Interview by Laetitia Sweeney
“The first drawing of this kind happened almost by accident. […] The Art by J. Arthur Converse’s had a similar story. I first painted on a pair for myself. I thought it was funny to have my red character go from one side of the shoe to the other, I liked the asymmetry. […] Doing more designs and launches, I got recognition by Converse Canada and I am now part of the international All-Star Converse team. By coincidence and chance, these seasonal Converse drops became so much fun to me as they allowed me to be creative and work with shoes, two things I adore! “
Let’s start with some basics: where are you from, where did you go to school/university and how did you make it into art?
Arthur: My interest in the world of Arts has been present throughout my entire life I would say. My father is an Argentinean visual artist himself and my mother an architect, so naturally, I grew up drawing and painting alongside them. As for where I’m from, I was born in New York City and brought up in a small town near Montreal. I never really studied art in school, in fact, as a child, I wanted to be a scientist. I carried this dream up until a year into my program in physics at McGill when I realized, I couldn’t not be creative. After great difficulty, I quit university, and with so much free time on my hands, I revived this joy of drawing I always had. It helped me be happy while I was going through this confusing period of my life. It is actually during this time I drew my first colourful characters. Not long after this, I started to work at the Montreal streetwear store Off the Hook and this really gave me hope that I could do something interesting with my drawings. As the store was a cultural hub of Montreal’s art scene, I met amazing people and creatives that helped me see the potential of my artwork. Today, I am back in university, this time studying design, while also focusing on my projects which I sign Art by J. Arthur.
Q: You’ve started a new body of work with little coloured bodies as a dominant motif? Can you tell us a bit more about those?
A: The first drawing of this kind happened almost by accident. I was so confused and sad after I quit university and I remembered that drawing used to make me happy as a child, so I drew spontaneously. I wanted to draw something happy, with colours, to make me smile. I posted the drawing on my Instagram, something I had never done in the past, and to my surprise, someone wanted a tattoo of my doodles. This blew my mind! So, I kept on drawing these characters. Later, one of the owners at Off the Hook wanted me to make a jersey with the colourful characters for our football team @theringleaders. After some time, I saw that these drawings were making people around me happy the same way they made me happy!
The Art by J. Arthur Converse’s had a similar story. I first painted on a pair for myself. I thought it was funny to have my red character go from one side of the shoe to the other, I liked the asymmetry. I then thought, why not post them on my Instagram and sell ten just to see. And again, to my surprise, as I didn’t have many followers at the time, I sold out in hours and with people I didn’t know in Europe want a pair. Doing more designs and launches, I got recognition by Converse Canada and I am now part of the international All-Star Converse team. By coincidence and chance, these seasonal Converse drop became so much fun to me as they allowed me to be creative and work with shoes, two things I adore!
Where do your influences stem from?
A: The original idea with these drawings was to portray people in their imperfection using joyful colours. They are kind of dancing in my head, interacting with each other like kids during recess. It’s funny because I had never actually thought of Keith Haring when I first started, it had never crossed my mind for some reason. That said, eventually, the similarities hit me and made me realize how powerful a message simple colourful being can impact the world. Today, I find inspiration in artists like Andy Warhol, Mark Gonzales, Hans Hemmert, Joseph Beuys, Da Vinci, Ai Weiwei, Josef Albers, Vincent Tsang, Kanye West and Daft Punk to name a few. My parents have of course also played a huge role in cementing my views on how I make art.
About art itself: do you feel painting is an effective medium to transmit the ideas that you’re negotiating in your work? why? What is it about painting now that you feel is relevant or timely to the moment we are living in?
A: Medium is very important to me, I believe it is able to frame the intent and the perception of an artwork. I will use different mediums depending on what I want to communicate. For example, I have a series of paintings that tackles themes of iPhone obsession. I want to question the viewer on why they might be spending so much time looking down on their phone. I believe part of it is because of how appealing or aesthetic it might be, I want to beautify it in a sense. I also think it’s a serious reality that must be addressed. Therefore, a painting is a perfect medium as it frames the images as fine art, and it also shows a level of commitment, a sense that the message is significant. As for the drawings I paint on Converses, they embody a completely distinct feeling. The medium here literally expresses my enthusiasm for the sneaker culture and frames my artwork as perhaps a collectable and something that should be worn. I feel like mediums are most effective when they in line with the artworks’ idea.
Moving forward, what is next for you?
A: As of now, I am finally releasing a website: www.artbyjarthur.com. This will greatly change the way I do things as I will be selling directly online rather than on Instagram. It will give me more time to concentrate on creating and less on managing sales and whatnot. Needless to say, my next spring Converse drop will be done on the website, I will hopefully try to design some clothes for next summer too and continue to have fun with my drawings. I am also working on a potential solo exhibition at the WIP gallery in Montreal, which I am very excited about. And to be honest, I have no idea where life will bring me, so I am open-minded for the future!