Graphic designer Jessica Walsh’s name is associated with a few very obvious words: talented (she’s won accolades from the Art Directors Club, Print magazine, SPD, and other major industry organizations); Sagmeister (her partner at design firm Sagmeister & Walsh); and nudity (her shocking photo announcing her position as partner at Sagmeister & Walsh). Adding to that list, one might consider including “surreal,” as Walsh’s curiosity toward the idea has been formative in her childhood, her dreams, and her work. Though she doesn’t consider herself a surrealist by trade, she does find inspiration in the wonder-filled world of the surreal, from classic examples like Alice in Wonderland to contemporary exhibitions at the Whitney.
LN: Have you always had a predilection toward the surreal? Jessica Walsh: Yes. One of my favorite stories growing up was Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Many of the surrealists took inspiration from this story. What did you love about it? I loved both the visuals and the story. While it may seem like a simple fairy tale, there are so many hidden underlying messages and philosophies about life within the story. I very much loved the art direction of the latest Alice in Wonderland made in 2010. I loved films such as Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, and some of the fantasy films like Labyrinth.
LN: At the time, did you see those worlds as fantasy or real? JW: I did understand they were fantasy worlds, but when I was young I very much believed there was more to life than we could see or understand. I thought adults just couldn’t see this, and I was pretty sure I had special powers and could communicate with ghosts. While I’ve grown out of those beliefs, I do still hold onto a childlike curiosity and wonder.
LN: What about your dreams? Do you remember them? JW: Yes I usually remember them, I have been trying to keep a dream diary as they are often quite crazy… intense… beautiful. Sometimes before I fall asleep I’ll tell myself I want to dream a solution to a project. The results aren’t always as interesting as they seem while I am in the dream, but still inspire things I am doing. For a while last year I had taught myself how to lucid dream, which is where you are consciously aware you are dreaming and can control your participation in the dream.
LN: What have you done in your lucid dreams? JW: All sorts of things, from flying, space travel, to sex fantasies.
LN: Would you consider yourself a surrealist? JW: Not really. I call myself a designer. That being said, I am not so interested in labeling things.
LN: Would you describe your work as surreal? There is a surreal quality to some of the work I’ve done in the past, particularly the photo illustration editorials, posters, and fashion advertising work I’ve done.