Interview with Jon Grundon of Brokenhare
Fiercely gifted Artist and Prop maker Jon Grundon chats monsters, wild things and unicorns
In a back alley in Cardiff, surrounded by mechanics, junkies and the occasional prostitute; unicorns are born.
This is where the wild things truly live! Unicorns, zebras, wolves, polar bears, giraffes, the occasional fox. Each one crafted by hand by master prop maker Jon Grundon of Brokenhare.
Eyes twinkle, nostrils flair, mouths smirk exactly how they should. Beyond lifelike, Jon’s creatures appear to be ready to shake their manes or jump from the very wall for which they’re hung. Each a true testament to his ridiculous skill and attention to detail, finished off with the cheek, charm and a bit of magic that comes only from an artist with a true uninhibited passion for his craft and an absolute heart of gold.
A dear friend whose work I admire, seen grow and evolve, constantly surprise me, make me smile, and also scare the shit out of me!
What was the first creature or prop you made?
JON GRUNDON: I worked on a lot of stuff in my first prop shop in Vancouver, but it was pretty chaotic! I never new what I was doing or what it was for. So I’d say the first prop I really got stuck into was for Schminken Studios (a Vancouver special effects company) and it was a 4 foot pile of gelatin ears, a Mike Tyson gag, for that classic film Scary Movie 4.
What do you think has been the scariest?
I was always messing about making little clay creatures and alien heads when I was trying to learn how to sculpt. It really helps you practice sculpting textures, wrinkles, and expressions.
I made a few corpses for Dr. Who, a really fun process of covering a skeleton in tissue paper and latex. But I think the scariest would have to be a mask I made for an Indie film for a friend (I’ll send you a picture, haha)
In the time I’ve known you, I have never once heard you to say no to a project or request! You’ve created all sorts of things like a life size llama, winking deer head, cow leg bar stools, not to mention numerous TV and film commissions. What’s been the most obscure?
‘A lactating Madonna with child’…which says it all really! ha It’s a creation I did for a show called DaVinci’s Demons.
What would be your dream film from the past that you could have built the props for, or worked on?
5th Element, without doubt! There’s so many reasons…the design by Jean Paul Gautier, the creatures weapons colours…
Is there any artist in particular you look up to, or influenced your work when you started?
I was really inspired by make-up effects guys, like Steve Wang, Matthew Mingle, Dick Smith etc. The sculptors like Evan Penny and Jamie Salmon who both really push the boundaries. But in all honesty, as cheesy as it sounds, it’s the guys you work with in each workshop that have incredible amounts of talent that really inspire me the most. You don’t really know what can be achieved until you step into a workshop and see fantastic sculptors painters model makers, mould makers ,animatronics!
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t fallen in love with your Unicorns. Where did the idea to make them first come from? Talk me through the process?
My first animal head was a stags head, then zebra and a fox. We took them to art markets and the response was incredible, but the kids kept asking us if we did unicorns, so we had to give it a go; and the rest is kinda history I guess! ha
What music are you currently listening to in the workshop?
Not much has changed for me since the early 2000’s. So mostly golden era hip hop, and my go to album Sound Bombing 2. Although my only member of staff is my dad, and he doesn’t quite appreciate El-P, Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch as much as me, so until he leaves at 2pm I have to listen to talk sport or radio 2! The Jamaicans in the workshop next door have filled out their space with speakers and bang out reggae most days which has also been pretty cool.
You’ve also done a lot of bespoke animals with Brokenhare? What do some people ask for?
Dragons is a big one, we get asked all the time! Being Welsh everyone wants a dragon at home, and we also have a lot of fans of fantasy, but haven’t quite got round to it.
Do you prefer doing the commissions?
At the beginning I do. The sculpting part is the most creative, but the worst bit is seeing it leave the workshop once it’s finished. The first one is hard to let go of, and somehow you never feel like you’ve finished it.
There is no question how crazy realistic all your creations are. Do you have to really visualise how each move and breath when your working on one? The eyes?
Yeah totally. You almost have to give it a character/personality and see how it acts whether it’s a wise beast, a sympathetic animal or angry and imagine it talking to you. You’ve only really finished it when it looks back at you. That’s how I know.
Your girlfriend Katherine helps a lot with the business side of things but also has a past making props….?
Katherine is amazing and has a way more credible cv than me!!! She’s worked on puppets for Fantastic Mr.Fox, and Frankenweenie with Tim Burton, not to mention met Bill ‘fucking’ Murray!! We met at the Dr.Who workshops in Cardiff making darkens…. pretty romantic!
How do people react walking past your workshop when they see you making unicorns?
My workshop, is in a pretty dodgy and notorious lane in riverside Cardiff. Most of the passers by are normally off their head on various chemicals; so to see a unicorn might not be so strange!!! They always stop in and ask if ‘the unicorns are real bruv?’, then go of and smoke another bowl!
Any hints on what’s next?
I’m working on a giraffes head for a client, which I will be selling from our website next year and he’s pretty cute. Also a wolf, and a polar bear. I’m hoping to make some more fantasy creatures next year too, so watch this space as they say!
contact jon & brokenhare at:
Words by Tracy Kawalik and Jon Grundon
Photos by Jon Grundon and Brokenhare