Local artist Jacob West has his fingers in many pies. Jasper noticed that West planned to put some of his visual arts skills on exhibit coming up this Friday the 8th at the Wired Goat Coffee House down in the Vista, and we asked frequent Jasper contributor David Travis Bland to come up with a few questions for West to give us a little insight into what makes the man behind the music and the visual art tick. Here’s a bit of that conversation.
I think I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that southern cities and towns have a dark side, a seedy underbelly just underneath, not necessarily negative, but dark all the same. — Jacob West
Music is a big inspiration for you. What’re some acts and song that motivated you to pick up the brushes?
I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and like to pull inspiration and imagery from all different places. Most of the pieces for my newest showing have been done fairly recently, and were inspired in part by some newer albums. The first three that come to mind are:
Deftones – Gore – This album is gritty, beautiful, and haunting, all the things I try to make my paintings.into
Aesop Rock – Impossible Kid – This album is dark, honest, and personal. I admire artists that can be open and honest, because I try to do the same thing with my art.
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book – This mixtape is just too damn good and I can’t stop listening to it.
This show features other local artists. Who are a couple local artists you dig?
I grew up in Columbia, so I’ve been extremely lucky to run into a lot of talented artists around town. There are three guys that I think are just on a whole other level:
John Stroman – I’ve known John a long time, and am just blown away with every piece of his I see. A lot of his pieces are on found materials, so he ends up with some really unique canvases to paint on. He also paints animals a lot, like I do, but where my work is usually pretty dark, his end up full of joy and just make you smile. I can’t say enough good things about John or his work.
Alex Smith – Alex is another super talented artist from around town. He’s a writer, director, actor, painter, I don’t even know what all else he does! He recently had a show at Tapp’s, full of extraordinary pieces. His work is usually a little haunting and just pulls you in instantly. I love art that can do that.
Sean Rayford – I’ve always been a huge fan of Rayford’s work. He used to work at New Brookland and took pictures of all my favorite bands. Then I saw the pictures he took of Charleston and the State House when the flag was coming down, he’s just been consistently capturing powerful and compelling images for as long as I can remember. I’m glad he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves.
Each of your pieces are like self contained stories—snapshots of narratives. What are some of those stories and how did you visualize them on the canvas?
That’s really what I was aiming for with my latest images. I felt that for a while now, my stuff has really depended on symbolism. This time around, I wanted to see if I could tell a story. I have a kind of loose narrative in my head for these new paintings, I named this group of paintings “Out Where the Grass Don’t Grow”. They’re supposed to be snapshots of different places and things happening in a fictional, romanticized version of a small southern town. I think I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that southern cities and towns have a dark side, a seedy underbelly just underneath, not necessarily negative, but dark all the same.
You never had any formal art education. Do you think that’s allowed you to develop your own style? Has not having any training held you back in any way?
I think not having gone to art school did help me in certain ways. Years ago, I went to a comic convention with my sketchbook in hand and a young man’s ambition. I did the thing that all young artists do at comic book conventions, I tried to get a job. My sketchbook was embarrassingly bad, but I did get a lot of great advice from the professional artists there. At the time, I was still deciding whether or not to go to art school, and every single person I asked for advice told me not to go. They said that my work had a strong voice of its own, and that I’d lose it if I went to art school. I’m not sure if they were saying that because my sketchbook was so terrible, or because they meant it. But either way, I didn’t go to art school, and kept drawing, painting, and doing my own thing.
I’ve never really thought about how things would have turned out had I gotten formal training. I suppose i’d be better and maybe have made some important contacts. But, I’d also have art school debt.
You said your art is Southern Gothic in ways. Would your style be different if you weren’t born and raised in the South? (is that the case, you’ve always been around the south?)
I was born and raised in South Carolina. I was born in Lexington, spent some time as a kid in Charleston, then moved back to West Columbia in middle school, and moved downtown as an adult. Though, I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the U.S and even Central and South America, I feel like the south (for better or worse) has a rich history and plenty of good and bad to pull from for inspiration. I have the feeling if I wasn’t from around here, there’s no way my style would be the same. I can’t really put my finger on it, but there’s something special about the American South. Our culture and community is special and unique and I hope that comes across in our art.
What does it mean to make it as an artist for you? Like is having a day job and being recognized in your community enough or does making it mean your livelihood comes exclusively from art?
I’m not sure, because every time I think I’ve made it, I set a new goal for myself. I remember thinking that “made it” meant that I got commissioned to paint for somebody. Then, I made it the first time I got to hang my art somewhere for sale and sold it. Then, I made it again when I had my first solo show. I keep moving the benchmark, so I don’t think I’ll ever make it. That being said, it sure would be awesome to be my own boss and paint for a living.
You get to do a portrait of anyone past, present, or future live in the flesh. Who is it?
Definitely the very first cave painter. The guy that invented 2D visual art.