John Sunderland

New York, United States

Yorkshireman. Designer, writer, poet, artist, riddler, curator, urban walker, bathroom-cleaner, table-setter and napkin-folder. New York...

John is a Yorkshireman from England now living and working in New York City and accepting commissions for design work, portraits and illustration. Contact him at j.g,

John originally trained as a graphic designer, he started his freelance career as an animator of titles for TV shows like OTT and 3*2*1 before making a feature animated film with Kenny Everett called ‘Kremmen the Movie’ . Following that epic he art-directed television shows and feature films. However he discovered that his heart was not in movies after all and that what he really wanted to do was design ‘new-wave’ museums.
In 1981 he landed his first major commission, to design the radically different type of immersive exhibit, the famous Jorvik Viking centre (the original and best version), which opened in 1984 in York, England.

Besides ongoing international design work, today he is also the co-owner of two well known cafe restaurants in New York. Both are called ‘Life Cafe’, the oldest being in the East Village of Manhattan, founded in 1980 and at the heart of the original arts community, the cafe is featured in the musical ‘RENT’. The other is situated in the heart of the new and dynamic ‘arts colony’ of Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Besides his art and design, John is a compulsive writer and perhaps because of some strange brain defect, sees humour (almost) everywhere and stories definitely everywhere, in even the smallest events. You can check out his verbal doodlings in the writing dept.

John writes along with his wife Kathy; fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and produces original artwork which he exhibits as ‘Cafe Menu Riddles’ each week in the Life cafes in New York. (The Cafe riddle artwork is displayed on this site).

He also curates monthly art exhibits at the cafes and has a mission to help emerging artists by providing the opportunity to exhibit work at venues in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Currently and internationally, he is designing a major project commissioned by the owner of the Glastonbury Music and Arts Festival in the U.K..

In the late 1970’s, working as an animator he created the cartoon character ‘Dusty Bin’ for the English smash hit TV game show ‘3-2-1’, before going on to make two feature films with the comedian Kenny Everett.

Then came a big break when he was commissioned as Project Designer for the design of the Jorvik Viking Centre, in York in the early 1980’s, England. This entirely new type of immersive exhibit attracted 13 million visitors before the original exhibition was replaced in 2001.

Since 1984 he has worked around the world completing 23 award-winning design-and-builds and in excess of 130 consultancies commissions for exhibitions and museums.

He became well known in the UK especially for his work in developing a new ‘visitor centric’ Popularism in Museums. How he and his colleagues managed to achieve this is contained in his memoir, ‘A Viking in my Dustbin’ which can be read in small installments on his writing site here on Red Bubble.

A collection of brochures from some of John’s major international museum and exhibition projects (from 1984- present) are shown on this site along with samples of his illustration and other design and art work.

If you are interested in finding out more about individual exhibitions and museums designed by John, leave a comment and he will respond. (Full creative archives exist for each project).

John moved to America permanently in 1998 and lived on beautiful Cape Cod for 6 years before relocating to New York City in 2004 to live with his new wife and partner (aka Kathy Life).

Once John became involved with the cafes, which were and still are very much a part of the art scene in NYC, he thought about ways he could contribute to their spirit and came up with an original idea based on their menus.
So many items sounded strange and new to him that he came up with the notion of ‘Great Misunderstood Menu Items’ and began, to draw large murals in chalk on the walls of the cafe.
These were a great and popular success, but after a while it became apparent it was a huge waste to destroy the murals each week to make way for the next. So he changed his approach and started drawing in pastel on black paper and put those up on the cafe walls instead. The name of the project changed to ‘The Life Cafe Menu Picture Riddle’.

If you would like to own your own copy of the Picture Riddle series, you can currently purchase them from this site in the form of greeting cards, and posters. Originals are also on sale direct from the artist.
(For originals please contact .

All work on this site, visual or written is
Copyright John Sunderland and is not for reproduction in any form without permission of the author/artist.

  • Age: 69
  • Joined: October 2008



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