Driven by instinctive mark making, Jahbarri Wilson’s mixed media practice takes in both fine art and fashion. The self-taught artist, who last year launched Become A Collector – a range of limited-edition sweaters accompanied by original artworks, first began exhibiting his artwork in 2020 after returning to Bermuda following a number of years spent living and working in Los Angeles.
Exhibiting in the Bermuda Biennial for the first time this year, Jahbarri, who teaches at Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation, hopes that his work will inspire viewers to “let go of fear and move within their visible and invisible strengths.” We caught up with him to discuss the inescapable draw of creativity, how teaching art to children helps him to “stay loose”, both in life and in art, and the importance of making collecting art accessible to all.
BNG: Could you please tell us about your Biennial artwork, Faef? Why did you decide to submit this work in particular?
JW: Faef came about because I was genuinely curious with how the human body would look if it was being pulled or hanging from its solar plexus. It flourished from there. It felt so heavy and meaningful, yet it had a sense of weightlessness that has the ability to lift the viewer’s spirits. Because of that, I knew it was the one. Faef was also entered to reach and inspire all who view it to let go of fear and move within their visible and invisible strengths.
BNG: This is the first time that you have shown in the Bermuda Biennial. What does it mean to you to be included in the exhibition?
JW: I’m honoured to be a part of something with so many other amazing creators that I respect and that I am inspired by. Honestly, it has shown me that I am taking the steps I should to reach where I know I belong. It has reassured my beliefs in myself and my art, which have been impenetrable and intractable.
BNG: You began exhibiting your artwork a couple of years ago, first in an emerging artists group show at Masterworks (2020) and more recently in 2021 Fall Members Show at the Bermuda Society of Arts. Why did you decide to start exhibiting your work and how that this impacted your practice?
JW: One of the biggest catalysts was bouncing back and forth between Los Angeles and back home in Bermuda. I’ve always known that I wanted to create art but going to Los Angeles totally widened my eyes and expanded my imagination. Being in proximity with so many different creators with a mission. Seeming to be endless amounts of resources, material, and the endless amount of space. Studios here and studios there. It was very new to me and exciting.
Seeing all the different processes and problem solving. I even sold a piece of art for the first time in LA to another creative. That whole experience helped to solidify my goals and purpose. So, I got back home with the intent to have my foot on the neck of my future and not let up. Create and share. Create and share.
Exhibiting hasn’t impacted my process at all. I create for myself, while knowing that I’m not the only being that experiences these vibrations. I’m full of gratitude for the fact that I can share my creations with others.
BNG: You are self-taught. When did you first discover a love for art and how have you nurtured this over the years?
JW: I have a very vivid memory of the first time I was fully aware that I loved art. I was attending St. John’s Preschool. We were having our arts and craft time and the craft that we were prompted to make was a mixed media collage of a gombey. The teacher had made an example to help steer our imagination a bit. Safe to say my gombey blew her gombey out of the water! I loved that gombey. My momps had it hanging on her door for the longest time. Sadly it got lost when we moved houses.
Simply put, art kept bugging me like an annoying little sister. I kept finding myself needing to give it my undivided attention. Feeling as if my being would break if I didn’t release my creativity throughout my younger years. As I got older, I found myself playing and experimenting with more mediums while watching artist interviews, documentaries, and finding books that contained artists’ entire catalogues.
BNG: You currently teach at Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation. Does working with children and observing their open approach to art making affect your own in any way?
JW: I love the kids and their way of being! I genuinely see them as my peers creatively. I help to sharpen their creativity and imagination, while they help and constantly remind me to stay loose. Loose in my being, my creativity and everyday life.
BNG: Your mixed media work spans drawing, painting and fashion. Prior to joining Kaleidoscope, you spent a couple of years in Los Angeles working for Bermudian designer Khamari Greaves. Could you please tell us a bit about this?
JW: I was actually at Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation first and had to let the team know that I had the opportunity to further my art career by traveling to LA to shadow artists of different mediums and industries. The Kaleidoscope family was very supportive, so I went off and put Kaleidoscope to the side for a while to follow my heart.
While in Los Angeles, I was networking and shadowing people in the fashion, music and fine arts industries. I worked with Khamari Greaves and he showed me a lot of the ropes and how things worked in the city I was new to.
I learned a great load of things while helping on sets of video shoots, photo shoots, and just being in art studios assisting and watching artists at work. Seeing so much public art, woah! While in Los Angeles I also collaborated on painting a food truck for Adidas with LA locals and one of the artists I was shadowing Gianni Lee.
BNG: Last year you launched a range of limited-edition sweaters accompanied by original artworks. Could you please tell us about the project? Why did you decide to combine art and fashion?
JW: I don’t see art and fashion as separate entities. It’s all a form of expression. I titled the launch of the knitted garment drop Become A Collector because I want to bring more people into the realm of owning and collecting art. I feel that art collecting is still kind of taboo to the masses. One, because they don’t know where to start and two, art can be pricey. Ultimately, my reason for making a 1 of 1 piece to accompany every knit purchase is because I genuinely want people to enjoy having my art in their spaces.
BNG: You describe your practice as being shaped by “a perpetual tug of war between the conscious and the subconscious”. How does this manifest itself in your artwork?
JW: I intentionally create without thought, with total instinct. Occasionally switching from being conscious to being guided by instinctive mark making. Just flipping in and out of “control” while being fully present during the process.
The 2022 Bermuda Biennial A New Vocabulary: Past. Present. Future is on until the end of the year.