James Goldcrown, better known as JGoldcrown, the internationally acclaimed artist who created #bleedinghearts murals has one of the most popular murals on Instagram. After a chance meeting with James in New York’s Ludlow House, I later discover that James’ art has been the background artwork on my mobile phone for the past eighteen months, after being drawn to the artwork on a trip to NYC. James art brings a rainbow of colour and love to the streets of New York and LA. I caught up with the artist in LES to hear how he started his career, what sparked the move to New York, and transitioning from a struggling artist to turning down a partnership with Apple. Still a young artist, James’ career has been hugely eventful, and I’m excited to watch what projects James is going to be working on in years to come.
How did you get into the arts? Did you study?
I was always very creative as a kid, I just liked to draw. I remember being as early as 4 being in primary school and my art excelled much more that other people in my class. I made a very conscious decision to do something where I’m not being bossed around, there was no other way for me – I started working when I was 16 in a darkroom and that kind of introduced me to the art world! I was working for Rankin at Dazed and Confused as one of his assistants. I also went to Central St Martins before I left school, but didn’t stay as I hated it. I couldn’t relate to the students there. My mum was furious because I had a scholarship, I remember her saying to me ‘what are you going to do when you’re 30’ – I was 16 at the time. If I wasn’t at school then I was made to get a job, and move out – she was very strict with me, which I think was a good thing.
Tell me about your career progression to from school to work…
Working for Rankin when I was 23 was such a huge insight into the fashion industry, it was fashion shows and fashion pre-social media with Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, really raw and real and it was when there was five selected supermodels. I just fell in love with the kind of lifestyle that I was seeing and being presented and I just wanted to be a part of this creative energy where people just did what they wanted and there’s no routine, it just really appealed to me.
And then you moved to New York?
It was easier than I thought, I was travelling back and forth, I never really knew or imagined that I’d ever want to live here so when I came here at first I was here for three months and I just partied hard, I was 27. I didn’t realise how powerful our voice was in this country, and I was definitely using it to my advantages. Then I went back to London at the beginning of February in 2008, I didn’t feel anything being back in London so knew I had to go back to New York, and then I just remember, clearest memories,
the second the plane touched down at JFK I just felt this release of calm, and I was like this is where I need to be and then I kind of made it work.
I got employed for being a photographer for a studio and from that it didn’t really work out well, there was this kind of trust-fund kid who was trying to run a business but didn’t really have any concept of what he was doing. I stopped working there.
Then a friend of mine from London had this truck and we decided to turn it into a bouji mobile art gallery. We would drive to the upper west side and then basically just set a shop-up outside restaurants on Columbus Avenue, it was ridiculous busy and it was Sundays and family days and there was no one doing what we were doing, it was even before food-truck kind of became big, we weren’t even breaking any laws, because there was no permits for it, so police didn’t even know what to do with us! They were just like what are you doing? and we’re going to sell art, we had tax IDs, I used to sell art on the streets, I used to help Andrew do that and then we just kind of got away with it. We were both English so they were like alright, leave these two alone. New York loves that kind of image, and that’s what I’ve really learned to take my photography with my art, I mixed them both together and started to do mix media, and then I kind of transitioned more.
Tell me about the story of the Bleeding Hearts…
The hearts was just a thing because I used to spray paint a lot and I was using this door to test the pressure of the spray can, I’ve always used hearts and just shape more and more and more and then one day some guy came in and said he wanted to buy the door. I kept making the hearts on canvasses and they would go instantly. It was before even doing murals, people would come into my studio, that’s just down the street and they would want one of the bleeding hearts on canvas and then Lasso which is on the corner here (LES in NY), they have a very famous wall with a mural.
They asked me if I’d like to do a mural, but they were booked until February, and that was in like November, so I had time, and then I was -had no idea what to do, I’d never done a mural in my life, I’d never done anything in the streets apart as a kid – I’d never done anything legally or being asked to do it and paid for it! One of my friends was like “why don’t you just do the hearts?” but I thought it was too obvious — again – being told what to do. I was like “NO” and as it came I was like
“Shit yeah, I should really do the hearts, it’s valentines there’s a lot of logic behind it”
and then I did it without any kind of understanding where I was and the power of – and people just genuinely come here to photograph street art and then I think four days later I was in a paper and it was just like people just using it as a backdrop and it just went viral I mean, I didn’t even realise – Eva Chen the first person with that kind of many followers to post it, and then from her it just continued exploding.
And at your first Art Basel – you sold out within two hours?
That was the first Art Basel I’d done with the bleeding hearts, I wasn’t even still doing the bleeding hearts as a full time thing then, so I had like 3 bleeding hearts pieces – they were the 3 paintings to have sold. From that I got commissioned 5 pieces from, but I had like other pieces of art I did which mix media, everything sold in two hours, it was crazy. That was like for me the first transitions of making real money though, so it was a really great feeling,
I was in New York as a struggling artist, you’re always thinking how the fuck you’re going pay your rent?
or how you going tell your landlord you don’t have the money for your rent? and suddenly I could afford rent! It’s kind of crazy.
Who was the first brand to approach you?
I was meant to do something, with a club in Montauk, that really famous bar and then that didn’t happen, but I was in Shore Club and this girl sitting next to me asked what I did. I told her I’m an artist and I do the heart murals, and the she stopped and grabbed my arm and she was like;
“are you J Goldcrown?…OMFG I work with Toms we are planning to get in touch with you, we want to collaborate with you”
Sure enough when I was back in New York after Basel, she emailed me. I sat down with like all the CEO’s and everyone and it was like a little bit intimidating but kind of cool at the same time cause I was like wow! They’re here for me, and that was cool. That was the first big big collaboration I did where it’s a global brand that everyone knows – you can tell your mum and she knows it .
Tell me about your most recent collaboration with Rag and Bone?
That was through Neiman Marcus, so the head of Neiman Marcus phoned me up, initially I was meant to do a magazine with them, I was meant to do this whole shoot, we were talking about integrating art into a magazine. It was meant to be like a feature about myself and then the kind of thing turned around because they were doing this thing with Rag and Bone and then they asked me how I feel if I wanted to work with Rag and Bone. Then I was in New York and met with the owner, Marcus Wainwright , we were in his office, and he’s English as well so I think we were just talking for like an hour, not even about what we were meant to do and then we just looked into each other and go “what are we doing again?” it was really actually kind of a funny moment. Then I was with his team and we worked together on a t-shirt and it had to be very low tone. I wanted to be something a bit more controversial like what I did with the mural I wanted that to be the t-shirt but because it was Neiman Marcus so they had to stay very conservative, so it just stayed like a heart but it’s still very cool experience and you know, to see your name with Rag and Bone is extremely amazing.
Working with the brands, do you find it frustrating having red tape?
Not really, because everyone’s like very, it’s just a very easy process if they know what they’re doing! In all honesty I just design something and I give them my design and they do the artwork get the print done, it’s never really been stressful at all to be honest! It was a very successful campaign. I’ve never get anxiety from working with brands. I think they probably get anxiety from me cause of my response time sometimes!
Are there any brands who you haven’t yet worked with who you want to work with? Who’s on your hit list?
Yeah! I really want to I want to kind of stay the level of the people I’m working with, the brands like Rag and Bone and Toms, because it’s very important like I’ve done a lot of work as well cause I feel it’s not the right fit for me.
What brands have you turned down?
I ended a contract with Rimowa because it was just not right, when you limit yourself to a specific type of brand in your contract, it really denies you from working with other people, so I can’t work with other companies, then you kind of like become the face of Rimowa.
I also turned down Apple. They wanted to feature me on the iPhone 7 as a theme, I turned it down because they didn’t want to include who I was so they would have basically own my rights and I would have lost the idea, the IP and the intelligence to it. I would have been just a backdrop and people would have been known it from Apple and they’d be like ‘oh, you do that stuff with Apple!’
It was a very big decision that I had to make and everyone was like ‘do it do it!’
I really had to think about it. One of my friends works in advertising and advised me not to do it for those reasons, so I’ve listened to him and I realised that you know it’s true, I don’t know if it that would have happened but I feel like it would have happened and I don’t regret it at all because a lot of stuff comes from it.
It’s important to keep your integrity as well!
Exactly, and I just think when you work with brands that big, you lose your identity and I’ve learn from that as well that it’s really important do work for brands that my name has to be included, not like an artist thing like reason and everything, it’s more because that’s the brand identity and it’s like important, it’s like if you have a t-shirt and it doesn’t have a label that says where it’s from, it’s like they lose their identity and no one knows where to get it.
So I guess like now you’ve built up your own brand, at what point did you realise that you’ve created your own brand?
Yeah exactly, sometimes I don’t really realise it’s happened still, because it’s just like, happening. I feel like it’s so young still, but I think I realised like, it’s really when I’m in the meetings you know I’m like, I’m very fortunate this thing happened to me when I was younger I feel, because I’ve still got my head on my shoulder and my mum has always kept me very grounded but I feel like, it’s when you’re at meetings and there’s owners of companies and they’re like nervous to meet you.
What advice do you have for our readers on starting out in the industry?
Accept what ‘no’ means, but you have to keep going, understand your voice, find something and stick with it, and be known for what you do. Never get emotional when you have to separate from your work.
Have you always been business minded?
I think I always have been, not just with what I do, but also other businesses and looking at investing, I find business fascinating, I love ideas, I just love it. So I think I’ve had that, and always surrounded my life which is why I left school when I was younger because it just wasn’t for me, and I started working because the reality of the situation, that’s the best schooling – it’s the real world.
I learnt how to sell art, from doing it in the streets of NYC, outside the Apple Store, this is the irony, I was selling my artwork outside the apple store, being asked to move across the street and then I finally get to turn them down!! You know what I mean, like years later.
We would make art, go to the street, sell it to tourists, to people and just keep on going! We made good money you know, and then I learnt that I just love the business! It was a nice feeling you know, but the reality was people wanted it! We weren’t forcing it, we put it out there!
Is it ever daunting putting your work out there in such a public environment?
Not really because I didn’t really understand it at first – people stopping and looking at me, that was really a new experience to me because you can’t tell people to walk and ‘keep moving’! I become way more used to that, I didn’t understand what I was about to get into. I think that’s what it was. I didn’t realise, before I was like, in my studio and I’d done this mural I didn’t realised that this was going to change my life.
And with that do you have to copyright your work ?
Yeah I’ve got, lawyers who deal with that now.
How far along in your career did you sort the copyright?
The beginning of this year, it was over Christmas time, it got to a point where I got tagged in a photograph in South Korea and the ‘artist’ made a love wall and they actually put my name on it and it says #lovewall @JGoldcrown – I’ve never been to South Korea in my life!!
Wow, what do you do when things like that happen?
That was a while ago. That was before I had like legal team, I don’t care about it, I mean, that’s not going to affect anything. People like, Brainwash have kind of copied a bit of stuff I did, and he posted something in Instagram, then there was a fan war going on between me and him, creating this energy and it’s really good publicity, so I thank him for it. But it was insane:
I was like people really know who I am. That was insane.
You seem to travel a lot, what’s the best place you’ve travelled to?
I would say California was a great thing, because I ended up moving over there. California is one of my favourite places because I ended up moving out there and I felt like a very different energy. Europe and Japan which I’m doing this year, I’m actually very excited to travel to Japan, and then I’m going to Sao Paulo. I’m working with L’Oreal right now, for their company Maybelline we’re doing Babylips. I’m just very excited to go home (to England) and do a mural in my hometown.
Can you tell me more about what you’re working on with Maybelline?
Yes! So I’m working with Maybelline and they have a product called Babylips, I’m doing the lip balm – we’re doing the whole packaging and the lip balm as well. It’s their most sold product in the world! So that’s really intriguing experience and responsibility to keep this product, it’s going be featured in all over the world. But the main countries would be Japan, England, and America. So I get to travel, it’s cool! So that’s going be fun. If you ask me this at the end of September, I’ll tell you, it would probably be Tokyo!