James Goldcrown is West Londoner, proud new dad and also the artist behind the #lovewall and bleeding hearts mural. His work is all over social media and can be found on walls from Los Angeles to London. His documentary work, photography, and murals all showcase his ability to create work that gets right to the heart of the matter.

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When James returned stateside Jay-Z and Alicia Key’s song empire state of mind was a monster hit. It seems apropos that the same grit, hustle, and persistence extolled in the song were the same life skills that got James Goldcrown back in the US after a brief albeit unintended hiatus. That empire state of mind is what catapulted him from a scrappy young kid on the fashion scene to one of the worlds premiere muralists. James Goldcrown’s partnerships with Elizabeth Arden, Toms, and many others point to a unique ability to create art that can be socially conscious and commercially successful.

 

His latest #lovewall was unveiled at Wynwood Walls during Art Basel Miami 2018. We sat down at the Soho House in Miami to discuss art, social media obsessions, and dope beats. And so the conversation begins!

Crystal Cooper: I read somewhere that when you moved to New York, you listened to Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 a ton.

James Goldcrown: You forget the lyrics over some time. But I would know his whole album by heart. And I would repeat certain songs, I would listen. So I lived in the East Village. I’d walk from 12th and 34th street where I was working as a studio photographer. I’d just listen to the album. Sometimes I would listen to one track like the whole way there. I just like master all these lyrics. But yeah, I was like Jay Z was like a big part of my New York Life. I was in New York for a while. I was back and forth actually, on the tourist travel visaIt eventually caught up with me.  They detained me, it was like probably the worst day of my life. I was actually handcuffed and it was really ridiculous. They confiscated my passport and gave it to the airline people. I didn’t actually have a passport and I wasn’t allowed to have it back. So I got back to London and it was just a nightmare. They didn’t say that I was banned from the country because I didn’t do anything illegal. But I wasn’t allowed back on a tourist visa, like for at least five years. So then I had to find another way of coming back. I had to get a visa, so I basically became my own lawyer for three months. I would call up all these different immigration lawyers and have a consultation with them, so it was free. I met about 30 lawyers but asked them all different questions. It took me three months to get all this information. No one thought I was ever going to go back to America. And I was like, all right, I literally made it my mission for three months.  I looked like a lawyer, had stacks and papers and I got all these people to recommend me. Then the day I got back, that’s when Jay Z released that track. So New York, you know, and I just remember I, I landed in New York, and I was in my cab going to where I was going, and the cab driver played. And I saw the Empire State Building, his empire state of mind. And it was just like, it was just this moment is just like, yeah,
CC: [Laughs]The Universe was like welcome back.
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CC: It’s really interesting how, if you’re an artist in any capacity, whether it’s music, you’re painting, you’re doing sculpture, whatever it might be. Somehow someone can take your concept and rework it, or just kind of use it without any of your authorization. And once you put it out there, it’s like, how do you have any say, right?
JG: So I think there’s a lot of good on Instagram and there’s also a lot of bad. Well, even if you have an idea, and you put an idea out there, and someone who’s more recognized can just take your idea that they just saw it as an inspiration. And you’re completely washed under the tide. We were having this discussion last night dinner, actually. And I think it’s a real kind of, like, it’s a real head scratch because there’s a lot of bad and there’s a lot of good, like I just said, but it’s, it kind of balances out and, and, but there is it’s just a very different way now, like you said, of how things can be transmitted. And transcript to cross is just very different now how we just get information and I think in certain ways it’s kind of nice because we get to see more of the world and aspects like I think people travel probably a lot more now or have the desire to because they’re able to see where people are going even people that inspire them but then I think it’s really sad because all these people post things and they want their lives to look perfect but no one’s actually perfect Norman’s as happy as you can make out.  And what really upsets me is people like the Kardashians, who don’t really ever post anything about like gun control, or things that really matter. It’s always about themselves, or about cosmetics or something, which is I get it, they’re paid to do it. But I think we should be using the tool a little bit more responsibly. And I’m actually working with Tom’s right now because Blake’s done this whole thing. He’s the founder. And he’s having this anti-gun thing. And I know it’s an extremely hard campaign because of this country and its belief in guns. And it’s just ridiculous. But I do believe that in five years, we can at least start making some changes into who can be authorized to have guns. And it’s just again, it’s just a complete head screwed because it’s like, this country is so dated with the thought about who gets to have guns.
CC:  So it’s interesting that you kind of tie that in with Instagram. Everyone wants everything to be so perfect. And we consume so much. But do we ever on the back end, go, hey, how do we use this to be positive? Right? And, how do we get outside of ourselves and make this happen? So five years isn’t a stretch.
JG: Yeah, it’s a realistic goal. I told my friends about it. And everyone’s laughing at me that just like, are you crazy, like, you’re never going to get and I’m like, I know that we’re not. I was like, yeah, I’m not crazy.  Like I’m being realistic. Like, it’s not gonna happen in the year. It’s not going to probably happen in two years. But in five years, there will be some kind of like, professional change.
CC: My mom is on Instagram and she does it to keep up with me. It’s hilarious but she is always sending me random pictures or dog videos. And I’m always curious about how her generation processes having access to all these things. And if it makes her life better, right? I know I like I’m 31, so to some degree, I’m kind of removed from social media being my whole life. Yes. But for the post-millennial generation, it is their whole life.
JG: I know, I have nothing in common with them. It’s so funny. Because like, you know, 20 years ago, when I was like 21, I would be friends with people who were like, 32. And there was like, there wasn’t a social divide because of media, social media or anything. We were just all like, we’d have to talk. That’s what you do. You talk, you just like, meet people. And now it’s just like this, this whole new generation of people who just like this, and I do it as well. So I’m on my phone. But I’m not like im completely gone. I know, I like I have the logic. But I mean, it’s almost like Blade Runner. It’s like, they’re like robots. And it’s really scary. It’s like, they’re all like, just motionless. And it’s like if they smile they’re not cool. And, and it’s really weird the way that the world is going
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CC: I feel like Art Basel is like the thing to do socially and everyone’s just here for the parties. I know a lot of gallery owners/serious art collectors and they’re like Art Basel is a shadow of its former self.  So they feel like it’s more it’s so commercial and it’s so party oriented. What are your thoughts?
JG: Now it is ridiculous right? Its lost its authenticity without a doubt.
CC: How do you deal with with the craziness that is Art Basel? How do you maintain the authenticity of your work?
JG: That’s a good question I think there are two different Basels. There’s like the art side of it and then there’s like that the events. The art is becoming secondary it’s like no one really comes here to see the art. Although what they’ll do is they’ll go and they’ll take a selfie and make out what they did it for their perfect life portfolio.  I was telling you earlier that we left last year before Art Basel really hit. I think last year was really for me the turning point. Like the year before was fun and then last year was just like it just lost its way.
CC: Yeah, the illusions wore off.
JG: YeahI just didn’t enjoy it. I was just so it was so stressful. I reckon it’d be really fun if you’ve never been here before and you’re just here to party. You know it’s just crazy I came here I think I had my first ever showing here like three or four years ago and that was a great year because it was like very little social media.
CC: You sold out in like 2 hours, right?
JG: I did. I was very lucky I had no expectations because I was brokers and I mean I was just happy to be here. We are we got roped into driving down here by a curator. So we drove from New York to Miami. It took us 29 hours. I pretended I could drive just to get the job done. Like I lied and said I had a license. And I drove for like, seven hours. And then I told everyone after as I by the way that I was like, whatever, I couldn’t give a shit. I was like, I need to just get this trip. This is the worst trip of my life. But it was a lot of fun. Looking back at it was kind of like a  good story from rags to riches. Maybe I would do it again. But I definitely wouldn’t plan it. You know, it was a miserable trip. We had a u-haul van with three people in the front. It was miserable. [Laughing]
CC: But it was worth it.
JG: It was fun. It was like an event. It was an experience. It was a story, you know. And then we wrapped up when we had all this art, like, lunged in the back. Some of it was like Andy Warhol and all this stuff. And it was just a very interesting contrast. And then we set up, we helped do everything. I mean, I sold out all my work, which was phenomenal. And it was like the first time actually made some good money. And I promised myself never to let my bank account and get below a certain figure. And then after that, that’s when I did the mural in New York, which kind of blew out my code. Like, that’s when everything changed for me. So it’s like a really good build up.
CC: My parents said you can be creative, but have a day job, right? Like, they were like, you don’t want to be a starving artist. So how did you how did you manage? You were saying a couple years ago it just got really got good for you.

JG: I was very lucky. My mom. I mean, I came from like a very single mother family. My mom was like, quite a few jobs. I remember my dad, my dad was never around. But my mom would work and she did everything. And I just remember, my mom was a hustler. I would help her like, make sandwiches. And then we’d go to schools and sell the sandwiches. And it was a lot of fun for me as a kid because it was like it was an adventure. But like for her, it’s probably really stressful. You know, it’s like trying to get food on the table and all that kind of stuff. And I think my mom was never worried about me because I was very outgoing was like an extreme extrovert, just from her taking me out and everything. And my sister was the sensible one. She was the one that likes school. I didn’t like school, not because I was like an educator or anything. I just didn’t like being told what to do. I’m very much like throughout an extrovert where I just like if you tell me something, I’ll go the other way. And I can’t help it just like it’s just in my DNA. I just like I’m kind of like that. It’s annoying. I’m sorry to everyone. And I’m aware of it though.

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CC: You’re like the Frank Sinatra song, My way.

JG: I just wanted to do what I wanted to do with like, this is my life like, I’m a human, this is my life. I breathe. I’m not asking you for anything. And this is like, the way I want to live my life. Because as I know, this is my one life. And I don’t need to be told how to live it. And that’s that. And I think that’s just always been my approach. But I just kept doing it. And I just kept hustling. And I think I just always had this like gut feeling. I remember when I was like a kid. It was like the summertime and we are playing football soccer outside. And I just remember like, I had this moment where I just stared at is pretty cool. And I just like had this like a path for me. I was like, I know that I’m going to do something really great one day, but I don’t know what they don’t know what day but something’s going to happen. My life is going to be fine.

 

This post was edited for clarity and abridged for length.