Thirty Nine Drawings
Amazon Digital Services (2017)
Interviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (9/17)
Article first published as Interview: Jason Innocent, Author of ’39 Drawings’ on Blogcritics.
Jason Innocent is acknowledged as one of the greatest African-American artists. Innocent is best known for using political and social commentary in his art. Innocent has a raw gestural style of painting with graffiti-like images and scrawled text. Emotional depth, use of unique symbols and imagery, and formal strengths in vivid color, composition, and drawing. Innocent's art focuses on themes such as social problems, power structures, class struggle and racism. Born and raised in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of East Flatbush, Jason Innocent (1995- ) is the son of a Haitian-born father and mother. At an early age, he showed a talent for drawing animation like Dragon Ball Z. Innocent first gained public attention as a graffiti poet while still a teenager.
Welcome Jason, and thank you for being with us today. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello, Sheri, thanks for having me. I’m an artist. I don’t think as myself as an artist. I feel like that is limiting me, putting myself in one category. I want to build hotels, create products. I believe I’m supposed to do this at this time. We’re all going to die one day. So why don’t we live like that. Live like you’re going to die today. Go for it. That mentally drove me to achieve success at an early age. We as artists should not make art for commercial success or attention. Make commercial success and attention come to us. I, as Jason Innocent, should push the barriers.
What is your book, “39 Drawings” about?
These are drawings I did when I was like 16-20. I try to remember every object and things I encounter on a day to day basis. It’s basically my journal. I would stay up long nights just to draw and write.
What exactly is graffiti art?
For me graffiti is a form of expression. Whatever your feeling or going, just grab a marker or spray-paint. Sidebar graffiti is illegal.
How did you break into the Art industry?
I was active in the art community in Lower Manhattan. I would go to SOHO parties, and hang out with underground celebrities having fun. It's not like it was in late 70s and 80s. But people started seeing my graffiti pieces. Fans would scribble who is Jason Innocent? on the wall. People would talk about it. I basically created a buzz. Art critics, editors, curators started knocking on my door.
What inspired you to publish your collection?
I did it for the people. I want people who encounter my work to think and be puzzled. It was the perfect time to do so because of the social issues in America. Also, I wanted people to think and reflect on themselves.
Which artists have influenced your own work?
I'm profoundly influenced by Pablo Picasso, Cy Twombly, Jean Dubuffet, and Robert Rauschenberg. Their works stand out to me for a lot of reasons. Those reasons I can't explain. It's like something inside of me causes me to produce various amounts of work. I'm also inspired by people outside the art world. People like Langston Hughes.
Is there a common theme in your drawings?
When I draw or paint I try not to think about themes. Wherever I think about going or feeling–that’s what I point down. Whatever theme it lands on that’s it. I just want to create powerful work that is going to mean something and effect and affect people to look at themselves in the mirror and change or promote change in a good way. That’s going to help others.
What message do you most want to relay through your work?
That art can be used to change the world. You don't have to be the smartest person in the world or be Steve Jobs or Bill Gates to do so. I want my drawings to come out and affect you in a good or bad way.
What are “Jas-isms”?
Jas ism is a code of living. They are self-confidence sayings or phrases. If you believe in me, you believe in yours. The purpose of it is to get you going. To motivate.
What are you currently working on? What is your next project?
I'm working on a pop exhibition. It’s a correlation with book 39 Drawings. For my next project I don't know. I do not plan my projects. I let it happen naturally.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I received was not to give a f**k. Be different. Be able to live with rejections. Finally, not to over-think–keep everything simple. A lot of people are scared to try things or do thing that make them happy because they’re held down my society. Picasso once said that, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” We lose our creativity when we get older because we want to be comfortable.
What advice can you give to aspiring artists?
The best advice I can give to an aspiring artist is the advice I received. Not to give a f**k. Be different. Don't be afraid to try new things. Make yourself heard. The greatest of them all is to do it for yourself.
Where can people connect with you on social media?
Just type Jason Innocent. I'm not a fan of social media, it is addicting. I still didn't approve my followers on Instagram. I just focus on my goals.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Enjoy the book and share it with your friends and family!
Jason, thank you so much for joining me today! It was a pleasure getting to know you and learning more about your work, and your book 39 Drawings.