artnet Asks: Graffiti Writer Turned Illustrator Todd James

His work includes fantasy oil paintings of women warriors.

Todd James, Coffee Table No Books (2011) Gouache & graphite on paper 22.5 x 15 in. Photo: courtesy of the artist and Sandra Gering, Inc.
Todd James Photo: courtesy of the artist and Sandra Gering Inc.

Todd James
Photo courtesy of the artist and Sandra Gering Inc.

Self-taught New York graffiti writer Todd James (a.k.a. REAS) gained initial fame in his youth, tagging on local streets and in the New York subway system. As he came into adulthood, James translated his artistic talent, making a successful transition into popular culture, creating album covers for musicians, including Eminem and Kid Rock, and doing illustrations for TV networks The Source and Cartoon Network. Alongside his broader cultural popularity, he has had success in the gallery setting, exhibiting line drawings (most often depicting everyday activities, such as reading or talking on the phone) internationally, including at Par Gallery in Tokyo and at the Venice Biennale. James lives and works in New York City. artnet News chatted with the street artist about his beginnings and current projects.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Since I was very young, around five. My parents were artists, so I grew up in a environment that encouraged creativity.

Todd James, Off Shore Accounts (2011) Gouache & graphite on paper 72 x 47.5 in. Photo: courtesy of Sandra Gering Inc.

Todd James, Off Shore Accounts (2011)
Gouache and graphite on paper 72 x 47.5 in.
Photo courtesy of Sandra Gering Inc.

What inspires you?
Comics, cartoons, classic painting, and drawings of all kinds—drawing and the news.

Todd James, Peace Patrol (2008) Gouache & graphite on paper 51.75 x 43.25 in. Photo: courtesy of the artist and Sandra Gering Inc.

Todd James, Peace Patrol (2008)
Gouache and graphite on paper 51.75 x 43.25 in.
Photo courtesy of the artist and Sandra Gering Inc.

If you could own any work of modern or contemporary art, what would it be?
I’d love to have an actual 1980s subway car with a Blade piece on it, or a really early Peter Saul painting.

Todd James, Coffee Table No Books (2011) Gouache & graphite on paper 22.5 x 15 in. Photo: courtesy of the artist and Sandra Gering, Inc.

Todd James, Coffee Table No Books (2011)
Gouache and graphite on paper 22.5 x 15 in.
Photo courtesy of the artist and Sandra Gering, Inc.

What are you working on at the moment?
These sort of fantasy oil paintings of women warriors, and also fighter jet paintings, as well as paintings of women sitting around books in apartments with cats.

When not making art, what do you like to do?
I’m an escapist, art is my escape from everyday life, but, as a hobby, I like video games and reading. I might even take up Dungeons and Dragons.


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