Artist Jay West Remembers Going to Art School With A$AP Ferg
Harlem native Jay West is quickly establishing himself as one of the most respectable artists in the contemporary and modern art scene with his innovative style of art dubbed as Pop Expressionism. The 26-year-old's captivating imagery has led West to collaborate with some of the most prestigious brands in motor vehicles and streetwear. His compelling work has been featured on a few of A$AP Rocky's music videos such as "Purple Swag" and "Get High" and has been praised by the likes of Swizz Beatz and Wale.
After a successful showing at the 2014 Art Basel in Miami, Jay West and his partners decided to launch Almighty 7, a clothing company that's been in the works for close to two years and that was officially unveiled in February of this year at a pop-up location in New York City. The grand opening of West's pop-up shop counted with the presence of NBA Dunk champion Zach LaVine, his longtime friend A$AP Ferg and several well-known artists from the New York area.
XXL caught up with the young Harlem artist during the launch of his first pop-up shop for Almighty to find out more about his pop expressionism. —Roger Krastz
XXL: How would you describe your art?
Jay West: I would describe my style as Pop Expressionism, and the reason why I call it Pop Expressionism is because it's a total blend of pop art meets abstract expressionism. I came up with that because I can't abandon either one. There was a time were I only wanted to do pop and it didn't feel right, and there was a time where I only wanted to do abstract and it didn't feel right. So now I blend the two. My background's usually really abstract and emotional in the way I'm feeling about the piece, or what I want to communicate is how I want the background to be, and then I lay the pop imagery or pop icons. So it's just one of those things where I describe it like that. It's very moody and I don't even care if it gets really moody, you'll still find some kind of appeal to the work. So I think that's why I found a really good balance with Pop Expressionism because it still appeals to the moodiness.
At what age did you start painting?
I started painting around the age of 4. I think at that age you just do it. I think it was a God-given talent and I enjoyed it. You know, there's a a lot of people I know that were drawing phenomenally at a certain age and they just stopped and that might not have been their calling, and I really do believe that art is my calling.
Who were some of the artists that inspired you as you become more involved in art?
I think around the time I started going to college, which I didn't like, but my Art History course was one of my favorites because I got to learn the ins and outs and science of art. My two favorite artists on the planet were Francis Bacon and Willem de Kooning, for many reasons. I feel like their emotional devotion into their work was at a 10. They were honest with their feelings. They were honest on how they transcribe their work and how they communicate it to their viewers and it was one of those things where it just happened to be commercially popping. Those two guys were my biggest influences.
Growing up did you face any challenges trying to break into the art industry?
Definitely. I think some of the challenges I faced were being young and black in New York and that's just something that even has escalated to today. You would think that in 2015, police brutality and stuff like that would have a decline or that it would slow up, and it seems like it's been picking up for like the past two years or so. Which is unfortunate, but those are some of the challenges that I faced. I could've easily been influenced to be in a negative direction, but I think that the art definitely did save me. It was the life raft for me. Other challenges that I faced other than my neighborhood being in turmoil at times would just be keeping confident, know what I mean? Staying confident and being patient. Because it's all about the patience.
You and A$AP Ferg came up together and even went to the same art school. How was that time for you? And how valuable is your friendship with Ferg?
That was such a vivid time for me. There's so many memorable moments. There were times where me and Ferg would be in my basement. I would be painting and he would be making belts or t-shirts and we would just constantly talk for hours and we still do the same thing. We would talk for hours on how we wanted to take over Harlem, and you know, our neighborhood in Manhattan is so small in the bigger scale of, like, the world, but as young kids we weren't thinking like that. We were thinking like Harlem was the end all, be all, and if you were popping in Harlem you were popping anywhere. So we didn't care.
We would have conversations about taking over Harlem and one day it just happened. We were just doing everything we wanted to do in Harlem. We had the wave. Any time we threw a party, the party didn’t need to be promoted, it would just get flooded, so we felt on top of the world. Then you get the life lesson of, "Okay, you're getting older now, here's real bills," so you have to start paying bills, you got responsibilities, so you start aging and you start getting older and I feel like we didn't lose that touch. We still kids at heart. We still kids that dream big and that's how he creates and that's how I create. And I think that's why we still have such a dynamic relationship other than the fact that we still got love for each other as brothers. We love each other creatively, too. We challenge each other. We push each other and he's just a phenomenal human being.