words anastasia miari | images james mernagh
Berlin-based creative James Mernagh is what we English like to call a “Jack of all trades.” Though the old adage goes ‘Jack of all trades, master of none,’ James defies convention. Having studied German in Manchester where he launched a successful online Dubstep magazine (Example), he moved to Berlin, where he’s since managed record labels, done music PR, put on a bi- monthly music event (Steam – if you fancy checking it out), launched Berlin’s very first pie company (aptly named Pieoneers) and found time to rediscover his passion for illustration. It seems that anything he turns his hand to, he has the ability to master.
“When I finished university, I recognised that it had kind of suppressed a part of me that used to be creative,” he says, acknowledging that his interest in illustration has been a much more recent development than most would imagine. “I knew I wanted to get it back, but it took over two years really. In the beginning I was just writing notes in a sketchbook and then eventually I met some new people who showed me that whatever you draw, or paint, or make - it doesn’t matter - it’s still valid.”
In true Berlin fashion, James has taken his art to the streets. His vivid, irreverent and unconventional style has seen him travel to South Africa, to splash his signature colours on the streets of townships under the scorching sun. “Painting things on the street is really refreshing when you’ve been used to working on a computer in your room. You find yourself interacting with people a lot more and feeling like you’re actually a part of the real world,” he says, adding that “painting in a township in Cape Town was a really great experience” for this very reason.
Recent commissions have also come from the music world. Estate Recordings, a Manchester-based Hip Hop label has just started selling his illustrated t-shirt and has commissioned him to create artwork for a numbers of its EPs. James’ roots in the Manchester music scene weren’t abandoned when he upped sticks for Berlin. He’s remained very much in contact with the people he first collaborated with on Example magazine and his readers have followed him from his perhaps more humble beginnings and on to his other projects.
Add to the art, music PR and event management a podcast and the creation of a new record label and you have yourself a very busy man. At the age of just twenty-four, he has managed to juggle an infinite number of projects over the course of five years. The next step—as well as that work-in-progress record label—is an exhibition of artwork exploring the idea of space. Ironic, or perhaps apt, as it seems there’s little of that in James’ schedule.
where do you live — Neukölln, Berlin
favorite neighborhood dinner — There’s a small Vietnamese restaurant up the road from me, which is dirt cheap and tastes amazing. It’s called Hamy, and is definitely worth visiting if you’re in Berlin. The day special is always a fiver.
luggage — Clothes, one pair of shoes, sketchbooks and pens
gadgets — I hate the iPhone, but I can’t live without it. It’s so useful but it’s tricky to stop yourself from wasting hours and hours on there. The Macbook Pro is the second essential gadget. I take it pretty much everywhere and use it to make money, entertain, communicate, create...Everything really.
favorite accessory — It's hard to choose, but I like caps and silly sunglasses. They just really bring some good vibes to any activity.
favorite charity — The Giving Pledge. The one that gets billionaires to give up half of their fortune or more. Eighty five people shouldn’t have as much money as half of the world.
favorite hotel — I like Airbnb better. Hotels are weird.
favorite apps — Instagram for looking at things, Spendee for keeping track of finances and making doing a tax return easy. I just recently got one called Moment, which tells you how much you were on your phone - just to freak you out.
favorite airport — Berlin's airports are awful and were supposed to close about 3 years ago. I like Heathrow Terminal 5.
favorite airline — I use Easyjet the most for hopping around Europe. I suppose that has to go down as my favourite but not out of choice.
home is...Yorkshire for my family, but Manchester if I actually want to see friends. I don’t really have much connection to Yorkshire anymore.
where would you like to live — I’m happy in Berlin. I haven’t found anywhere else yet that’s as relaxed, free, and cheap. I went to Cape Town for a bit and that was amazing but I couldn’t relax out there. If I could have Berlin’s vibe with the South African weather that would be ideal.
where & when were you happiest — In recent times, I think the happiest time I had was at Fusion Festival in Germany. I spent ten days there and it was the most amazing time of my life. It took a lot of getting used to the real world when I came back.
what do you consider to be your greatest achievement — I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve managed to stay totally self-employed since I left university and have somehow managed to keep stress out of my life.
what is your current state of mind — Happy and excited for the next few weeks.
how many trips do you take a year — I think last year I made about 15 to 20 overseas trips.
how many of those are vacations — I generally go to places for a reason, but have a nice time while I’m there. Having said that, most of last year was just traveling to see people or do holiday-type things.
without traveling, you relax by — I like drawing, painting, learning, and getting outside.
won’t board the plane before/without — A hoody for when it’s cold or to rest my head on. I can cope without entertainment and stuff. I’m good at falling asleep.
indispensable in your carry-on — iPhone
take-off routine — Usually texting people I’m going to see when I land or the ones I just said goodbye to, and then looking out of the window and, finally, falling asleep.
first thing you do after landing — If I’ve just arrived somewhere, then lots of looking, but if I’m coming home this is the worst bit. I’m almost there, but then I’ve got to do the shit bit of getting trains and buses to the final destination.
travel is...Experiencing new things and feeling like life is an adventure. The opposite of the daily grind. I don’t think you have to go far to travel and have a nice time. Lots of people want to go to another continent, but maybe they haven’t looked properly at what’s down their own road.