WHO THE HELL IS JIM JOE?
Jim Joe is a graffiti artist, currently hyperactive in New York City. He has made quite a name for himself with his simple, sometimes humorous writings, especially in the Lower East Side and East Village, where his tag is ubiquitous. He first caught the attention of Subway Art Blog in February for hitting up the Essex Street station on the J train. This is our Jim Joe artist profile, which is a culmination of six months of obsessively following his work in the subway and beyond.
MEET JIM JOE
Here is what we know about him:
He is a he. We can confirm this through folks who have seen him. A few Animal NYC readers have seen him in action and commented about it in one of Animal’s articles.
One commenter said: “I SAW HIM! I was on 16th an 7th ave, he wrote, ‘My friends think I’m a fool, my friends think I’m a fool- Jim Joe’ in silver marker on a discarded couch. Then he took a picture of it and walked away.”
Another said: “I saw Jim Joe on Bleeker and Jones a few weeks ago and knew it was him after he wrote on a US Postal Service Mailbox. It was one of the best moments of my life. I took a picture of him with my cell phone. It was kind of like a celebrity siting but better because only special New Yorkers know of him. AMAZING.”
According to The Link Newspaper of Canada, Jim Joe is originally from Montreal and attended McGill University; he was featured in the Fall 2009 issue of McGill’s art magazine, Folio, in his fourth year.
He became active in New York sometime around early 2010 and has graced objects with his tag at least as far north as Columbus Circle, and as far out in Brooklyn as Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant. His canvas of choice, though, seems to be the southeast area of Manhattan.
MUCH MUCH MORE AFTER THE JUMP
“THE INTERNET IS THE NEW BRICK WALL.”
Not too much is known about Jim Joe’s process (likely a result of his anonymity). There is virtually no documentation of the artist at work. A quotation from The Link‘s article provides some rare insight: “I CLOSE MY EYES, OPEN MY BOOK AND POINT AT SOME WORDS. THAT’S USUALLY HOW IT WORKS.”
Jim Joe usually works alone, but sometimes writes with his friend WOMP who has a very similar writing style.
The artist has a unique brand of self-referencial humor, which is seen in many of his works including the two pieces below.
A great deal of other Jim Joe works live on his tumblr account. On this site, he posts many photographs and found images in addition to his graffiti work.
Jim Joe’s work is quite prevalent in the Lower East Side and East Village—you cannot make it down a single block without seeing several of his tags. His work also appears in some locations uptown and also in Brooklyn, mostly along the JMZ train lines. Here is a map of a few hot spots:
In addition, we have documented Jim Joe tags in Williamsburg, Chelsea, and less commonly in midtown.
The artist also made a name for himself in his home city of Montreal and on his college campus at McGill.
“It is necessary to arrive at selecting an object with the idea of not being impressed by this object on the basis of enjoyment of any order. However, it is difficult to select an object that absolutely does not interest you, not only on the day on which you select it, and which does not have any chance of becoming attractive or beautiful and which is neither pleasant to look at nor particularly ugly.”
In his interview with The Link, Jim Joe sites teenagers, Marcel Duchamp, paint and garbage as his main influences. One could argue that the entire body of the graffiti artist’s work is a reference to Duchamp. He isn’t tagging so much as he is appropriating the objects he writes on.
A plethora of appropriated garbage pieces can be found in photos on various blogs and on flickr.
via Streetfiles (left), Chrystler 5th Avenue (right)
Jim Joe makes some even more apparent references to Duchamp in the following works, which appear on his tumblr blog.
One could argue that Jim Joe is not a graffiti artist at all. This is for several reasons. First, he seems to ignore many of the stylistic laws of the graffiti scene. Graffiti is his medium more so than it is than his genre. Also, Jim Joe does not cite any big graffiti artists as his influences.
Jim Joe has a few different hand writing styles, all of which are probably frowned upon by the graffiti community. In sharp contrast of wildstyle graffiti that adorns most urban streets, Jim Joe’s writing is as simple as it gets.
His most common style is a simple print handwriting, as seen in the photo below.
The writing seems to consist of a mix of caps and lowercase letters. The letter I tends to be uppercase and the letter E tends to be lowercase; others, such as M and O, are more ambiguous. It is a jumble worthy of a the label “chicken scratch.”
One interpretation of this writing is that it is referencing a time when graffiti designs were much simpler (subway graffiti circa 1970s). Although, this writing style is more likely evoking his number one influence: Duchamp. The black, sometimes bold and dripping lettering is clearly a reference to the R. Mutt signature on Duchamp’s Fountain.
The other prevalent writing style in Jim Joe’s work is his cursive, as seen below.
His cursive is simple, elegant and beautiful. It is like a signature that he leaves on objects as a hat tip to all of his adoring fans.
Jim Joe has several other writing styles that appear less often in his work.
The tag below was the first Jim Joe that caught our attention. It appeared in the Essex Street J train station and stayed there for several months until it was cleaned…
…and stayed clean for a few days at best, as illustrated below. At the time of this writing, “I FEEL YOU” still appears on this wall in Essex Street.
Jim Joe was one of several graffiti artists who took a whack at Sheperd Fairy’s May Day mural on Houston Street in Manhattan, but not as directly as some other graffiti artists. Jim Joe’s humorous “Untitled” tag was whited out within days. Though, it was up long enough to get him some recognition by Bowery Boogie.
via Bowery Boogie
Jim Joe also made a name for himself by bombing a whole slew of Village Voice newspapers boxes. Here is a gallery of some of the Jim Joe tags we have seen on these boxes.
Below is another large scale piece that appeared on the J train line. This “IMPRESSED?” piece was found on a wall in the Bowery station, but has since been covered, leaving a fresh canvas, waiting to be filled.
A BRIEF WORD FROM THE ARTIST
We were able to get a few words out of the man of few, capitalized words in a recent e-mail interview. Enjoy.
Why do you do what you do?
What is your process like? How do you choose your targets? What kinds of tools do you use?
Have you been caught writing in New York City? Were you arrested?
YES AND NO
Anything else to say to your adoring fans?
I FEEL YOU
IN THE LONG RUN
I FORGOT YOUR NAME
MORE JIM JOE
We’ll leave off with a gallery of many of our other photos to give you a taste of how much work Jim Joe has produced.
If you have any photos of Jim Joe’s work or anecdotes about the artist, please e-mail us!
All photos above by Jowy Romano unless otherwise noted.
Thanks to Vinney Cavallo, Tomo Hiroishi, Tully River and everyone else who sent in their photos.