James W. Jennings: Artist & Educator

"You don’t have to be an 'artist' to be an artist. Your actions communicate who you are. When you look at my artwork, you’re looking at a form of communication. I want to communicate that invisible bond between us. In other words, I want to say, we all are one, its all about love, get over yourselves."

During your childhood, were there any experiences or creative impulses that propelled you into your career now?

I was always an artist. It’s one of those things where you can’t escape it. I was around master storytellers and dark tragic figures. My best friend, Timothy, was 3 or 4 years older than me, he showed me how to draw, but he was so much better than me. I never even considered myself as an artist, because he was so intuned with his gift. Imagine if you’re just starting to learn how to do something and someone else has mastered it and they’re trying to help you learn, you’re disgruntled at the fact that you may never be as good as that person. However, you take the time to learn and cultivate yourself. 

My grandmother was a master storyteller and I didn’t know this at all until she passed away. She had a gift. If there’s four of us in the room, she’ll be telling one story, but in the moment where it hits different for you or me, she’ll highlight that. Basically, telling one story, but giving each of you, your own story. I didn’t have the capacity to understand what that meant until she passed away and I started to put things together and be my own man in a sense.

I was always my own man in a fast-forward kind of way, but to be my own man, in a this is what God made you for kind of way. I didn’t really get that until recently.

I’ve noticed your post have mini stories that you tell through your pictures. Did that storytelling aspect trickle down to you?

The toughest part is figuring out which story to tell. I get chills just thinking about it. Like one word will just inspire me and then the process begins. I begin by questioning myself like how do I present this? Who am I presenting this to? And once I can figure out who exactly I’m talking to then I can rope everything else in.

For the most part on Instagram, I’m in my feelings. Because it’s difficult for me to scroll through my feed and realize that everyone wants to be a creative for all the wrong reasons, but everyone is creative. There’s no escaping that. You came from a seed that will produce a seed like you are creating. The problem is, a lot of people want to be creatives for the hype, cause they don’t want to do the job they’re doing right now or something like that.

For me, I had no choice. I literally grew up around all these amazing creatives. My grandmother is a perfect example because she was a nurse practitioner her entire life until she broke her back. When she passed away, there was a quote in her bible that said: “Judge me by my actions”. So it was another way to look at the creativity that wrapped the whole essence for me.

You don’t have to be an ‘artist’ to be an artist. Your actions communicate who you are. When you look at my artwork, you’re looking at a form of communication. I want to communicate that invisible bond between us. In other words, I want to say, we all are one, its all about love, get over yourselves. 

“1. Put in the work to document the moment. 2. Be appreciative as you can. 3. Keep it pushing. 4. Accept the collateral beauty.

Could you explain to us the meaning of the solid color line directly in the middle of your paintings?

The line in the middle is a vibe. It rips right through the middle so it’s balanced. There’s an atmosphere at the top, an atmosphere at the bottom and that invisible bond in between. The vibes came from my best friend Timothy. I think it was Sega or Atari contest, and he drew a dogfight with the planes and missiles, smoke and shit, and that really left an impression on me until this day. So when you look at the vibe it’s almost something passing through. You get to see it through a glimpse or a laser is more accurate for the vibe.

Are there different spaces far as width on the middle section? Does it depend on different words that you’re focusing on?

The word usually comes afterward. I allow myself to be creative, I don’t just have an idea and try to execute it although that happens as well. The process starts with me letting my hands fly and I come up with a little structure and try to work off of that. As I’m working I pay attention to everything. There’s no sense of time once I start working. I have to remind myself “eat, work, sleep, eat, work”. My last trip to Mexico City for my residency, I produced and gifted 17 pieces to a gallery. When I started working on the project, the first 5 or 6 pieces were strong vibes, meaning the middle section was tight. It communicated something. I did a piece called Moses, with a navy top and bottom and then a sandy feel in the middle. In other words, when God allowed Moses to part the Red Sea.

The vibe in the middle is the invisible bond that I’m trying to make visible.

How have you pulled yourself out of troubling times or moments of failure?

The biggest set back I had was going to jail for stealing. I did only 4 days in the county jail but the real take away from that whole experience was if you’ve never been to jail then you don’t know society. I’ve been to jail before. Not as an inmate but I feel like I knew how it was by visiting a friend. It’s not until you’re in the mix that you understand society. There’s a lot of people in there who have done dumb shit or they didn’t have the funds to really bail themselves out. Some people didn’t have $200 dollars to get themselves out of there.

To me, that set back and experience really shaped me. It gave me a reset which was a fantastic situation. It gave me a dream that I could control. It made me feel like nothing matters. You need to have that to feel alive.

Are you preserving the legacies and memories of those people close to you that you’ve lost through your art?

I’m preserving them through my actions. If I happen to do it through art that’s great also. That’s like a leaf to a tree. If they get woven into that then I feel like I did an amazing job. It’s my life, it’s my actions. To be able to say I’m not going to do what everyone else is doing just for the sake of being safe. I’m going to go out there and get it. My movements right now, to be in Paris for a month then Burgundy, France for another month then eventually Dubai for another month is nourishing. I don’t give a fuck if people hate or love my artwork. Just respect what I’m doing. Ultimately, I try to retain them in spirit.

As a creative, what is your process to get into the zone?

I journal religiously, meditate in the mornings and I work on my breathing exercises. Each journal entry starts with ‘Dear God’ thank you for whatever. Sometimes it’s funny like “Thank you for this hangover.”, or scared for my life moment! It’s real, it’s my communication with him. I dislike saying God sometimes because it throws people off by what I mean like they have this religious connotation. I get into the zone by having a deep appreciation of the moment.

I also wake up with a very positive vibe and I try to be as appreciative as I can be. Afterwards, I start paying attention to the details of the day and I follow my personal step. 1. Put in the work to document the moment. 2. Be appreciative as you can. 3. Keep it pushing. 4. Accept the collateral beauty.

What is the lasting impact or legacy you would like to leave behind?

I want to disappear. I want to be oblivion. I know that sounds ridiculous being an artist but I’ll explain. For me, I think it’s important to be ok with the concept of oblivion. I think it’s a new idea that people will struggle with. Once I realized that everything made sense. Artists work to be remembered or make an impression on people that will last and I don’t want to stay with you, I just want to help you.

What’s the biggest thing you’re excited about this year or the year coming up?

Excitement is difficult for me. I rarely get excited out of a week or two. My novel is with a publisher who wanted to publish it two years ago. That’s something I have in the works. 

I can say that I’m excited that people that I love are getting to experience this moment with me. For a long time I use to keep things to myself, I didn’t want people to see if it didn’t work out or judge me. Now people get to see the process. Thank God for Instagram, regardless as to how vain it is, weird as it is, it’s the easiest way to market yourself. I can upload a picture for people to see what I’m thinking. It’s an open window into my world and what makes me James.

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