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It took me a few months to track down painter/muralist Joshua Mays. As I was cyber sweet-stalking him (as my colleague would say), he was in the middle of transitioning from Philly, where he had been rooted for the past several years, to his new home in The Bay Area--Oakland.
I was initially drawn to Joshua's work after following him on Facebook for the past year or so, where seemingly like clockwork, he would release a new ridiculously dope painting pretty much everyday. His unyielding production seemed superhuman to say the least, and I wanted to learn more about his process. And so I emailed him incessantly, until he responded and agreed to an interview.
It takes two seconds of exposure to his work to realize that he's brilliant. Joshua's now ubiquitous psychedelic and otherworldly style have been coveted and sought after by recording artists, such as Jill Scott and Jneiro Jarel for album covers. He's been commissioned to create monstrous sized murals in multiple cities, and exhibited his work worldwide.
Here's a short phone conversation we had, where he shared about his ways of avoiding creative blocks, the concepts behind his work, and how he keeps moving from city to city.
So you're from Denver originally?
Yes I am.
What brought you from Denver to Philly, and now to The Bay?
I guess it’s pretty much just staying on the move, finding a more mature art scene, an art scene that will progress my career. When I was in Denver, the Denver scene was mostly in galleries, and if you went into a gallery, you'd see mostly Native American art or cowboy art, and not much in the realms of what I'm trying to construct. So I went to Philly and found a lot of like-minded and progressive people, and then it was time to move on...I just got to The Bay a few weeks ago.
You hit the ground running as soon as you touched down in The Bay, with the “Love and Momentum,” show. Can you explain how those two concepts came together for that?
That was a show that I had in February of this year. It refers to the idea of living a balanced life. It was focused on my personal flow--me doing the things that I love and just come naturally for me--and applying the resourcefulness that I've had to build as well as the work ethic. It’s about learning life moving in that direction--flowing, and creating work based upon that. In terms of the type of work that was created for the show, it's pretty much what I said. There wasn’t a theme flowing, that connected everything with each other in terms of everything being done within a certain span of time. There were certain group of pieces that I created specifically for the show while I was out here visiting The Bay.
Your work is very reminiscent of the iconic Bitches Brew artist Mati Klarwein. Were you influenced by him?
I definitely know Mati Klarwein's work, to say the least. He's most certainly an influence when it comes to the way he depicts reality and psychedelia. I definitely know his work and am influenced by him. I go back and refer to his work a lot to see the solutions he utilized for certain problems.
Your work, like Klarwein’s is very ethereal. Where does that come from? Do those concepts come from a specific spiritual orientation?
I would say my spiritual orientation is that of just being open to change, which means not having much attachment to most things. In general, I like the idea of just being an explorer, flowing in and out of different ideas. I definitely appreciate storytelling, and in general, I think storytelling is what makes art and humanity really worthwhile, and one of the things I really do love in humanity. I think a lot of what makes religion captivating as well, is storytelling--is people relating themselves to somebody else’s story, and their push through struggle. I wouldn't be surprised if a couple Millennia from now, we see religion based upon the stories of Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela, based upon their stories and how time also enhances and embellishes upon the narration of people's struggles.
Are there times where you feel like you hate what you are working on, or stop enjoying the project, but continue to do it anyways?
In terms of blocks? I don't. I guess I just have moments when my flow, my inspiration, is just lower than other times, and I tend to just scribble circles across a page, and just create whatever I can out of those. But I know there's so many directions that I could go creatively. I just love drawing and painting so much, so I rarely have times when I'm not drawing or painting.
That seems rare. Most creatives talk about getting blocked or unmotivated every now and then. What seems to be your technique from preventing blockages?
When it comes to creating an exhibit, all I can do is produce within my means. I just keep moving on, keep adding one thing to another thing, which leads to another thing. Being willing to jump from city to city as I have been over the past few years helps out: a new group of people, a new group of conversations, a new place to explore, the ability to take advantage of new opportunities--again just paying attention to myself, being open to what change has to offer.
It's definitely just about getting to a point where I'm not thinking too much about my work--not just not thinking about my work--but how other people think about my work. I can just imagine being blocked based upon thinking about those things that I can't control. That's what I see could cause a block.
I think a big part of creating is just losing yourself and not getting caught up in critiquing yourself too much, and allowing yourself to produce shitty stuff as well as the dope stuff [laughs]. And don't be too hard on yourself, and sincerely do the work because you enjoy it. I have to give myself a lot of room when it comes to that conversation.
Was there ever a time in your life that you didn’t know you were an artist? Or did you have a revelation at birth that you were supposed to be one?
I've been drawing and painting since--I’d say I started drawing I was 3 or 4 years old. and I haven't stopped at all since. But in terms of as a career path, it probably was more like I was 7 or 8 years old when someone said to me that I could be an artist for a living. I thought that would be cool at the time. I think I also thought about being a baseball player and a runner, because I liked doing those things when I was 7 as well. I didn't really play baseball that much, but it seemed like a cool thing to do. Then I eventually gave up on those other things, but kept drawing and painting. I knew my ultimate ability of enjoying myself and my work involved me creating art, and so I knew I had to be an artist. That opened up a door to a building with so many rooms. There was a lot of searching and finding, testing, until I came to the decision to become an artist. I’ve done a lot to get here, but I’m glad to be in the position that I'm in right now.
What’s your day-to-day like in terms of producing work?
My main work sessions are at night, usually sometime between 12 midnite to 3 o'clock in the morning.
I always listen to music, and I'm almost always caffeinated. I generally try to drink green tea, and occassionally I drink coffee, but usually I get jittery from coffee, but I do love caffeine.
Where can people buy your prints or hit you up for commissioned work?
I have a website in the works. Stay tuned for that.
Words by Boyuan Gao
All original artwork by Joshua Mays (images courtesy of Joshua's Facebook page)