Photography / Editorial / Print

James Jessop began his artistic adventures aged eleven drawing graffiti on the streets, transforming his A4 sketches at school, all to the tune of hip hop and practising breakdancing. He tells us in 1986 he was given a copy of the now famous 'Subway Art (1984)' and “became obsessed with the graffiti murals painted on the subway trains of New York.” He still has the “subway token from the first time I went to New York in 1985,” and it is still attached to the set of keys he carries around with him. 

New York holds a special place in his heart, he has since been about 10 times and “would not have got into art so much if I had not seen the train graffiti, the painting of big characters, so bold and raw.” A whole genre of artistic expression is based upon spray paint graffiti styles and Jessop tells us about the inspirational Blade who was “this crazy character making up amazing stuff in his head” who was “very much into James Brown”, whereas “people like 'Seen' were into Black Sabbath.” Of the adoption in the UK, “over here, we got the whole package deal later on in the mid 80s, rapping, break dancing and the emergence of spraying.” 

There is also a traditional background, having trained at The Royal College of Art and Coventry University, more recently giving lectures at City and Guilds of London Art School. He now mainly works on large scale canvasses with oil paint, mocking Spoof Horror B-Movie posters from the 70s, with a commercial breakthrough coming from exhibiting in Charles Saatchi's March 2004 infamous New Blood exhibition. He tells us that “painting in the studio and working outside feed of each other,” and he now has a recognisable style that he endeavours to “keep raw.”

At the ‘Follow Your Art - Street Art Against Slavery’ event presented by Anti-Slavery International, at which Jessop had donated a painting (Raising Hell, 2011) for the auction, we saw an edit of the ongoing film project ‘DOTS’ by Dscreet, which looks at the roots of graffiti and street art with a focus on the notoriously influential book Subway Art (1984) and examines the ephemeral nature of the street art phenomenon and its role in the art world. James Jessop was among those interviewed in the short film, following him as he exuberantly tours the Bronx with his graffiti hero Blade and the photographer Martha Cooper, seeing some of the iconic locations and using the imagery for a serious of paintings. Others featured in the short film were Eine, Miss Van, Os Gemeos, Blade, Futura, Conor Harrington, Dabs Myla, Lister, Ron English and Kid Acne. In the painting 'Raising Hell, 2011' we learn James ascribes his own meaning to the reworking of various characters from 1950s horror comics and B movies, redefining it with vibrant and bold brushwork that is said to also be a 'nod' towards earlier writers like Staff 161 and Caine.

There is a rebellious nature to Graffiti, which is exciting and is “what attracted me” to the sub-culture and has “grown to be a big part of cultural heritage.” Much has changed since “West London in my early teens, Royal Oak, Westbourne Park, Covent Garden was where it emerged at first over here”, then it all moved. “Im 38 years old now and have done a few things over the years which stand out personally, if outdoors, my favourite wall was with Dscreet in Miami at Primary Flight 2010. Even more so as Martha Cooper photographed that wall in Miami and it was 100% aerosol, no paint and is in Graffiti 365 by *J SON*. Right now, I would say although I have moved more into painting and work on canvas, I respect illegal work more, especially when it is done with a clever theme.”

Jessop, at the time of writing in April, has just finished Black Panther, a powerful image and has “started a huge 2m by 3m canvas in collaboration with Keith Baugh”, using some imagery from his book, New York Subway Graffiti 73 and 75.  He has a copy of the book and shows a few of the photos, which are quite “raw, vintage and will be working from shots like these.” Graffiti has always been a “driving influence” for Jessop and as long as there is a blank wall, there is a canvas for the art form.

Interview and Portrait
Nardip Singh

Images provided by artist 
Copyright © James Jessop

Artist interview as featured in Unfolded Magazine Issue 14
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