Creator Wave Vol 36: Joshua Mays
When we first started Sound Colour Vibration, an online art gallery was a big part of the vision that shaped the purpose and original format of the SCV organization. With productions in venues and art galleries in various areas around the world from all members of the organization, the vision of Sound Colour Vibration has evolved rapidly with our online art gallery series we have dubbed Creator Wave serving as a consistent feature since the beginning. Surrealist painter Jeff Jordan, Erykah Badu album artist Emek, master sculptor Kris Kuksi, The Mars Volta collaborator Sonny Kay, it has been a wild ride into the hearts and minds of people we believe are contemporary geniuses in their respective fields. When we linked with San Francisco artist Chor Boogie in the beginning, we asked him about an artist he had collaborated with and would regularly promote through his networks to be included for our online art gallery. This artist was Joshua Mays and his works have drastically influenced the staff at SCV for over 2 years now. Rooted in a very expressive and colorful medium of presentation, his works of art print or mural size speaks volumes and are some of the most dynamically enriched pieces we have ever seen. It is from this volume of impact that we are very proud to present Volume 36 in our Creator Wave series with the illustrious Joshua Mays. We also interviewed Josh recently for inclusion into the Creator Wave online art gallery, which we have included with many images of his works before the main section of the gallery. All of the works presented span the course of 3-4 years and we have left the years and origins off of the works to parallel the consistency and overall genius that has been at play for some time now. Please enjoy the words of this powerful artist and definitely keep an eye out for everything he has coming to the world in the near and distant future.
Sound Colour Vibration interviews visionary artist Joshua Mays
SCV: Your repertoire includes some of the most amazing work I have ever seen. Can you share with me your family’s role in how you came into your own regarding childhood ambitions and the path you took in creating such an extensive and continuous career?
JM: My family’s role in my career? My mom and dad were always prone to supplying me with what I needed, in general. When I was a kid they always supplied pencils, colored pencils, watercolors, and so on and so forth. Whatever I asked for, I mean, I was always drawing. Yeah, pretty much just supplying materials and generally just staying out of my way, you know, when it came to my creative aspirations. I don’t come from a family of artists, so they didn’t really know what it meant to have a career as an artist, and what that would look like. It was up to me to go out and explore and figure out what I wanted to do. All this desire to draw and paint. I’m still trying to work all this out.
SCV: So would you say it was the unconventional approach towards a career and future ambitions?
JM: Yeah, when it comes to the idea of being a professional artist., there weren’t many of those in Denver. There are these stories moving to New York and waiting to be discovered by a big gallery and written about in magazines around the world. When I was a kid, that’s what the idea was. The career I have today is different. Not the get on a plane, land in New York, and go to the New York storyline. Now I see that it’s less centralized. New York is still a big city to go and be creative and connect with art media, but Los Angeles has become the #1 city in my mind, Bay Area has become #2, New York is more along the lines of #3. But, that doesn’t answer your question. I think my family’s point of view… I feel like there was a sense of support in the beginning. Then, as I went through high school, questions arose: “Okay, he does a lot of painting and is really talented. He goes to these summer (art) camps, but what does that mean?” It really was in my hands at that point. My dad highly advised me to get my degree and my mom did, as well. I never went and got my degree. I got a certificate in graphic design, but I had to go and find out for myself. I also realized, through all my friends with degrees, that we’re in a different day in age, to where “getting an education” isn’t all that would equal success, or all that equals a career that supports you and makes you happy. So yeah, it was, and is mostly a solo mission. Looking at the career I have now, I would say it was quite a journey for it to be what it is right now… and I know it gets better. I have been through a lot to get to where I am now, and am willing to go through more.
SCV: You’re from Denver, moved to Philadelphia, and have had numerous international exhibits. While showing your work and traveling from location to location, and being exposed to a vast array of cultures and customs, do you feel you take mental notes and absorb your surroundings for further and additional inspiration?
JM: I guess I would answer that with, ‘yes’. Yeah, I go around and absorb the textures of wherever I happen to be. It’s interesting, my creative flow, right now. My life has become purposefully structured around it. The imagery you see in the drawings may not literally exist around me, but there’s definitely a storyline and a flow that is totally making sense to me in what I am channeling through the pen, the paper, and the brush. I would definitely say whenever I go from place to place; I’m almost like a blob. It just kind of rolls over things and sucks things in all over the place. If there’s a pattern on the floor tile, that pattern will make its way into a drawing. I’ll sit on a doorstep and will see a flower in the garden, and that flower suddenly appears in the drawings I do that night. I take pictures. I’ll see a cool car, and the rims of that car may be rotating in the back of a piece, as some big architectural structure. Conversations with people, music, you know? It’s funny how it all transforms into the abstract when I begin my pieces, and how they eventually work their way in and the general story line that I’m flowing in. It takes control at that point.
SCV: Someone once told me, “Being your own worst critic is the only way to look at your work from an objective point of view, and without that- without the ability to be able to be critical about our own work- we can no longer evolve as artists.” How do you maintain that motivation to continue, and more importantly, maintain that momentum to keep boredom at bay?
JM: With the quote of being your own worst critic, I mostly don’t agree with that. I feel like the critics, (including your inner-critic) can prevent you from creating. You become self-conscious and are quick to define your work. You have an idea and you’re always comparing it to what is “good” to you at the time,. You’re never going to accept your own style. At some point or another, you get to a point to where you stop trying to see other people’s work in your work. Ask yourself what your language is and what is working for you. Then you start accentuating those things. You generally just want to get to a point to where you’re creating enough and you’re comfortable with yourself. To address that particular quote, I felt I had to say that. For me, it is generally just that I have to keep doing it no matter what. I for one, I’m always drawing and that means I’ll pick up a page and scribble on it even if my goal isn’t necessarily to make a complete piece, but to keep a sort of practice or keep the flow flowing. As I draw, I absorb inspiration. You know I have this triangle that I work with and it defines a career of an artist. It starts with ‘Inspiration’, goes to ‘Creation’, and then goes to ‘Exhibition’, and then it transfers back into ‘Inspiration’. I feel like maintain that cycle keeps that creative fire burning hot. Whenever I have an idea, I go ahead and make something based from that idea. Then I get inspired by the response that I receive. The big part of why I do my drawings and post them on my Facebook page is because, whenever I get the response, I feel prone to create more when people are responding. I would say most of the responses on Facebook are positive. That makes me feel good and hop up at night and get to work. That fuels the fire. The more I do that, the more I am inspired by flowers, architecture, conversations, music, books, and so on. It’s interesting. It’s a positive paradox for me.
SCV: Your name has been thrown out there with the greats. I can honestly tell you that Mati Klarwein has been mentioned numerous times when others have encountered your work. Who are some of your most influential artists, and is there anything in particular that you find yourself looking for or extracting from these admired artists, in order to apply to your own work?
JM: I definitely take a lot of inspiration from art nouveau. It’s a huge influence on my perspective. I take a lot of inspiration from psychedelica, also. Mati is “THAT DUDE”. I’m inspired by so much now-a-days. The internet is helpful for me to discover someone new, almost every day. The creative blob point of view, that I mentioned, comes to mind. I purposefully will find somebody whose work I like and take on their style however I can. I realize that as long as I am doing my work constantly on a daily basis, if I’m drawing a couple times a day, when I adopt somebody’s style, it will become my style. Then when someone takes a look at my piece, they wouldn’t recognize who I’m referencing, they just see my style. Whenever I see someone’s work, that I like, I stare at it for a while, and put it away, and just draw and draw. I create based upon this new texture I discovered in this person’s work. It’s a new concept that was in this person’s fashion design, or create something based on this relationship that was mentioned in this painting or whatever. Just what I said in the last question: just keep going and keep flowing so your style becomes like a sponge and I can just live life absorbing. I almost feel I never stop working, because the ‘Inspiration’ side of the triangle that I mentioned before is always happening. Like this conversation we’re having right now about work, can become potential concepts for future pieces. I’m pretty lucky to be in the position that I’m in. I’m creating work and finding lots of people who really like my work enough to support me in the ways they have; whether it be buying a piece, or giving me a place to be while I’m creating a series of pieces, or giving me a place to exhibit. So yeah, it’s a wild ride. Stay inspired, show your work to people and keep doing your work, so you get your flow from your community. That community will demand you to just be yourself and keep doing what you’re doing. It’s amazing, and I really am appreciative of my family who’s got my back in that way.
SCV: This morning I saw Part II of your Love & Momentum promo created with your close friend Scott La Rockwell and a contributed track from Deflon (Derrick Curtis). It’s amazing. I’d say it’s inevitable for an artist (especially a painter) to be inspired by other mediums. Whether it’s in their general artistic routine or some random creative serge or instance, artists can’t help but gather inspiration from any and every source they encounter. What other mediums do you turn towards most for inspiration, and how important do you believe cohesion to be among different mediums within the art world?
JM: When it comes to art, I might be exposing myself to more new music than anything else. I see a lot of drawings, painting, and graphic works online, so maybe those battle it out for number two. I listen to a lot of cinematic, beat focused instrumentals, as of late. The best tracks make me want to contact the creators for the potential of collaboration. This day in age, with the internet being what it is, especially for creative people, it’s inevitable you’ll find artists out there creating and elaborating on some other mediums that you will want to talk to. I go back to pre-internet days, where you mostly appreciated paintings in a gallery setting. Now, a visual artist can have their work appear in a music video or have their work appear in a marketing campaign or appear on some street piece. I think primarily, you get your style on point. Get to where you’re comfortable creating regularly. The secondary thing is to consider it outside of just being drawings, or paintings, or just being music, or song writing, or sculpture, so on, and so forth… and figure out how to add that extra dimension to it. Endless possibility comes. That sort of potential can be super inspirational, but also very distracting. I would say the beginning of my career, I was always being approached by people wanting me to do T-shirts or someone wanting to do prints, or comics, and most of these people are half-assed and not really serious about it. They’re more in it from the surface level of appreciation of shirts, comic books, or posters and they have no idea what creating a business based upon that means. The younger version of me has been prone to throwing myself into everything and experiencing everything and going hard, at every potential opportunity. Today, I’m wearier and more focused and more understanding of the value of being focused and saying ‘no’. Now, I still get a lot of people wanting to start an apparel company and I know what that means. I say no to 98% of those people. I want to find the right collaborations with like minded artist that have proper work ethic in different mediums. BEHOLD: The Eye of the Brainstorm (the collaboration with Scott La Rockwell, and Pueblo Nuevo that included a mural, timelapse film and fashion editorial for Big Up Magazine) , was a good example of that. I only want to get away from painting to do quality stuff like that.
SCV: Being a music lover, I am so curious to know whether there are any albums in particular that strike a special chord with you, and any albums or musicians you turn to for that immediate ignition of the creative process and execution.
JM: There are certain labels that I dig. Project Mooncircle, out of Berlin, they’ve been hitting me pretty hard with lots of good stuff: Robot Koch, 1000 names, KRTS, Flako, Sina, Long Arm and so many more. Various music blogs and different friends on Facebook are posting new music all the time. FlyLo and Brainfeeder: they’re in a ridiculous creative point right now. The Thundercat, and Teebs albums, Strangeloop’s visual stuff, they’re definitely poking me in the brain; making me say, “I got to see these guys!” There are so many people I want to mention, that I don’t want to neglect. A guy named Memotone is doing ridiculous things. Soosh, as well. heRobust (out of ATL) released a favorite album of mine a couple years ago and is about to drop a new album, soon. Deflon, who did the work for instrumentals for the(Love and Momentum) promo that just dropped, he’s a young dude from North Carolina and he shared his album with me and you know, it’s really, really good. I can wait for him to broadcast it. All these beat scenes and people taking sounds and creating so many different styles all over the place, I’m inspired by that. I think about it, my music aesthetic is hip hop influenced, structurally, but I don’t listen to a lot of rap at all. The music I listen to in general is pretty hard to define. I like when people take random things and make music out of them. I remember listening to Special Ed “I’m the Magnificent” back in middle school and my favorite part was ‘YO DJ, PUT IT IN REVERSE” and the song goes backwards and sounds really trippy before it goes into the chorus. It didn’t’ sound like any instrument I could think of. Bomb Squad would just take sounds and have them in a super collage just flowing at you. That Bomb Squad aesthetic, and Animal Collective, and Panda Bear, where it’s , again, super sound collages just flowing at you with all these textures happening and all these structures being formed and separating then reintegrating to tell a story, is very much where I go to right now. I’ve been really prone to maximalism is terms of sound, then James Blake comes through, and reintroduces minimalism and allowing silence to be a part of that story line, as well. I’m always digging Radiohead and Thom Yorke’s stuff. The internet keeps me finding about five new favorite artists a week. Like say, “Wow, this album or whatever this dude is doing next is amazing”. People are releasing this free on the internet and I’m downloading it on my Mac.. The Color Codes project is what I created to help me catalogue what I’m listening to and pay more attention, because I don’t want to become somebody who just throws sounds on and say it’s my music, and have someone ask me about it, and I don’t know what I’m playing. I’m nerdy about music in that way to where I need that. I want to know those details about my music. I hope to meet and collaborate with a lot of these cats who are making all these inspirational sounds.
SCV: It’s safe to say that the world we live in today is a paradise for political and social commentary, activism, and the fight for social justice. There does seem to be a hint of social commentary and consciousness expressed throughout your work. Would you consider painting and your art to be your primary agent of sharing with the world your humanitarian views, and not just a vehicle for artistic expression?
JM: You know this question has appeared in different conversations with other artists who are younger than me, and they’re at a same crossroads that I came to years ago, when I was doing art and was also doing political pieces. I did a piece a while ago based upon the situation that happened in New York where the cops unloaded 41 shots into Amadou Diallo. I collaborated with a group of poets in Denver and create a live spoken word event. Not to make any money, but to make it a point and to share how messed up of a situation this was to me. It’s to easy to act righteous and demonize somebody who makes the decision to be a merchant, business person, or an entrepreneur. When you get older you realize that it’s really not all that serious and you have to make decisions. I came to a point that I’d rather be a person creating what I want to create, and be creatively proactive and not reactive. I generally want to flow freely and throw my world upside down in order to create something exciting, but also absorb things that offer themselves to me as inspiration and reference. Dwelling in a self-righteous point of view can close you, mentally. Whether I decide to be an entrepreneur or an activist, I have to come down from righteousness in order to realize people are people and that I need to connect with them and understand truly what they’re going through in order to get their support. You can’t investigate an issue and when you realize how complicated the issue is, you decide to through your hands up and say that the world is fucked up. That being said, my point of view is that of an artist who is carrying his own story and progressing the story. The surrealism and futurism in a lot of what I create, can be seen as commentary on what I see around me. But, I do like when people do connect with pieces and see themselves. That’s a main reason why I like exhibiting. I like when people point out things in pieces that I haven’t seen before. People stand there for 15-20 minutes looking at a piece and it evolves and reveals everything to them and takes them around in a full circle and they come back the next day and see something totally different.
SCV: I mentioned Love & Momentum, which is your upcoming show at Betti Ono Gallery on February 3rd, and your reason for being in Oakland as we speak. What were the changes in your approach towards Love & Momentum, different from your previous shows, that you were adamant about applying in this present venture?
JM: My system isn’t changing much at all. I’m maintaining a certain flow and creative momentum; to where imagery comes together, but not always as imagery, but as words and ideas and storylines. Most of the time I don’t decide, “You know what, I want this next show to look different from the last show”. If my style and content changes, it happens organically. I look back and I barely recognize pieces from three years ago. Well, I recognize the pieces, but I’m like, “Whoa, that was then” and even further back it’s even apparent how much I’ve changed. It’s interesting. It’s like New Year’s resolution type shit. Because the New Year hits and you think, “YEAH, I’M TOTALLY GONNA BE A DIFFERENT PERSON SINCE IT’S JAN 1st!” and in all reality you’re just flowing. The clock keeps ticking the same way every day.
SCV: I can say that throughout my life and involvement in the art world, I have had many highly enlightening and highly heated conversations with artists rooted in the notion of emotion versus technique. Do you believe there to be a balance necessary to maintain regarding emotion and technique, and how do you prioritize these elements?
JM: I definitely think that emotions that appear naturally have the same weight as technical prowess in a piece of art. It definitely takes both being able to lose yourself in a way to where you’re not at just critique mode, you’re in create mode, and accepting yourself, and flowing into your own storyline, letting the uncomfortable details exist wherever they are. It goes back to just drawing and creating all the time. I know people on both ends, where they’re really into technical perfection, but there’s no emotional connection in their work. It’s like, “Okay, you really effectively created a flower, but yeah it’s a flower. Why couldn’t I just take out my iPhone and take a picture and capture it the same way you did, but with less time and oil paints?” Then on the other end, I’ve seen people who create pieces which have a desire to communicate something, but technically, it’s like, “Awww man, this is a great idea. This is a great conversation piece with an incredible flow of information, but if only this person knew how to paint.” I know what you’re saying. Different art scenes, like in Denver for example, you go out for First Friday and visit galleries that seem to be presenting art for art’s sake. Like we should rejoice in somebody, ANYBODY who is slapping paint on a canvas. These shows are a disservice to the art scene of the city. It sets the bar pretty low. Nobody strives for mastery. Like somebody says, “Oh yeah, I can pull stuff out of my basement from high school and I can go ahead and have a show and put a $500 price tag on it.” In contrast, a city like San Francisco, you go to an art exhibit where you’re blown away, then you go next door and you’re blown away again. The scene is just so full of these artists mastering the combination of emotional content and technical prowess. I feel what you’re saying when it comes to bringing them together and producing effective pieces and being apt visual communicator. I hope I’m doing that.
SCV: We’ve had this recurring theme of inspiration and momentum, that’s clearly evident with SCV’s Color in Motion December 2011 Retrospective. What is your daily or general routine regarding the evolution of a piece from initial conceptualization to full completion?
JM: For drawings, I pull out out 3 pieces of paper and start 3 drawings. Throw down abstract shapes, fill in those shapes, or carve out faces or objects that I recognize, then complete a drawing and post it, then go to another drawing and take it to that next step, then pull out another blank sheet. I really like starting pieces and throwing down on a blank panel or sheet of paper. I don’t use a pencil. I don’t do any erasing. I just put down a shape, accept it, put down another shape, accept that, create a relationship between these two shapes. Accentuate characters or forms that I recognize. Let a story take form. My pen and ink drawings have developed into something super organic and I want my painting process to follow suit. My painting process doesn’t flow as well as when I’m drawing. I want flow to where it becomes almost second nature, and I won’t be thinking technically much at all. I’ll just zone out and pay attention to unfolding narratives, “Wow, there’s a love triangle here! Let me go on ahead and provoke the situation that I’ve just created. Let me create this person, or character or dynamic.” This keeps the creative process interesting and fun for me. It also helps with exhibiting and transferring my ideas through storytelling.
SCV: Where do you see yourself down the line concerning your career, current artistic goals, and future creative endeavors?
JM: I want to travel more and I want to spend more time abroad. But, at the same time, I want to base myself. I’m tri-based in Denver, Philly, and the Bay area. I would like to decide which of those places will I put my stuff down, spend most of my time, create a workshop/studio space/living space to where I can have my creative flow running full speed. Ship out UPS packages all over the country and the world. I would like to collaborate with silk screeners, create more limited additions. I have a partnership with Denver artist, Michael Coriano called Flying Spectrum dedicated to releasing limited editions of our work. We’re trying to fill our website with posters and prints. James Jean inspires me in that way. He not only creates great original work, but is creating really, really cool merchandise and limited edition stuff that’s just so well designed, promoted and packaged. I would like to do more mural work. But, I would rather spend my time in the studio just banging at a series of paintings and investigating myself and my style. I want to maintain the cycle of inspiration, creation and exhibition from here all the way to the end of my life. I would like to really support myself financially and keep lack of money from screaming at me as much as it has in the past. Based upon where I was last year, and where I was the year before that, I think I’m doing a good job. It’s coming together, through persistence and patience.
Creator Wave Volume 36: Joshua Mays