Art, Style and the Subliminal: A Conversation with CJ
August 10, 2017 By Lee Gaul
We discovered CJ quite accidentally at a pop-up show On Eldridge Street in the East Village. At first, it wasn't immediately apparent what was happening in this space. There was apparel, there were paintings on the wall, music was playing from inside, and there was a constant hum of activity in and around the small space. Was this an art collective putting on a group show? It was hard to tell at first but incredibly, as we took a closer look, it became clear that this was the work of one person. When we asked around about who the artist was we were told, "It's all by CJ, he's right over there with the light colored cap".
What CJ seems to have created is a brand of art. Occult symbology features prevalently and is a common recurring theme throughout his paintings and design work. We wanted to talk with him about his style, philosophy, and his thoughts on art as politics. He answers these questions and more below.
TUSSLE: Throughout history, we’ve seen art influence design but in the current state of things, it seems that design is playing an equal role in informing art. What is your view regarding the role of design and branding in art?
CJ: I definitely see how design is influencing art. The interesting thing about design as I was explaining about one of my professors is that even a simple thing like two thieves planning a robbery, that's design. So design is kind of an innate thing that is constantly happening whether or not people are putting in a conscious effort like I'm designing right now or I'm a designer or whether it’s the technical things like design or architecture role in design. But my view on the role of design and branding in art is more specifically is that they go hand in hand. Brands (similar to design) are everywhere and we just live amongst the sum of all the brands we have whether you're walking down sidewalks past stores those are all brands. The cars that are driving by you are brands, all clothing you wear, everywhere we look. Brands. So brands are kinda like the identity of an entity within a capitalistic structure, which is what we live in, especially in the united states where we have a leader in an economy and a standard of living that everyone is striving to design and branding are becoming art and even the word art has taken on a new meaning. in a few ways, art is everywhere. I feel like most everything is art or an art form. You know designing a brand, that’s an art form. Creating a brand that has a lot of strength, there is an art to doing that but it's all design. They are all related. They go hand in hand especially when you are creating art, you are an artist. I'm a visual artist, that’s my brand. My name is my brand 'pavement 1984' that's a brand behind the image that I produce and what you are seeing is the product of my design process.
TUSSLE: You incorporate branding in a lot of your work. Do you consider yourself a marketer as well as an artist? Do the two even need to be separate?
CJ: Definitely, they don’t really need to be separate but they are separate because there is a lot of marketing that’s more than just art. Marketing is heavy on analytics, heavy on data, it’s heavy on understanding the consumer base, understanding the market. Understanding the market and how to get people to grab hold of a brand it’s just a different entity. I definitely consider myself a marketer. Funnily enough, I have a degree in marketing. I have a BBA concentrated in marketing so that’s a bachelor of business administration and business administration is the managerial perspective of a business. So I take that and being concentrated in marketing lets me answer this question well because they definitely need to be separate. They are separate. An artist does a lot of things that a marketer doesn’t do and a marketer does a lot of things that an artist doesn’t do. I find the way that they intersect plays off of the first question which is really branding because branding involves creation. You have to create an image, you have to create language to associate with the image. You have to create a story that people can attach to. Those are the ways that marketing and art history intersect. But again marketers do things that artists don't do and artists do things that marketers don’t do.
TUSSLE: Fashion is arguably the very first art form. How do you view the role of fashion in society and do you view it as an artistic medium on par with, say, painting or sculpture?
CJ: I would say fashion is arguably not the very first art form. I feel like you can go back to a very functional place in time in human history when fashion did not matter and art existed. Whether it is the caveman or whatever example you want to use there is evidence of art existing well before fashion. Again cavemen like the writings on walls. It wasn’t fashion. Fashion that we deal with now stems from a long history of what has lead us to how we treat current day fashion icons... So, like, fashion was more functional, there wasn’t so much fashion, you dressed for function. So whether you are the chief of the village and so you have certain adornments in dress that signify that. Whether you are a mechanic or a farmer there are ways of dressing that are purely functional and I would argue that fashion is what happens when we’re discussing clothing outside of just functionality. So I would argue that fashion is not the first art form. There are many other art forms. Like, look at the way culture has created utensils, tools, pottery for example. Just in the beginning stages everything to make it possible to essentially cook food. You need a fire to cook, you need utensils, and vessels to do the different things to the ingredients that end up being the meal. The role of fashion in society now has evolved into this thing that is at the forefront. Stemming from fashion being functional and fashion designating social class. There is a way a King dresses and a way that Queen dresses. There is a way that an aristocrat dresses and there is the way that a peasant dresses. There is a way that a homeless person dresses and all the ways in between. But I would say at this point it is pretty on par with painting and sculpture because there is a lot of effort put into fashion as well as art. There has to be a process to create art. And there is a process to create fashion and it just so happens that fashion stems a lot from ideas that are being taken from paintings and classical art and things like that. I don't want to say so much sculpture but it is as if you are creating a sculpture with fashion. You are creating silhouettes, you are creating an image that is a physical three-dimensional image. Or even think about the Victorian eras and these different eras where the dresses had wire frames. Even in the wild west in America, these dresses are very elaborate and there was a lot of effort put into fashion. I would say it is on par with other art forms now. It has evolved into something powerful and its own art form now.
TUSSLE: Occult symbols are featured prevalently in a lot of your work. As I’m sure you know, corporations have been using occult symbols for their branding and logos from the beginning. Can you explain a little more about your interest in these symbols?
CJ: That’s one of those interesting things that I probably picked up on when I was in high school. I was noticing things. The occult symbols that a lot of these companies are using for their brands and people don't make connections to everything. Whether it is the symbol of the pharmacy or the symbol for medicine that we use, those two intertwining snakes going up a pole and the wings on the top. if you typed in Kundalini the image you would get would be the same image that we use for medicine and that calls into light a whole set of thoughts that people don’t know about. And that’s why occult symbols work the way they do they because they are referencing ideas and information that everyone doesn’t have. At the same time, you’re making connotations based off of the symbols you see. I incorporate a lot of these symbols for these reasons but I don’t necessarily know what it means right now. I'm doing, like, the next step so I'm taking the symbol and repurposing it. So, for example, I use a lot of eyes. And it’s interesting, Some people say "Oh I see the evil eye", there is nothing evil about it! It’s literally an eye! We have two eyes on our faces. We use eyes to see so very directly the eye is a symbol for sight. Eyes symbolize awareness, it is a symbol that indicates free thought. Take a cross for example; like a cross - and I've recently seen a lot of debate around this - a cross has associations with Christianity and you turn the cross upside down and people want to think that you are doing something weird and that just exposes the layers of information that's encoded in symbols. An upside down cross you can clearly look that up and find that that is St. Peter’s cross and that it is a symbol of humility. At the same time, you can say that "oh an upside down cross that represents something dark and scary". I use things like that because I want people to have that thought process and I want people to think through things and challenge the status of, or challenge the established definition of things and really find the actual truth and workings of how these things work.
TUSSLE: Does the subliminal play a role in your work at all?
CJ: Definitely, above all of the things that I have answered already the subliminal is the way symbols work. You interpret life subliminally in a lot of ways too. We don’t realize everything that hits us and the depth of our recall. We think that we are not absorbing our environment constantly but we are. So we are a product of a lot of subliminal messages already. It definitely plays a role in my art and I definitely understand how it plays a role in people’s understanding of things.
TUSSLE: Historically, art is one of the best ways to track a major shift in thought, power, and politics. A great litmus test for where civilization is during a certain period. Currently, the world is becoming more polarized. How do you think art and artists are contributing to the conversation?
CJ: All the great Renaissance masters of art, look at the subject matter of their art. The subject matter directly related to the people funding the art. So it shows the power in politics in a very raw way. For example, take someone like the Medici family. I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with that name and familiar with their role in the Italian renaissance art that came out during that period. A Lot of the topics are very catholic images whether it's Jesus and these different ideas that basically are like bible illustrations and it's based on power and politics. You are not seeing all this classical renaissance art of Islamic history or Chinese history but if you look to those different places you see how art plays a role in a Chinese history or Japanese history. It's really amazing to me how we depict these different events throughout history. We definitely use art to track history. A litmus test for civilization I understand that like when art is dead and it shows that society is dead you can follow society by following the artist. The artist is most likely going to make commentary on the current situation. So, the current situation of art is very much geared towards people becoming more aware of things and people opening their minds and stuff like that. Artists are definitely at the forefront of that because we are not rushing to work every day so we don’t have to worry about that. We are thinking and what we are having thoughts and what we are thinking about becomes a reality and kind of creates our attitude and our disposition.
TUSSLE: Do you see art as activism? What is your view on the role of the artist?
CJ: I definitely see art as activism just the role of the artist it is almost activism by definition. One thing that I really can relate to is street art and that again just the action of creating street art is activism because a) you are going against the standard which is "don’t do that" and b) you’re putting something in the public domain so that others can weigh in on it. I feel like activism is all about mobilizing people and mobilizing ideas so I really see art as activism, absolutely. Artists definitely play a role in how people interpret things and understand things and move so I definitely see art as activism.
About the Artist: CJ has had shows in Washington DC, Art Basel Miami, NYC in the Chelsea district and LES, as well as art installations in the Hampton's, Montauk, and most recently at the charity art show for Art4Joy, an organization that raises money for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
You can catch CJ on August 19th for the Shaman Elect & Friends show at King Killer Studios in Brooklyn. More shows are coming in September on the 16, the 20th, and at the Bushwick Arts Walk from 22-24th. Follow the link for artist bio, photo gallery, and more www.1984pvmt.com