The Picasso of Harlem: Jay West

Harlem's Visionary, Jay West

Harlem’s Visionary, Jay West

I had the grand opportunity of being able to get to know a very special pop expressionist artist out of Harlem, NY who’s currently dominating the art world. This Harlem visionary goes by the name of Jay West and is masterpiecin’ creative works  that just cant seem to be duplicated. His work  could possibly be described as a marriage between the Renaissance and graphics of  1930’s cartoons but there’s so much more that  could be spoken upon his unorthodox element. From doing the artwork behind the videos for A$AP Rocky’s “Purple Swag” and “Wassup” to having collaborating with Bape. It’s more than safe to say  that he’s one of the biggest if not already this generation’s most important visual artist of our time. Although we know what Jay’s capable  of putting down in front of the canvas, I decided to chop it up  and get to know the man behind it. From discussing his upbringing in Harlem with A$AP Ferg to his influences and his own brand Almighty 7, I got to cover it all. Check out my interview with the highly poppin innovative artist below:

-So I know your based out of NY, but what part would you say you claim ? 

Jay: I hail from the northern regions of Manhattan better known as Harlem   

 

-Dope! How did your interest in the arts come about and who would you say is your favorite artist

Jay: The arts chose me,  I didn’t choose it! I’ve painting and drawing since I was about 4 literally, sonic, Marvel comics, sonic etc…and I never turned my back on it. It was the one thing that made me happiest, it never turned its back on me so I gave it my life, and its given me more life in return – my favorite artist(s) are Francis Bacon, and Willem De Kooning.

What was it like growing up in Harlem with ASAP Ferg? 

Jay: A$AP Ferg and I grew up together, that’s my brother. 

 

So I know you used to sell belts and do a little bit of designing coming up but what was your very first hustle? 

Jay:My very first hustle was actually (drum roll) ART!!!! I would set up shop In the lobby of my old building back in maybe 97’, selling my sketches for $5…mind you at that age, my mindset was “out of allllll the tenants in this damn complex, more than half gon want to just grab an original “little kid” sketch just cuz…I went and bought my own super Nintendo with extra controllers, and 5 games the next few days….that LIT MY FLAME  

 

Being that you were interested in the arts, what did you decide to do after high school?

Jay: After High school, I was extremely stuck, and a bit depressed, and it actually got worse after I discontinued college. I felt as if I betrayed my families cliché plan of what you’re supposed to do proceeding high school. 

Seems like you had a really humbling beginning. What did you end up doing with the money  from your very first piece of sold  artwork ?

Jay:The very first thing I think I spent money on my very first Gallery sold painting was catching up on bills, and helping my mom with a bill or 2…couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror had I just stuffed it in my pocket and my mom needed help with a bill. After that it was more canvases and maybe a few nice dinners lol (story of my life) 

 

What are the things that influence your artwork the most?  

Jay: Renaissance art, De Kooning and all of the abstract expressionist painters really influence my work, I look at Abstract expressionist work and feel an INSTANT, and intense connection to most of it. I can sit and spend 7 hours on one eyeball of a painting to make it photo-real, but I feel too much, when I’m in a certain mood I resort back to what I’ve analyzed about expressionism and it’s spontaneity.  

Being that your Harlem roots have inspired your work, what do you think sets Harlem apart from every other city?  

Jay:Harlem is very special because it isn’t a borough, at ALL, but gets respect, clut, and represented like it’s totally apart from Manhattan…It was the African American axis, The Renaissance that brought an influx of new wave art, music, theater, performing art etc the place where Malcolm X started his wave, preached on the corners of Lenox avenue, Joe Louis paraded through these streets after defeating opposing foes for the stature of Black people in America, Mohamed Ali would join  Malcolm on his Harlem marches, (not to be glorified) but in pop culture Harlem’s relentless reputation for Hustle, and the figures that have added to it…it’s an extremely special place in New York, and the world for that matter… 

Has there been anyone that has given you advice yet regarding your grind ? What was the advice?  

Jay: My collector Ernie(who purchased my first sold painting) would invite me over to his extremely dope, art filled brownstone and we would just sip wine, or I would sip Henny and discuss all the periods of art, and what made the players in it significant!! So those conversations expanded my mind, it put me in his mental driver seat of the times he would rip and run the city, and ride the bus from PA to NY with Keith Haring.  

What can you tell me about your brand Almighty 7 ?  

Jay: Almighty 7 is a brand that represents positivity, uplift, and righteousness! 

What do you think has been the best & worst part of fulfilling your dreams thus far? 

Jay: The best part of this journey is that I get to see how powerful my mind is, the fact I can create things that don’t currently take up any real estate in the world at the moment, its only an idea in My head, and then I can go make, or create…that’s the biggest high! The toughest part is that it’s not a scheduled 9-5, it’s not a guaranteed wave of excitement, or income, or stability, but it’s all leading up to extremely stable situations  

-Can you see you and Ferg ever collaborating on anything anytime soon? 

Jay: Ferg and I have always been a collaborative force to reckon with, when the time is right, and we need to join forces we’ll do so with no hesitation.

Are there any supporters that stand out to you ?  

Jay: I’m in love with cars, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I Segway my Glow into F1, or some kind of car enthusiast stuff…boats too, but cars are cheaper, I got friends with boats so they’ll just set sail whenever I call for that time. 

-Do you have any other passions outside of painting ? 

Jay: I’m in love with cars, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I Segway my Glow into F1, or some kind of car enthusiast stuff…boats too, but cars are cheaper, I got friends with boats so they’ll just set sail whenever I call for that time.

Where do you see yourself a decade from now?  

Jay:10 years from now I see myself in books, and I’m alive to read my excerpts, and chapters about my contribution to art to my kids….chillin, in my zen, same me in essence just years down the line; time is an invisible, but VERY instantaneous force…therefore I only put a block on myself by acknowledging a numerical age lol  

Seems like you’ve accomplished a lot especially for being so young. Do you have any current goals for yourself?  

Jay: My current goal is to surpass the status quote, uplift my generation, challenge them to challenge themselves; when I was younger kids used to tease me because I had a vast vocabulary, and I understood the words, and the context in which I was speaking…I want the youth, and my generation to embrace their higher selves. Just have faith in yourself and keep pushing .

Thank you Jay for your time and this interview , definitely a pleasure !

Here’s a recap of Jay’s solo exhibition from earlier this month:

 

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