Bristol’s photorealist aerosol artist and designer Jody on Da Vinci, ‘Gangster Monet’ and the Darwin of street art
With its subtle detail, high-end influences, darkly glam aesthetic and noirish, filmic style, we think Jody’s work is the perfect example of the level of craftsmanship that goes into street art. We had a caught up with the talented, eloquent Barton Hill Club graduate behind this month’s beautiful front cover, to find out more…
Some artists have talked about street art becoming a ‘luxury product’. Buildings are no longer devalued by it, graf work can sell for huge sums, and in terms of quality, the art itself is off the scale. Do you agree?
Jody: Yes definitely, street art has a perceived value pegged to it that has a direct link to Banksy’s popularity, especially in Bristol which in turn has commodified the art form somewhat I think. There’s been an acceptance and a move toward collecting street art which has exploded the culture and allowed artists like myself to make a living doing what we love to do. Yes, the quality differs, but even though I may not like a piece on the street or on a canvas, I can tell if that artist has put their heart into it – it’s very obvious to me. Graffiti and street art has always had a slightly difficult relationship with the gallery but Banksy’s influence has opened the door to collectors adorning their walls with vibrant artwork as well as wanting to own a piece of the culture too.
Your work certainly seems on the sumptuous end of the spectrum – it’s so distinctive. How did you decide what you wanted your style to be?
When I first turned up to Barton Hill Youth Club in 1987 with my GCSE art folder, it was filled with paintings and drawings inspired by film, magazines and comic books. I drew from the likes of Vogue and The Face magazine and comic books like 2000AD – they had a rather dark aesthetic but I felt I wanted to make people stop and look at my work which really stood out at the time. I fused my love of art and the growing underground graffiti movement which placed me in an odd category; the fine art end of the graffiti spectrum (not a popular place to be in the late Eighties!) and in many ways, that’s where I still am. The source of my inspiration hasn’t really changed – I’ve been drawn to strong female subject matter for several years now – but I’d say my work is more thought-provoking, meditative and colourful.
“I had always been fascinated by classical Renaissance painting and drawing by Michelangelo, Dürer and Da Vinci…”
Who were you inspired by when you started out?
I had always been fascinated by classical Renaissance painting and drawing by Michelangelo, Dürer and Da Vinci. I also loved the work of Warhol and Lichtenstein as well as the incredible work of Tamara De Lempicka and the films of Ridley Scott and Terry Gilliam, but this new and exciting underground culture caught my eye and ear like nothing had before. It embodied everything an 11-year-old kid wanted – it was underground, slightly rebellious and very cool. In the late Eighties, pretty much all graffiti artists were drawing from the same well of US hip hop culture as that was the only source we all had.
What changes have occurred around the street art scene?
The most obvious is, of course, the popularity of the culture. In places like Bristol, there are far more artists than there is legal wall space so a lot of work has a life online, through social media, and pieces painted on walls in the few legal spots can often last less than 24 hours. The other significant change is the paint now available – back in the day we used various brands of car paint which offered a very limited colour palette. It was thin and had a very pungent smell.
Ever get ‘caught red handed’ when Bristol wasn’t as open to street art?
I didn’t paint illegally much back then. A guy did chase me once – I was painting with a member of the infamous T.U.B. crew on the side of his house and we must have disturbed him! I never really had a head for the illegal side of graf and my work always needed time to perfect – not done under the cover of darkness in the middle of the night.
We’ve heard of artists going out tagging in a suit and tie, then pretending to read a newspaper when the police turned up!
Blending in has always been a classic ploy. High vis jackets and a white van are probably the most effective as that combination is the most ubiquitous – no one takes any notice of you.
Jody’s darkly glam aesthetic is instantly recognisable on the Bristol street art scene – we love the subtle shadows in ‘Sasha’
Which do you think has more impact – stencils or free hand?
Definitely freehand, but not to pay artists like C215, Snik and Banksy a disservice – some of their work is incredibly intricate and beautiful and I know that all of those guys can paint.
Which Bristol artists’ work do you love?
Jago – his beautifully expressive abstract paintings are so absorbing. I call his style ‘Gangster Monet’. Andy Council’s work has always confounded me – he is able to create incredible animals from local architectural landmarks and maintain the shape and form in such a creative way. Cheba’s work is so distinctive also, his nebula paintings – I call them ‘Chebulas’ – have an infinite quality to them that I love. In terms of old-school graffiti, we have one of the best letter style masters around in Soker. He has the sharpest, most dynamic letter forms I’ve seen – and Cheo’s work, of course, has a potent mix of style and humour to it.
Jody is a fan of Cheba’s distinctive ‘Chebulas’
What’s your favourite piece that you’ve done?
So far, I would say the Cassie Meder piece I did on North Street for Upfest 2016 – I’d found the image online six months before and managed to contact Cassie to get her blessing. Cassie is a really talented model, artist and filmmaker based in Los Angeles and she immediately came back to me after I suggested a few additions which she really liked. I did a lot of planning to scale up the figure of her and I really wanted to capture the mood of the shot which I think I pulled off fairly well given I had three days to do it… I’ve had more feedback from that piece than any other – emails from people saying that they’d genuinely felt moved as it spoke to them on an emotional level. I can’t argue with that. They say you’re only as good as your last piece of work which is a good reminder whenever you paint!
“John Nation – the Darwin of street art in Bristol. His vision, enthusiasm and energy has always been so infectious. He was well ahead of his time and gave so many artists a start…”
Was there someone at Barton Hill that really inspired you?
John Nation of course – the Darwin of street art in Bristol. His vision, enthusiasm and energy has always been so infectious. He was well ahead of his time and gave so many artists a start; he built the foundation that Bristol street art is now so famous for. Thankfully he has received the attention and respect that is due to him – without John there wouldn’t be a street art scene in Bristol, it’s as simple as that.
Best memory from the Barton Hill days?
One of my pieces I painted in the football courts was printed on the front of The Independent in 1989. I remember seeing it on the news stand and scarcely believing it!
Why did you decide to retire and what did you do during the break?
After Operation Anderson hit the graffiti scene in March of ’89, the Bristol Transport Police’s very public swoop on Barton Hill Youth Club and 72 artists’ homes seemed to quash the energy of the movement. Coupled with the burgeoning acid house/rave scene, hip hop culture was old news and a lot of people, myself included, moved on. I went to college to study graphic design illustration and went on to forge a career in design which took me away from the art form.
How did you feel when the book Children of the Can mistakenly announced you were making a comeback?
I remember reading it on holiday and panicking. That genuinely wasn’t what I had said to Felix, the author, but then I felt slightly duty-bound to fulfil the vague promise printed in the book. Thank goodness I did!
Can you tell us a little more about the image gracing our cover? We can’t wait to see it painted at this year’s Upfest!
Based on last year’s wall, I have collaborated with Cassie again. It’s a beautiful profile shot of her that I have added an ethereal floral surround to – almost a dream-like backdrop. I wanted to capture that really strong look she exudes. I aim for an aesthetic that’s visually striking and thought-provoking but open in terms of interpretation.
Which non-Bristol artist’s work are you most looking forward to?
Definitely Kobra from São Paulo – I’ve always admired his work – plus Buff Monster from New York and Will Barras. He lives in London but studied here in Bristol. His work is other-worldly.
What else have you been up to this year?
I’m in the process of putting together plans for a solo show that will most likely be in 2018 – I have many ducks to align for the scale of production that I’m planning which involve people from very diverse industries outside of the art realm. It’s not unlike planning a wedding!
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with?
I’ve done a few smaller pieces with Cheba as our styles contrast and complement each other but I would like to do something on a larger scale with him. I have several walls planned this summer with Soker and TES – another very strong graf letter guy. I like to work with the more underground graffiti guys as they have such a different take on the whole scene.
Are there specific walls and spaces now that are the most sought-after?
There are a dozen ‘permanent’ spots that last for 12 months until they are painted over again. The bigger, more prominent walls go to the international artists which is fair enough, but for me, last year’s was such a good wall – I requested it again this year but got a firm ‘no’ from Steve! Alas, no one is allowed to paint the same spot twice…
Jody will be painting live at Upfest from 29 – 31 July, find out more and buy prints at jodyart.co.uk, or follow him on Instagram at @jody_artist. Find out more about Upfest 2017 here.