When it comes to the world of street art, some artists enjoy the mantra of “Go big or go home.” There are very few artists, however, that take this to heart as much as J3, the American graffiti artist who’s wall paintings have graced public spaces around the world.
J3 was born James Bullough. Growing up in the Washington, DC. area, he learned his craft by studying classical painting, specifically oils, from people as varied as Rembrandt and Picasso. You can immediately see the influence in his own work, where larger-than-life paintings show a mastery of human form and a close eye for perspective in the unique environments that J3 chooses as his canvases.
J3’s wall art is almost exclusively in a realist style that, when combined with their size, makes for truly awe-inspiring pieces that catch viewers off guard. Each is made with a careful reproduction of a human without exaggeration or over-stylization. From there, J3’s pieces change and move according to his vision, settling the eye on the naturalness of his characters. Indeed, his pieces seek to express emotion through the beauty of composition rather than placing his subjects themselves in extremely emotional poses and situations. They can range from the thoughtful to even the funny and quirky, like a giant face peeking at your from behind a bridge.
J3’s art has also changed as his skill has progressed, and his latest pieces have started to play with perspective and continuity while still maintaining a realist bend. For example, recent pieces will split the image into pieces, like looking at it though a series of mirrors. It plays with the eye but also allows his chosen style to bleed into the distinctly uncharacteristic or abnormal without alienating the audience through extreme abstraction. The result is something at once beautiful and unexpected, two characteristics that many forms of street art should aspire to have.
What makes J3 so different from many of his contemporaries is his influence from traditional sources rather than within the street art community. By drawing from outside yet familiar sources, and combining that with his obvious incredible skill with a paint brush, J3 has been able to infuse his work with a familiar look that pushes beyond general graffiti. To look at his pieces is to see skill at the forefront, and it makes for an experience that is both intriguing and unforgettable.
Since getting his start in street art, J3 has moved to other forms as well, including directing, illustration, and even traditional painting. While these certainly don’t have the scale of his murals, they do display the considerable skill of an artist in his prime.