When he was in high school, Biggs was put in a glass box where he was free to create because he had so much to say within his art. Imagine a small space containing self-expression, free thought, and splatters of colors behind glass walls. Now imagine those same walls, shattering in shades of blue, purple, and pink. That’s what you see when you look at the work of Biggs James, an explosion of colors and self-expression. Biggs James is a Philly native and all-around artist. His talents include neoexpressionism painting, a designer with his own growing brand, Vigilante Art Collective, and screenwriting. For Biggs, art has been his way of better understanding the world around him. “In a world full of temptations and challenges, many times I find myself lost without direction of where to turn or what to do. Art has been the escape that has influenced and guided me to understanding the world and how I am supposed to live. Whenever I am lost, I use art to find myself again. Whenever I become complacent, I use art to explore new areas of life and cross new boundaries.”
We came across his work on the body of R&B singer, Ashley Leone. He created a piece around her song, Drown In You, which bursted in the colors that he saw while listening to the record. We slid in his DMs and asked for an interview. His response was filled with gratitude and we were able to catch up with him while painting something special. Check out our conversation below.
How long have you been painting and designing? What has been the overall concept of your art?
I would say that I’ve been painting overall since I was 11 or 12 years old. I’ve been doing designs since freshmen year of high school. The whole concept of what I do is I reflect paintings off of clothing and then clothing off of visuals too. I’m also a screenwriter so I come up with concepts for videos and directing them as well. I want it all to be in one medium and a lot of times, it’s difficult. When you go into the industry, they want you to stick to one thing but I jump around when it comes to art, fashion, and visuals. For example, Virgil Abloh (creative director for Louis Vuitton), he does fashion but he applies it to architecture. I do fashion and I apply it to my art and it’s a story behind everything. Some days, I wake up and I decide I’m going to paint today. Some days, I wake up and I decide that I’m going to design something. Both vibes are different. When I’m painting, I feel more free. When I’m designing something, I have to think about people and what they like while implementing my style as well.
So what does that intersection between art and fashion mean for you?
For myself, if I’m being honest, it falls in together. Let’s say that I’m walking down the street, I see things as 3 dimensional. Sometimes, it gets difficult because when you think about fashion, you have to think about sewing and the overall concept of putting it together but when it comes to the design part of it, it falls into me painting. It still comes together but fashion is more technical. I have to think about painting and if it will be okay later for someone to wear and wash. Sometimes I want to use cloth paint but I can’t and I have to switch over to acrylic paint because it might look brighter on a jacket. And to piggyback from that, a lot of my inspiration of colors comes from music.
Are you a musician as well?
No [laughs]. I would say that I get inspired by music. When I listen to something, sometimes I can see colors in what I hear. Sometimes, I wake up and I go to a canvas and I start painting while I’m listening to music and I’m hearing the different colors and whatever color I’m hearing, I put it on the canvas.
That’s what happened with the ‘Drown In You’ jacket that you did for Ashley Leone?
Yeah. Ashley sent me a package of her songs and at the time, I reached out to her because I really enjoyed her music. I was admiring her work before we started dating. I went through those songs and I’m just listening and everything that I’m listening to, I put it toward the jacket. Then I gave her ‘Drown In You’ which had some notes of mine from another one of her songs called Surface. She loved it and she rocked it.
On your Instagram page, we saw a video titled ‘Paintings Talking’. Can you talk a little about what that is?
‘Paintings Talking’ is something that I’m doing with a videographer and director, Justin Williams. He’s very good and well known in the city, I would say he’s on the come up. Basically, I’m treating it like a music video. My paintings and what I’m feeling reflect to the music. So the concept was like okay, what can I do to make this more creative because sometimes, me painting is not enough to get my message across. When it comes to neoexpressionism, some people can’t understand the concept. A lot of times, that’s the concept of art…you want to look at it until you get it. But at the same time, I want to give it to you in a sense of this has never been done before. With ‘Paintings Talking’, I want the paintings to literally talk to you and I want you to feel it more than just looking at a painting. At the end of the day, I’m a storyteller…that’s what I do.
Can you explain neoexpressionism?
Neoexpressionism is a match with abstraction but it’s more of a playful concept for art. It’s kind of like graffiti or if like a little kid was painting. It’s not realism or a perfect portrait. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Let’s talk about ‘Untitled’.
Untitled actually took me a couple of months. I painted that jacket throughout the winter and I never finished the back of the jacket. I got this jacket and I started painting it and it was a lot of bright colors. This is weird to say but at the time, I was being inspired by Ashley because I was listening to a lot of love songs. It was the middle of winter but I’m painting a lot of light blue, a lot of yellows and reds…it was a summer feel. I was just going at it in my basement and I had no idea where it was going. I waited a couple more months and finished maybe two weeks before I posted it to Instagram. I just decided to call it ‘Untitled’ because it just came from a feeling. I never really had a concept for it.
Was there a concept for your latest photoshoot with Justin Williams?
We actually just did that yesterday. With that, I wanted to do something extraordinary. In Africa, that’s a concept of strength, their heritage, and the culture itself. I figured that I should try to put that in a sense of art and was inspired by it. I told Justin that I wanted to do half man, half paint. So I actually painted my chest, it took me a couple of hours. During that time, I was thinking that people are either going to love this or make them stop and want to know what’s happening here. I wanted it to be a big question mark.
How important is it for audiences to know an artist is Black?
Hmm. That’s a very good question. Let’s take Virgil, we have someone like him who I would say is the most influential designer all around. He broke the door, there was no one that could do that before him. When I see that, I think about him being the first black, high end fashion designer that’s breaking down this door. As a Black man, it’s important for me to be seen as a Black artist. At the end of the day, I want people to know that this is me and I want to be able to break some doors. Right now, neoexpressionism isn’t a popular thing so that’s a door that I’m coming to break down. Art is pure. Art is free. Art is Love. I would love to be known as one of the best Black artist and one of the most inspirational people in the world but I want my story and my craft to reflect on everybody.
What is the idea of Vigilante Art Collective?
It’s a collective and a growing brand. I want people to feel confident within themselves and throughout the brand. I’m the Vigilante. Think Batman and how he plays two roles, I think of myself that way also. In high school, I was the art kid. I literally was in a box. My art teacher put me in glass box because I had so much to express. I would be in there working half the day and they just put me in there. VAC is a reflection of those kids who go home after school making art, making beats, making designs. They observe more but they may not want to show their craft because they’re embarrassed or something like that. Vigilante is about being free, doing what you want to do and just being you.
I’m actually dropping a collection soon called ‘After Midnight’. I don’t have a date for it yet but I’m constantly working on it. I treat my art and my designs like I’m dropping an album, somedays I feel it and somedays I don’t. I want it to be perfect. I’m always working on something so I critique myself a lot.
Well that was the perfect lead into my final question, what else can we expect from Biggs James?
After Midnight is soon. As of right now, I’m putting out this Bad Guy t-shirt within a couple of weeks. It’s a painting that I did and decided to make it into a shirt. It’s really dope. But in the meantime, I’m just gonna keep moving along, doing what I do best. Hopefully inspiring people to be themselves and be free.
You can follow along with Biggs via Instagram @biggs_j
You can also check out his website by clicking here.
Stay tuned next week for his weekly playlist.