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Todd James is something of an anomaly, a pop artist whose imagery channels a compilation of obscurity, sexuality, and political underpinnings. With roots in New York’s graffiti scene producing work under the moniker REAS, his career in art began with tagging subway trains. In 2001, the artist joined forces with heavyweights Steve Powers and Barry McGee on the extensive collaborative project “Street Market,” exhibited at Deitch Projects, for which he was selected for the 49th Venice Biennale.
Having just exhibited at Lazarides Gallery in London for his show “World Domination” in March, James brings his work back to his hometown with a show at Bleecker Street Arts Club titled “Meet Your Maker.” The artist talked to Whitewall about his new show, weighs in on the Banksy residency, and comments on the indisputable nature of Miley Cyrus’ tongue gimmick.
WHITEWALL: The curatorial work for the group show seemed very natural and cohesive. How did that come together for BSAC?
TODD JAMES: Jesscia Hodin proposed a group show idea to Sandra Gering, whichh included me, Joyce Pensato, and Sue Williams. We dialogued back and forth until we got the lineup that included Devin Troy Strother, and Sylvia Jeffriess. I really thought it came together nicely.
WW: The Somali Pirate imagery in the works you showed for “Meet Your Maker” at BSAC last week is similar to that of the “World Domination” show you had at Lazarides, UK back in March. Is that a theme you’re focusing on specifically right now?
TJ: Yeah, I have been making paintings of them, but “Meet your Maker” has a mix of pirates, cats, and ladies so I’m not exclusively focusing on pirates.
WW: Would you say that there’s an underlying sociopolitical message in your gallery works?
TJ: I don’t know. The pirates and the war paintings I’ve made are a combination of interest or fascination with some outrage. I think of the pirates as David and Goliath figures, but they are also just portraits of guys at work on their break having tea. I’ve made paintings of cartoon tanks and war machines that are about all of our current conflicts globally, but I also find myself seduced by games like Call of Duty and shows like Modern Weapons. I don’t have one message and I’m better at making images than talking about them.
WW: Talk to me about the cats.
TJ: Cats and their assholes on display – ashtrays, cigarettes, potted plants, tea sets. I like adding cats. They are the silent witnesses in the picture.
WW: How does your content in gallery shows translate, if at all, to your REAS work?
TJ: My commercial work, my gallery work, and my old paintings on subways, which you could call my REAS work, are all sort of separate worlds but some of it crosses borders. I think the thread is me, my view, and how it gets expressed.
WW: Are those two monikers (REAS, Todd James) mutually exclusive artist endeavors?
TJ: REAS is what I wrote as a graffiti writer. It mostly applies to just that, but like I said it crosses over in subtle ways. Ways I’m not sure how to describe.
WW: Who are your favorites artists putting work out right now?
TJ: I like Eddie Martinez, Chris Johanson, Tal R, Alexis Ross, KAWS, and Erik Parker. I’m forgetting others but that’s a good selection.
WW: Who would you love to collaborate with in the near future in the realm of art, music, or any other medium?
TJ: The RZA.
WW: As a New York City writer, what are you thoughts on this Banksy residency and the amount of media attention it’s getting?
TJ: I like what he does.
WW: TrustoCorp recently told Bucky Turco at ANIMAL, “We love Banksy and love seeing his work go up in our hometown, but we can’t help but notice the irony of a multimillionaire doing rebellious street art.” Do you agree?
TJ: Well, he’s a guy who has taken money he’s made and put it back into projects where there’s no sale involved. For instance, he rented out a huge tunnel in the UK and invited anyone to come paint it over a whole summer. Also irony is kind of his medium, isn’t it?
WW: Per your recent design for the pink teddy bears for Miley Cyrus at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, do you have any other big collaborations or commissioned projects in the works?
TJ: I’m waiting for Slayer to call about making a cartoon show.
WW: You were asked to design a special “selfie bear” for Miley’s costume that had it’s tongue out. Her tongue thing has been a major talking point in the media. Any thoughts on that?
TJ: One word: Amazing!!