The Genesis of “Visual Funk” – A Conversation with Jim Mahfood

The Genesis of “Visual Funk” – A Conversation with Jim Mahfood

“Visual Funk” was not only the first art exhibition of Jim Mahfood, but also a trajectory of a multifaceted, 20 year career from the St. Louis native.  The exhibition made its debut at the Hero Complex Gallery from November 5-23, 2013.  Comfortably nestled in Hollywood, the Hero Complex Gallery hosted the exhibition which was created to the beat of funk and hip hop music, as well as an amalgamation of inspirations ranging from large franchises such as Star Wars, Marvel and DC comics.  Much of his influences are present in his work, clearly showcasing flashes of comic book style, which are presented on diverse media – classic pen and ink, acrylic paint, and print.

Originating from the Midwest, Jim Mahfood believed he had to move to a metropolitan area such as New York in order to be close to comics and art.  At a young age, he apprenticed under Midwest artists with similar interests in comic books.  As a self-described visual funk artist, Jim Mahfood answered questions about his early beginnings, successes in the commercial art world, and his future projects.  Some of his future projects include a t-shirt design for Nike and short animations for MTV.  He looks forward to seeing his work translated in the commercial world – driven by the visions of a director – but is also working on his ongoing autobiographical comic about living in Los Angeles.  One of our contributors, Rhoda Dizon, was able to sit down for a quick chat with Jim.

  Who inspired you to begin your career as an artist?

Jim: I started as a fan of comic books, so just kind of like being a comic book collector/nerd.  That was my main thing – I just wanted to draw comics, and make books.  I kind of pursued that.  That’s how I started my career as an artist doing comics.  And that led into illustrations and art shows and stuff like that.  It wasn’t one specific artist, it was more like being a comic book fan that kind of got me on drawing and left off into other stuff.

Rhoda:  How was it like starting your art career at the age of 15, for Artline Studios?

Jim:  That was the first comic book company I worked for when I was still living in St. Louis.  That was awesome just because I was still just a kid.  Those guys hired me and showed me the basics, and that was my start.  I got to work under older, experienced cool artists.  That was the key thing for me to learn.  There was no internet then obviously.  You couldn’t just Google things.  You had to almost apprentice under someone.  I grew up in St. Louis and there was no knowledge on how to do this.  How do you do comics?  What paper do you use?  What pens do you use? As a kid, I grew up in the vacuum of the Midwest where I just thought you had to move to New York, where you had to do art and comics.  Then I met these guys, and they kind of showed me the ropes and that was the beginning.  It was cool.

The Genesis of “Visual Funk” – A Conversation with Jim Mahfood

What kind of original work did you produce while you were in college at the Kansas City Art Institute?

Jim:  I was in the illustration department doing illustrations.  My friends and I started doing underground zines and mini comics.  We couldn’t get work anywhere so we sort of started self-publishing, and did it DYI style and put up our own stuff and put it out there.  We all got professional work after that so it worked out.

Rhoda: What is it about Star Wars and Marvel comics that inspire your work?

Jim:  Star Wars was just coming out when I was a kid and it was kind of a monumental thing for guys my age to see mind blowing imagination kind of stuff.  Those movies influenced my generation of artists.  It was the movies and the toys and the whole phenomenon of it that we were all completely swept up in just because it was the most mind blowing stuff that had come out at the time.  I also grew up on Marvel comics – like being a Spiderman fan and stuff.  Marvel just kind of had the more colorful characters than DC at the time.  There was something about Marvel in the 80’s like Spiderman and X-Men – it was just the shit that me and my friends collected in the suburbs.   We were all Marvel fans and Star Wars fans.

Rhoda: Is there a particular hero from either franchise that has greatly impacted your work?

Jim:  Spiderman from Marvel and Batman from DC.  Those are the two favorites, just ’cause they’re such classic characters that have been around forever.  Visually, the best looking costumes – the coolest looking.  We were all fans of Boba Fett and the bad guys just because the design of the costumes looked so badass.  In the first three movies, the bad guys sort of looked cooler than the good guys and that was a really enticing thing.

Rhoda: I’ve read that you’ve been influenced by graffiti art.  Do you have any favorite graffiti artist that you gravitate towards and why?

Jim:  I like all the late 70’s, New York stuff – Phase 2, Dondi White, Rammellzee; the first and second generation of artists.  Like Lee, and the guys taking Vaughn Bode characters and putting them on trains.  I was really attracted to that first wave of it just because it was so raw.  It looked really, really gritty and really raw.  That’s the kind of stuff I like.  The less clean, tight stuff, and really raw.  Basquiat and Keith Haring, that kind of crossover of graffiti where it was street art before it became street art.  Fine art meets street art.  So that kind of stuff. That 80’s early, New York school stuff.   I kind of incorporated that stuff in my style.

The Genesis of “Visual Funk” – A Conversation with Jim Mahfood

When and where did you get the inspiration to create the theme of this show, Visual Funk?

Jim:  I’m a huge music fan and funk music is my favorite thing.  I’m sort of doing the visual interpretation of funk, which is like badass, sweaty, sexy, attitude, James Brown, Parliament, weird, outer space, tripped out, psychedelic shit.  The work is done to the beat of music.  To me, I’m making funk music but it’s just in pictures.  That’s kind of the name I gave the brand of my style.  Some people are like oil painters, street artists, muralists – I’m a visual funk artist and I’m the only one in the world doing it.

Rhoda:  That sort of answers my next question.  If you could make up a name for the genre of art that you do, what would it be and why?

Jim:  Oh perfect, Visual Funk.

Rhoda:  Do you have a ritual such as listening to music, watching TV or movies during your studio time?

Jim:  Strictly music.  Always music.  I can’t do movies or I get distracted and watch it.  I can’t have visual stuff.  It’s all auditory.  I turn on like twelve records in a row or whatever in a day, and I gauge my work by how many records I listen to.  If I do like ten or twelve records in a day that’s almost like ten or twelve hours of work, so that’s a good work day.  I just load them in like old school style like in a CD player or iPod and I crank out to the music.

Rhoda:  Do any musical artists inspire your work?

Jim:  Like I said, definitely James Brown, Parliament, Funkadelic, all the 60’s and 70’s funk and soul.  The Beastie Boys, hip hop, 80’s, early 90’s hip hop era, the 70’s punk era, jazz, Miles, Coltrane.  Just anything that’s good.  70’s rock – Zeppelin.  The real shit.  I’ve never really listened to top 40 or mainstream.  It’s just the good shit.

Rhoda:  What about any fine artists?

Jim:  I’m a huge fan of Picasso, Basquiat like I said, (Willhem) de Kooning. Ralph Steadman, if you count him as fine art.  Gustav Klimt.  Its stuff you wouldn’t really see in my work, but the appreciation is there.

Rhoda:  How has your life changed ever since you’ve been freelancing for commercial names such as MTV, Nissan, and Disney?

Jim:  It’s definitely helped my career get bigger and adds a new level of professionalism to my portfolio to where I have these big illustration gigs for clients.  That kind of helps me get more work based off that.  It all just kind of adds to the big picture of what I do.  So it’s been very beneficial for me.  I like doing that kind of stuff.  I like doing my own weird shit that no one will see maybe, and I love doing big gigs where I kind of have to work with an art director and appease a client.  When it’s all said and done, my shit is on a t-shirt from Nike and I like that.  I like the usage of it in other arenas. When I went through art school in the illustration program and there’s a part of me that is a classically trained illustrator – which is you make images that is mentally used for stuff.  I like that.  I also like making original paintings as a fine artist, but I also like the idea of doing a drawing and it shows up on fucking t-shirts that anyone in the world can buy.

Rhoda:  What are your goals for Los Angeles Ink Stain?

Jim:  That’s my ongoing autobiographical comic that I did and I haven’t done it in a while just because I’ve been so busy, but I will always go back to it because it’s always fun to chronicle what’s going on and how fun and weird it is to live in L.A.  So we did a huge collective book of that through Image Comics last year and that’s out right now.  I’m just waiting for my schedule to clear up to get back to doing new ones.  It is a fun strip to do.  All my friends are in it.  And it’s sort of a ridiculous, gonzo style of living out here.

Rhoda:  What are your general goals as an artist that you wish to accomplish in the next year?

Jim:  My major thing I want to do is an animated show.  We did two episodes of a show called Disco Destroyer for MTV that are online right now.  You could see it on YouTube, but seeing my stuff animated, I kind of got bit by the animation bug and my main thing right now is I’m kind of shopping around stuff to different studios in the hopes of like getting a half hour show.  I’ve seen my stuff move and now it’s like oh shit, it looks really good moving.

Rhoda:  They didn’t air it on MTV?

Jim:  They didn’t.  They put it on iTunes as a package.  The New Liquid television package that you could buy – so it was me and other guys that make comics.  You could also see it on YouTube for free.  L.A. based animation studio, Titmouse, animated the cartoons and they all look fantastic.  We own the shows so we could shop it around to other people, but like I said, seeing the stuff move and seeing the characters talking, I was like oh shit, I definitely want to do more of that.  That’s kind of my next major thing.  I just finished some stuff for Nike.  I have new t-shirts coming out for Nike.  My next gig is that I’m illustrating the new Miami Vice comic book, which should be fun and crazy in my style.  It’s like Crockett and Tubbs, and cocaine dealers, and girls in bikinis –if you’re into that sort of thing.

To learn more about Jim Mahfood, make sure to check out his site HERE.

Photos & interview by:  Rhoda Dizon

Staff Writer

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