Jody Thomas is one of Britain’s leading street artists and began painting in the late 80s at the now infamous Barton Hill Youth Club in Bristol. We grabbed some time with him before he began work on his latest piece for the 2018 Upfest festival to chat about his creative influences and the techniques behind his acclaimed graffiti.
Hi Jody, what does Upfest mean to you?
Upfest is the Glastonbury of street art – a festival of creativity that spans over a square mile. It’s a wonderful city-defining event where 350 artists – a third from Bristol, a third from the UK and a third international – descend on Bedminster to paint on walls, shutters and boards, oh and 30,000+ visitors too. It’s the creative highlight of the year for me.
Can you tell us what you’ve got planned for this year’s festival?
This year I’ve designed and painted the main Upfest image – I wanted to paint something gold for a while it’s technically a very challenging thing to do as there’s actually no gold paint used… I had to refer back to the old masters to see how they did it and I definitely needed to avoid flowers… I’ve got a series of gold themed pieces that will culminate in a large final piece on Exeter Road.
How long does it take you to plan a piece?
Months. It takes a lot of preparation to actually get to the point of painting – finding the right reference (image) and wall of course. The painting of the wall is ironically the shortest part of the process.
And what else have you been working on recently?
I painted live at Hong Kong Art Fair, completed numerous commissions for private clients, Paintworks Apartments and We The Curious and I collaborated with Voyder at NASS festival oh and I may or may not be planning a solo show in the not too distant future. But don’t mention it.
Is graffiti how you earn a living? If so, who are your clients?
I have two sides to my business – I’m a commercial artist so a painter for hire and I also produce my own work mainly on canvas that I sell privately and via Art Salon Gallery in Bath. I work with everyone from people and organisations up to big brands Adidas, Harvey Nichols, Hotel Du Vin and The Florist.
Where do you get your ideas from?
I’ve always been influenced by the darker side of fashion – i.e. the work of Alexander McQueen – and the photography of Nick Knight and also the Paintings of Tamara De Lempicka, an artist from the 1920s whose strong and powerful female figurative portraits still inspire me to this day.
What’s been your biggest ever undertaking?
Almost certainly the side of The Florist (formerly Goldbrick House) on Park Street in Bristol. Not only was it a high, five storey building, but an awkward spot right over a restaurant terrace.
Why do you think Bristol is such a renowned destination for street art?
It’s a mixture of reasons really, I think that Massive Attack (formerly Wild Bunch in their earlier 1980s incarnation) and the music scene they created from the ashes of the post punk and reggae sound system era took the new and exciting Hip Hop scene and managed to create their own unique sound and more importantly, their very own culture which took in the artistic, musical and physical elements of the New York based movement which now has very much become the ‘Bristol sound’.
Do you ever collaborate with other artists, or is graf a solitary pursuit?
I’m doing a few canvas based collabs for this year’s Upfest with Cheba and Paul Monsters – they force me to step out of my lone wolf status…! I really enjoy them and get to work closely with artists I really respect and love their work.
What would be your dream gig?
Well I have one waiting in the wings which, if it comes off, will be the dream project for me… Typically I can’t tell you the details yet, but it does draw together my love of cars and of course art… the cars in question are fast ones, the fastest in fact. The wall I did for The Florist on Park Street in many ways was a perfect mix of positioning, my style and the client’s brand – I was really pleased with the outcome so that comes close.
What else have you got planned for 2018?
After Upfest it’s back to the studio for me for commissions and if this weather keeps up I’ll be doing some more street based work for sure.