you're proud of.
JG: Our Black Lives Matter poster series. We had the opportunity to be a part of something, and not sit back and watch from the sidelines. Jonathan and I were able to go back to our street-art roots and hit the walls of NYC with powerful statements screen printed onto bright paper. It was a project that both our London and New York studios were passionate about, and everyone could contribute and be a part of a push for change.
JK: Earlier this year we launched Casatera, a premium tequila seltzer brand. We developed the brand in partnership with two young entrepreneurs who remind me very much of myself and John in those early days of Vault49. We're founding equity partners of the brand, and I'm really proud of the creative and commercial potential of our partnership. And it tastes amazing.
Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.
JG: Paul Insect. I did an internship with Studio Insect and the experience had a big influence on me, and inspired me to pursue starting my own agency rather than work for anyone else. And that's exactly what Jonathan and I did when we started Vault49 as students.
Someone else's work you admired lately.
JG: I met a student on our most recent exchange program and his work and overall concept were inspiring. He takes iconic black-and-white images from black history and adds African patterns from his homeland to reimagine their original context.
JK: Noma Bar.
Your main strength as a creative person.
JG: Inspiring the team to express themselves and have fun along the way.
JK: When I'm clear on what I want to achieve, I'm usually able to see all the pieces required to make it happen and am relentless in pursuing it.
Your biggest weakness.
JG: Sticking on course throughout the journey of a project. I find it hard not to over-deliver.
JK: At times I feel only as good as the last piece I created. I benefit from working in partnership with others since self-doubt can creep in when I work in isolation.
One thing that always makes you happy.
JG: Seeing the team get recognized for their hard work from clients.
One thing that always makes you sad.
JG: Clients playing it safe and not being brave or thinking outside the box.
JK: Apparently, even the most ham-fisted movie attempts to pull on heart-strings will have me in tears.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in design.
JG: Either working with youth to keep them on the straight and narrow, or as a wildlife photographer.
JK: I would be a bee-keeper building the most exquisite, elaborately ornamented beehives. Bees selflessly bring beauty to my world, and I would like to make their world even more special. Together my bees and I would make sweet, sweet honey. And then I would no doubt brand it and sell it.