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In conjunction with EndoftheLine, Chrom-Art will be celebrating the opening of their brand new East London gallery this December with TetraChrome: Art in Lockdown, a solo show from visionary street artist Jim Vision.
Certainly not one to play it small, since 2005 Jim has been on his own personal rampage to beautify the urban scenery – with a slew of monstrously large murals that many would have already seen gracing whole buildings from London’s Brick Lane to Manchester’s Northern Quarter. His clients include such major names as Netflix and Marvel; and yet the London-based artist has remained active at the grassroots level too – pursuing both independent art and community projects.
On show for the first time will be a handpicked selection of Jim’s art, produced during the unprecedented period of the London Lockdown.
Those that are more accustomed to seeing the artist’s work on a grander scale in outdoor settings might be surprised to see the scaled-down abstract portraiture and work with acrylic and oils here…or the showcase of special prints that form Jim’s Colourful Women Series: a string of London street murals painted in 2020 celebrating women of colour. In addition to live painting sessions, this new collection will be broadcasted over live streams too for those that cannot make it into the gallery. Of course due to social distancing guidelines too it is recommended that you book an appointment in advance should you wish to view this work.
I sat down with Jim on the eve of his first exhibition since the lockdown to chat about the future of the street art scene, juggling commercial and personal work, and how gentrification is making it more and more challenging for him to get his work out there.
Would you mind sharing with us your history as an artist, and how you got into street art and mural painting?
I arrived in London in the early 2000s. A creative revolution was happening in Shoreditch, after years of corrupt government and recession, the East of London was slowly waking up and artists and musicians made it my favourite place to be. I was massively influenced by those early graffiti artists of New York, and the new era of Street Arts which the internet made accessible.
I was struggling to find my place in the world but painting saved me. Graffiti was a creative release and walls of abandoned buildings were a haven to practice my styles. I began painting in the streets of Shoreditch in the daytime and opening up new walls and halls of fame so that the culture could grow.
I set up EndoftheLine and began building my portfolio with jobs for my favourite brands like Manga and Marvel. Travel gave me an opportunity to be a part of a global culture and educate my development. I brought back the Meeting of Style concept from Germany to the UK and began hosting the annual International paint festival, with Matilda, my partner in crime.
What prompted you to take on this new venture into portraits and abstract work using oil?
I really started to miss the smell and feel of painting murals during Coronavirus lockdown. So I bought some wooden canvases and a set of oil paints and set myself a challenge to try to master a new medium. I had a great time learning techniques with the ability to create new and interesting effects with a paint brush . We are normally so busy it’s hard to learn new skills and focus on studio work.
Would you mind speaking on the impact that urban property development is having upon you as an artist?
We have been on the edge of gentrification since I arrived in London.
Once we get settled in a new neighbourhood and start painting the streets, almost immediately as soon as we get comfortable, the Landlord decides to increase the rent, build a new hotel or destroy a block for a new development. Our studios at Rockwell House lasted for five years before they decided to knock the building down and build a new skyscraper. This urban development follows where the culture and art is. It moves in and tears the heart out of the neighbourhood. Greed increases the price for normal people and soon they are replaced with soulless grey buildings and workers on higher salaries. The culture is spread to the wind and new things struggle to blossom where they land. The effect is devastating to communities struggling to survive the pace and inflation set by these greedy developers.
There are some socially responsible developers, who we have been lucky enough to work with on community projects and commissions, but many of the developers are desperate to cash in on the social and cultural capital created by the creative people and community that inhabit the area and who are cast to the wind with each new development .
How do you see the current state of the street art scene, and the direction of which it is headed?
Street art and culture usually thrives in a recession. When Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were in power we had the explosion of Punk Music and Hip Hop and Graffiti in America. Street Culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it is a reaction to society, and good things can develop in the worst of times.
Historically, graffiti has never had much support from the government and councils; this is a culture bred out of necessity, as people we need to express ourselves.
This is a global art movement of the people, by the people and we have already seen how much people value the culture from the endless sharing on social media platforms. There is a shift happening, an era of big murals is coming to a crescendo. The new era will probably be some kind of rebalancing of the culture; an arms race of creativity, the rise of train painting and illegal graffiti, alongside the art forms of street art and Muralism.
How has the lockdown and the current pandemic impacted you as an artist?
As soon as Lockdown was enforced, all of our big projects and commissions were shut down. We had to cancel any trips to other countries and our own festival was put on hold. I have taken the time for personal development, painting canvases and a few walls in the streets. It felt like a huge knock to my career that I have been building for the last 20 years. But perhaps by reframing the situation I have learnt to see it as a chance to breathe.
Maybe it will never return to the way it was…maybe we don’t want it to.
‘We have been on the edge of gentrification since I arrived in London…’
Do you ever find that there are any difficulties or adversities when navigating between commercial and personal work?
The biggest problem we have found is actually dealing with other people who don’t have your best interests as an artist.
There is a growing number of people that you have to learn to avoid when you are painting professionally. They will sell you out, steal your ideas, insert themselves into projects, act as gatekeepers for walls and suck the life force out of this street culture. They will massage your ego and tell you things you want to hear – but don’t trust the carrot that gets dangled. That carrot can be whisked away without even a hint of guilt or irony.
It really is best to be independent, self directed, to manage your own finances and run your own business. If you rely too much on other people to make your career you may find it difficult to navigate between your personal and commercial work.
Could you share with us what we might expect to see at your upcoming solo show?
This is a very strange time to be doing any kind of event so we are just going to take it easy and present a few of my new canvasses. In the meantime I am planning to take advantage of the time and space to complete and paint some new art. People are welcome to join me while respecting all the rules and acceptable Covid distancing.
What was the inspiration for this new show? Is there a particular theme?
I decided to try to level up my portraiture this lockdown. Teaching myself oil painting, producing awesome new paintings and letting the inspiration of boredom take control. Time is an excellent thing to have, so this really was the result of not having any other projects and enjoying the challenge and freedom of the creative process.
Is there anything new or unique about the way this show is being presented?
We will have to save some things for the visitors to the gallery but we will definitely be streaming and sharing the process on the internet for people on the other side of the screen.
Do you have any words of advice for those that might be interested in the street art scene, and painting walls or murals?
The best advice I always give is to draw, always, in your sketchbook. Grab some paint and use it. Make a plan, or go freestyle and attack the wall. There will be more spray paint in the future and you will get better the more you paint so go for it. Those walls won’t paint themselves.
In terms of the culture, particularly when you are starting out, try not to paint over anybody else. Find a new bit of wall, unless it’s a hall of fame, then take out the worst painting first. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should paint, but don’t be too proud to take advice from more seasoned artists. Paint from your own mind and heart but always look at artists who inspire you. If you copy your favourite painting into your sketchbook you will start to understand what makes it so great and you can learn from that. The same with graffiti, you can find shapes and forms to help you sculpt your own letter in the art of your heroes. They won’t mind, they are too busy painting.
TetraChrome: Art in Lockdown is showing at the Chrom-Art Gallery from Friday December 11th – Sunday December 20th at 502 Kingsland Rd. London E8 4AE
Follow Jim Vision here.
Article written by Sonny Arifien @SonnyandhisPen