Friday, February 10, 2012

An evolving shaper of worlds

(Published Feb. 4, PDI-Super)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Visual artist James Jean projects his unique dreamscapes onto various boards and canvases, using ink, oil, water color, or acrylic paints to shape his fantasy-oriented imagery.

Well-known for his comic book covers for DC Comics’ “Fables,” Jean first visited the country in 2009. Fans knew him mostly for his Eisner and Harvey Award-winning cover work back then. The artist admits that he still knows very little about the industry even after illustrating pieces for the popular title.

“I don’t know that much about the comic book industry,” Jean said during a recent interview at Fully Booked in Taguig. “I stopped working for comics around 2007. I have many awards from the industry; it was nice of them to recognize my work in my short time there. I was kind of an outsider in that I never did any interior work. It’s just interesting how the body of work I did for comics became really well-known, even though it wasn’t my main focus.”

The Taiwanese-American artist returned for a three-day visit last month. His main activities included speaking at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde and signing books at Fully Booked branches. Jean is thankful that his Filipino fans are open to his artistic evolution.

“I feel very fortunate and appreciative of the fans that I have here and how they continue to follow my work through all its changes over the years,” he said. “Now that I’ve transitioned into doing fine art, I’m glad to see that people still follow and enjoy my work here. And I wouldn’t be aware of my fan base here if not for Jaime Daez (managing director of Fully Booked). He invited me, showed me the country, and took me around to schools. I was surprised that I did have a following here. I’m glad to be back.”
Jean is currently promoting his personal art tomes. These include his latest, “Rebus,” the poster book “Kindling,” the postcard book “XOXO,” and the accordion book “Rift.”
Taiwan-born Jean and his family moved to the US when he was 3. He lived in New Jersey, where he later discovered his interest in the arts.

“My father got an opportunity to work in the US so the whole family moved there. My mom taught high school English and my dad was in industrial plastics. They both ended up working for the same plastics company. They’re very practical people. They wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer. They weren’t particularly creative; I mean, they worked very hard and they’re very supportive of me. I didn’t grow up in an artistic environment. It just came naturally.”

As a kid, Jean found himself drawn to superhero comics. “I grew up reading comic books and that introduced me to the world of drawing. Even though I had always drawn on my own, I didn’t see any practical use for it. I just drew constantly because I enjoyed it. I delivered newspapers so I could make money to buy comic books. When I went to art school, I was exposed to a lot of art history and I got into indie comics, into painting and all sorts of other things.”

Jean originally wanted to be a jazz musician when he was a teenager; he played the trumpet and the piano. But he later chose visual artistry over music and eventually graduated from New York City’s School for Visual Arts in 2001. Aside from comic book covers, he also illustrated for magazines and advertisements. Apart from painting, Jean is currently developing a line of jewelry and accessories.

His advice for aspiring artists who wish to stand out in various fields: “Make the best work possible. The work is your passport into that world, especially with the Internet, and it’s easy to get recognized, so spread your work if it’s good and interesting! It’s a very democratic process now. I think maybe even 10 years ago, it was more difficult because it’s all about connections and who you knew. But now, you can reach a worldwide audience and let the audience decide if your work is worthy or valuable.”

As an artist who mostly has free rein over his creations, Jean is realizing a crucial lesson. “It’s trying to figure out what’s important to me,” he said. “Because once you’ve reached a certain level of recognition, there are many people who pull you in different directions and you have a lot of opportunities. I think learning to focus and to say no to certain things, and to concentrate on what’s important, is what I’m learning now.”

(Photo by Oliver Pulumbarit)

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