Sykes Gallery was filled with the honesty and creativity of John Jennings, a graphic designer from Champagne, Illinois. The presentation was held Oct. 15. Half-way through his presentation on “Communications In Hip-Hop,” Jennings asked his enthused audience of mostly design students, “Does anyone know really know what hip-hop is?”
Graffiti, free-styling (emceeing), mixing, and break-dancing are the four elements that Jennings chose to describe the hip-hop culture. “Hip-Hop is a way of thinking,” Jennings said. He explained how he uses the qualities as an aesthetic in his design career.
When creating posters, cover art, layouts and multi-media projects, Jennings uses these ideas to represent that style. He mixes images on Photoshop like a disc jockey and draws with no restrictions in mind. He exhibited his portfolio of designs and art projects for the audience as visual examples of what hip-hop looks like.
He graduated from Jackson State University, where he is now a tenured professor. Jennings was a cornerstone in the creation of the school’s design department. He also designed the school’s new logo, a commission that he was honored to receive. After years of free-lance design work and traveling with his colleague Damien Duffy, Jennings began publishing comics, a passion of his since childhood.
In his comic books and graphic novels (such as “The Hole,” an illustrated novel that breaks down black stereotypes and highlights the dangers of consumerism), Jennings creates detailed characters and underlying symbolisms that make them “post-modern” and “under-ground.” He stresses that the comic is a medium for art, not simply a genre. Jennings also created illustrations for the “After the Storm” symposium, a commentary of Hurricane Katrina.
Jennings speaks like someone you know well. He is humorous and modest, and just like his art, he is honest and respectable.
“People are growing up on hip-hop and using that as a framework for their discipline,” Jennings said. He described how hip-hop can be infused in almost any art form. He feels that purpose and content are very important in design, art, and all of hip-hop culture. He works on what he stands behind and cares about.
He takes part in designs that help protest the prison industrial complex and wishes to help the campaign of organizations looking to end corporate-run prisons. Along with this, his “Warning Graphic Content” comic workshop in the classroom takes an illustrated approach to expressing serious issues like racism, poverty, inequality, abuse, and anything his students feel strongly about.
The lecture was presented by Its My Verb, a new organization run by students in Central Pennsylvania to help spread ideas about design and make resources more accessible. The presentation was the kickoff for the organization and was received well by the audience. A question and answer session closed out the evening and provided the listeners an even closer look at Jennings’ personality.