Jason Keam takes his inspiration from everyday life: plates of spaghetti, a revved up cat, nothing’s off limits. We talked about his summer residency at 6021 Atlantic, how skateboarding inspires his process, and what music gets the doodles flowing.
Everything starts with a story and doodle. It’s one of the better artist’s statements I’ve ever read. When did you first connect the dots between storytelling and doodling? I’m picturing a three-year-old Jason Keam making zines for some reason.
My story starts with a story my mother used to tell people. I was really shy as a kid and she would tell the story about our return from Cambodia at age 3. I made a short film about it but it didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped. But the story goes: I was drawing something and my mom looked over my shoulder and said what’s that (the paper was filled with green crayon edge to edge). I said it’s a crocodile (on the trip I visited crocodile farms). She said where is it it’s all green. I said it’s under the water. She said I don’t see it the paper is all green. I said he’s under the water. This symbolized how creative or conceptually I thought.
She continues to embarrass me with this story, but after that I never stopped drawing and fast forward to high school I started competing. I came from playing club soccer and was super competitive and needed to compete. So I won a few first place and honorable mentions, got scholarship money to go to Otis where I learned animation and VFX. I wanted to bring my drawings and paintings to life
I love the competition aspect, especially since sometimes people assume that artists aren’t competitive in the same way as athletes. Did competing in sports influence your subject matter early on?
Club soccer used to be a HUGE part of my life Through practice, mindset, and discipline. But it’s hard to tell because I come from skateboarding too. But a lot of my behavior and strategy is from both
“I get hurt, I get up and I try again”. I love that line from “I Love Skateboarding”, an animation you worked on which features a character on a date with his skateboard. There’s an ease to your work that I love; it’s very fluid and humorous. I was actually wondering how much skateboard culture comes into play with your artwork.
Skateboarding culture is very complicated because it can easily come off lame. A lot of my influence emotions, and workflow comes from skateboarding but as portraying it in an non abstract way without making it look lame is difficult. But I do know if you just do it. You creatively sculpt it through time and practice, which is what a big part of skateboarding or any practice. Skateboarding is just a variable that can be replaced by anyone, anything, or any self passion.
How long did “I Love Skateboarding” take to animate?
2 weeks. I like to call it a gut shot production. Something that just needed to get out of me.
Do you normally start with a concept or does doodling freehand lead you to a final creation?
Drawing and concepting always goes first. Every story needs structure and workflow. I am all about workflow. One of my coaches used to say “Don’t cut corners. You’re only cheating yourself”. My high school coach was all about training and integrity. It was more important than winning.
I give everything eyes because I want to give everything life. I want everyone to give or show compassion and show respect to everything and everyone. It’s a way of practicing compassion. Makes you feel something for an object (or in this case food).
When I was a kid, every color in my coloring box was like a friend. I used to feel crazy guilty for picking one. “Green Apple, I’m sorry. Next time, buddy”.
Ha. Yeah, I felt the same way. I had to use all the colors because I didn’t want to burn one color down.
We worked together at McBeard, an ad agency based in Los Angeles. The first time I checked out your artwork, I immediately thought: Nickelodeon. Which I spouted off to you (hoping you’d take it as the compliment it was). Does 90s pop culture influence your artwork?
I think 90s was a time when I grew up and it was a good time for me. Everything was great. I think I just subconscious steered in that direction. I think because I use similar color palette and line quality. Maybe a subconscious homage of that time. Honestly it’s just who I am and the colors I wear. A lot of my colors come from the clothes I wear and fashion i am inspired by too.
Your style, I must say, is very on point.
Time for a question /answer speed round. Favorite artist on Instagram:
Ugh that’s hard. Kaws and Steve Harrington.
Artist you would love to interview.
Kaws, Grotesk, Keith Haring, Dieter Rams, Dr Dre, Snoop, Tom Waits, The WOZ, Tom York.
YOU CHEATER. Musician and / or band you love to doodle to.
At the moment: J Cole, Vince Staple, MF Doom, Tribe, Oddisee, Kid Koala, El Michels Affair, Dilla, Chance, Anderson Paak, Badbadnotgood, The Flesh Eaters and Slum.
Such a selfish question on my end. Now I have all the music for my own listening.
Music is a HUGE part of my life too. All my close friends are musicians.
You’re a Long Beach native. How does the city shape your artistic perspective?
I question myself this everyday because I spend 25% time a month in LA. It’s a humble, corky, working class city. We build work horses.
Last summer, you had the opportunity to take over Angela Willcocks space in Long Beach. Instead of focusing the space entirely on your own work, you invited two local artists, Matisse Ibarra (aka Punk Picasso) and painter/illustrator Bodeck Hernandez to show alongside you. Why did you want the showcase to feature multiple artists?
Honestly I grew up with these guys and known them for 10+ years. We’ve watched each other grow and develop. We see very eye to eye even though we are completely different people. And I really respect their work and want to promote them too. They’re my brothers and my crew.
What is the meaning behind the installation’s name? The People’s Studio.
It’s simply for the people. Affect people in a positive way and benefit the masses.
Angela was quoted in the Long Beach Post saying “Art is very elitist and I don’t think it should be elitist. It should be open to the public. Certainly sitting here in this shop front has opened my eyes to new ways of looking at art and how art can be a part of a community.” Do you feel similarly that art oftentimes comes off as high hat?
Yeah often times yeah. Sometimes artist come off that way because they are busy and they are do it yourself people and constantly building a business. And this goes back to people needing to feel compassion. In between work, social media, family, and life’s expectations we need to learn to stop to smell the roses. And it’s a hard balance between giving the people the experience of your work and get paid right. But a lot of the information and experience I have is learned by doing the art residency and finding mentors. And just exploring the field.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given by a mentor?
Stick to your guns.