It's obvious from his paintings, populated by superhuman characters and futuristic architecture, that up-and-coming painter Jean-Pierre Roy grew up a nerd. However, his pop-friendly paintings are also defined by the Greek poses and expert light and shadow treatments typical of an art school education. This merger of two communities has earned Roy a following that ranges from collectors like Leonardo DiCaprio, who in 2015 after seeing it on Instagram, purchased one of his paintings to art fairs like PULSE Miami, where he's a subject of The Creators Project's Perspectives series in partnership with the fair.
As a comics and sci-fi-obsessed kid, a student in art school, and an emerging artist in New York, the relationships within his different communities have been vital to cultivating Roy's artistry. He quit his job as a visual effects and conceptual artist at a Hollywood company to study the static arts, a bet that paid off, thanks to the positive words of friends and colleagues. The pressure to be a networking artist is tiresome, but developing a tight-knit and supportive community can make or break careers. This is reflected in many of his paintings, where sole subjects are often bearing huge amounts of weight, while groups tend to be helping each other or working together to accomplish something.
This weekend, Roy is representing Gallery Poulsen at Miami Art Week, one of the largest art gatherings in the world. We took the opportunity to reflect with him on the value of community for the modern artist.
The Creators Project: What was your main inspiration for painting before you went to art school?
Jean-Pierre Roy: Before art school, my images were a product of the genre culture around me. Comics books served as the foundation for drawing, while film was the primary visual language for narrative and composition. Those idioms implanted in me the desire to create worlds from scratch. I became obsessed with drawing the building blocks of the worlds that inspired me: cracked rocks, broken buildings, craggy trees and rolling clouds. It wasn't until I first visited Italy in undergrad that I began to connect the cinematic iconography that formed my visual memory with the history of pre-cinematic imagery that stretched back to Brueghel and Bosch and rubbing up against photography with the American neo-luminists and the Hudson River school.
How did the people you met at art school affect your work?
More than anything, I gained a group of people that were taking the same risks as me. Having worked in the corporate entertainment world of Hollywood in my early 20's, I really wanted to slow down and learn the grammar of slow picture-making and surround myself with people who had made similar commitments. The handful of like-minded peers that I left with really got me through the tough early years of doubt and dejection. I'm still very close with a large number of my professors and my community from that time means the world to me.
How does New York's art community bolster your present day practice?
I cannot say this enough, but as an artist, your relationships are the single most important thing you have. I'm not joking when I say that almost every major opportunity that I've had in the art world has been from other people saying, "Hey, you should go see what JP's up to." It is all too easy to hide away in the studio. You need other people to talk about you, and in turn, you need to talk about other people. I know I've benefited from the generous vocal support of those above me, and I try to find opportunities to do the same for those that I believe in.
In your experience, how does art help build communities and how do communities help artists?
First we have to define the which community we are talking about here, as I've been a part of so many, and witnessed countless more at the fringes of my experience. But in terms of a general community to artists, I think one thing that big communities do is constantly remind me there are so many different types of artists. It's easy to only see the world through my own eyes and my community challenges me all the time to keep that view from becoming too narrow. As for community building, I came here with my own idea of what it would look like only to realize that so much of what I wanted was either out of reach or nonexistent. Along with fellow artist Michael Kagan, I started Single Fare, an open exhibition of art on NYC Metrocards that drew in over 2,800 artists at its peak. That self-created community gave me new relationships from all over the world and to artist at all levels of exposure. Dozens of artists got first-time solo exhibitions from it and it spawned a bunch of smaller similar exhibitions. The Single Fare community became fractal and now lives well outside of our field of view, which feels really great.
What advice do you have for young artists who feel disconnected from the rest of the art world?
Don't forget that visibility and success are completely relative. 500 Instagram followers is a big deal if you had 50 before. A show in the lobby of a community center is a triumph if you've art has never been off the refrigerator door before. Most of the people who you consider a big deal are desperately trying to figure out how to get to the place they think is a big deal. Social media is a tremendous tool, especially in an age when the price of grad school has made the institutional gateways into the art world a liability for the self-financed young artist. The key for me was to make peace with my practice and give everything up to it. Make decisions that will funnel your entire life into your studio. You have to be obsessed because that's who you are comparing yourself to: the obsessed. If you make art the center of your world, its gravity will always attract others. That's a community. That's a peer group. That's a solid place from which to build the rest.
See more of Jean-Pierre Roy's work on Instagram.