INTERVIEW: James Jessop

We catch up with train tagger and fine artist James Jessop about his vibrant New York Subway Art- inspired oil paintings...

The 1980s New York subway art is obviously one of your greatest influences, what is it that warmed you to it? Is it the historical meaning behind the graffiti? When I was eleven back in 1985 I got obsessed with Hip Hop music and break-dancing, through that I got introduced to graffiti. It was fresh a brand new at the time straight out of New york City, exciting and rebellious. this is what attracted me

Why do you think street art has grown into such a huge part of youth culture?
Its gone the same way as street skateboarding, it evolved  in the late 70s/early 80s. Some how its kept its cool appeal to the youth.
How did you find the transition from tagging trains to painting on canvas? I guess you didn’t have to worry about getting busted.
It was not a transition, I always did works on paper, then my first oil canvas in 1992, but I always bombed, its a way of life, painting in the studio and working outdoors feed each other. I always thought it was a shame that Basquait stopped writing on the streets when he blew up, I always want to keep both activities alive
Is it interesting that you are translating raw urban street art into traditional oil paintings, which arguably have a 'middle class' stigma attached. Is this a deliberate contrast that carries a message?
 When I got the Kieth Haring Authorised Biography back in 1992, I was super inspired to use my graffiti passion towards an artistic career, it seemed a logical progression, immersing myself in Art history and contemporary art. Kieth hung out with Futura 2000, Fab Five Freddy and Kenny Scharf, Kenny made funky oil paintings. I wanted  to do something like that. Then i got hooked on painting canvases. In the 1990s i always made lively, dynamic oil canvass. Then as we hit Y2K I came out with my spoof horror oil style and rocked that for the next decade. 2010 we are here now live and direct writing this interview from Torino.

How do you feel about the commerciality of grafitti in recent times i.e the design/music world's appropriation of the genre?
 Its always been happening since the early 80s, hip hop graffiti style album covers, t-shirts etc.Im used to it, you learn to block it out and concentrate on who is really going all city.

This issue charts the history of hip hop from the New York 80s hip hop scene, built on empowering communities to the current mainstream branch of the movement, which glorifies all kinds of negative social messages. What do you think about this?
 I'm sure there must be some positive rappers out there keeping the original Hip hop vibe alive. But hip hop was always rude and cheeky as well,  It was all over with anyway back in 85 when Mc Ricky D made La Di Da Di , still untouchable in the 2010

Where do you think Graffitti and tagging will go from here, and more importantly where do you want to take it?
 It will keep on, new Kings and all city writers will come and go, just as they have in London for over 25 years already. I want to take it to the grave, keep writing and stay up as much as possible. LB!

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