Catching Up with Detroit Performs Artist Sydney G. James

Catching Up with Detroit Performs Artist Sydney G. James
December 18, 2017 Sarah Zientarski

Detroit Performs: How was your experience being featured on Detroit Performs?

Sydney G. James: My experience being featured on Detroit Performs was surreal. I’ve received great feedback from friends, family and strangers! I also have gotten commissioned work from companies that saw my interview. 

DP: What has been your focus in art since being featured on Detroit Performs?

SGJ: My focus since the interview has been to make my messages even stronger regarding the state of women (specifically black) in this country. My goal is to tell stories of our truths in my work. I want to provoke thought, conversation, and eventually positive change.

DP: Have you found new inspiration for your art since the election? How?

SGJ: This is interesting because through Inner State Gallery, I was chosen along with two other artists, ABCNT and Denial, to paint live on set at MTV studios during the election in Times Square. They chose us because we have “social issue” driven work. MTV recreated the Oval Office for us artists to “vandalize” in our way. We witnessed live in color the polls, the blues and the reds. This time is crucially inspiring simply because I realize more than ever that the state of our lives is up to us. We have to take action in our way to make the necessary improvements that we seek. 

DP: What have you done for Detroit Public Schools since being featured on Detroit Performs?

SGJ: Since being featured, I was commissioned to paint a mural inside of Pershing High School. The space wasn’t a traditional wall so I randomly selected students who happened to be walking in the hall during my meeting about the project and they are who I showcased throughout the space. It was cool because they took ownership and pride over the work as well.

DP: Why is it important for you to create a mural in a Detroit Public School?

SGJ: It was important to take on the task at that school specifically because it is my neighborhood high school. While I attended Cass Technical High School, many of my family members including my father and most of my older sisters attended and graduated from Pershing.

DP: How have the students responded to your mural? How do you also try to mentor the students?

SGJ: Because I painted actual students, they responded greatly. They were proud, flabbergasted, excited, nervous and exhilarated to see themselves or their peers that large in an art form that they didn’t even get to partake in because of budget cuts and lack of resources. I mentor in a non-traditional way. I am the mentor that doesn’t actively seek mentees. I do welcome those who seek out my guidance.

DP: How do you use technology to create your artwork?

SGJ: I’ve actually been using technology to create artwork since my studies at College for Creative Studies (CCS). I received my BFA from CCS specializing in Illustration in 2001. I’ve been an Adobe junkie since they only had one layer. 

DP: What can you get out of using technology to create art that you can’t out of a pencil and paper?

SGJ: The only thing that I personally get out of using technology instead of pencil and paper is the ability to skip 2-3 steps. Earlier this year, I acquired an IPad Pro and Apple Pencil. It’s pure MAGIC. It behaves just like a sketchbook, pen or pencil scenario. The beauty is I don’t have to be restricted to any size that will fit on a scanner, I no longer have to scan, manipulate, or color correct images. I get it done in one swoop! It’s AMAZING!

DP: What are some other projects you have been working on and what is their message?

SGJ: The larger projects I completed this year were Illustrating two billboards that were used as the screensaver for the “Detroit” film that debuted this year, a politically driven mural painted in Inkster (the client GreenPath Financial Solutions found me on Detroit Performs), and a collaboration mural with the New Zealand artist, Askew, for Murals in the Market that was commissioned by former Lion, DeAndre Levy and his wife Desiré Vincent-Levy for their foundation “Our Issue.” 

DP: Do you have any upcoming showings of your work? If so, when?

SGJ: I currently have work exhibited in PlayGround Detroit Gallery and Orchestra Hall. I’m also illustrating 12 historic Detroiters for BLAC Magazine’s 2018 Calendar which will be inserted into their January issue. I’m super excited about that because many people love my work but may not be able afford it at this time. So I think it will be a great Sydney G. James collection started. 

DP: Anything else you’d like to add.

SGJ: I am grateful and very proud of my Detroit Performs feature. I look forward to your new season.