Taj Francis may be one of the most imaginative, gifted and versatile artists creating contemporary visual art today.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Francis began drawing as a child, going on to train at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts where he fine-tuned his multidimensional talents.
Creatively fuelled by music, Francis’ work captures lush, evocative worlds and enigmatic characters brimming with sensual spirituality and this compelling mix is garnering him exciting collaborations. Francis recently joined his passions of music and art through stunning videos for his “TENFOLD: Opus” audio-visual project including collaborations with Green Lion Crew (“Temple” ) and Proteje (“Who Knows Dub”).
Today, the full-time artist, illustrator and designer’s work can be found across diverse mediums such as websites to custom artwork on shoes and clothing, as well as this year’s Manifesto festival. – Introduction and interview by Chaka V. Grier
Taj Francis’ art will be on display with many other artists’ work as part of the Manifesto Festival at the Common Art Ground Art Show on Sunday September 20 at the Super Wonder Gallery at 876 Bloor St. W. PWYC + All Ages (3pm – 8pm) /$5 + 19+ After 8PM. Buy Tickets. Join Event . Follow Taj Francis on Twitter @tajfrancis and visit his online store tajtenfold.com .
How early in your life were you aware that art was a passion that you wanted to follow?
Pretty early, I actually can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. I did get a lot more serious about it after high school.
What themes did you originally explore in your work (as a young teen)? And has those themes changed as you’ve gotten older?
I spent a majority of my time creating comics, and trying to mimic Japanese manga. A lot of my drawings from childhood were kind of fantasy themes. I wanted to create graphic novels, really. I honestly don’t see it so much as change, as it is all those things culminated to the path I’m on now.
Very dignified and gorgeous women seem to comprise many of your images. Is this a coincidence? Or, are women a particular visual theme that inspires you?
It was probably a more just a coincidence at first. But I’m someone who likes to create what I don’t really see represented, even unconsciously so. I didn’t really see women of colour portrayed in art that often. At least, not in the way that everyone else gets portrayed. It’s not even that deep or edgy, it’s just the idea of kind of normalizing these images. People appreciate it, because people like to feel a connection to art, to feel as if they can see themselves in it, or relate to it. Everyone should get that chance I believe.
There’s a beautiful image of Nina Simone with piano keys in her hair that I was struck by right away. When you’re drawing icons (like Miss. Simone, Ms. Lauryn Hill etc.), whose images have been so coveted by other artists, are you looking for a new angle to capture them with? Or does the image just come to you organically and that’s the way you express it?
I’m very intent on capturing them in a new angle. Both of these women have a very strong impact on the culture, globally. They pioneered a lot of what we get in the culture and music today. If I create an image of someone, it’s not just me drawing him or her for the sake of likes, or hoping that they, or someone, tweet or share it to get a look. I’m trying to honour what this person has done through my own art, so it’s not something I do often.
Music seems to play a big part in your visual inspiration? Is music as much as a creative catalyst in your work as it appears to be? If so, can you explain why?
Yes, in a way. There are particular kinds of music that create certain moods and tones that help me visualize ideas. Or sometimes it’s a particular lyric, or line from a poet. It’s just one aspect in a series of things when I’m creating.
You use mixed-media to create your work (pen, ink, brush, digital and spray paint). How do you decide what tools to use when you’re creating a piece?
No deciding factor really, I just create with what’s available or with what I feel to. At the end of the day, they’re just media. So I’ll use whatever I think will best fit what I’m trying to convey.
How long does it take you to complete a piece like “The Upsetter, Lee Scratch Perry,” which won you 5th place in the international Reggae Poster Contest (RPC)?
Funny story about that, I thought I was too late to submit (I didn’t realize the call submission got extended). So I just did it anyway, figuring I had nothing to lose, and if it were too late it wouldn’t matter, it was fun creating it. I think it took me about a day or so to do.
Your new online store is rich with such bold and striking images — it’s as if you could climb through the computer screen and enter a lush alternative universe. How exciting and/or daunting has taking this step been for you been?
Thank you, it’s super exciting. I love the idea of being able to make my work available to as much people as possible. I didn’t want to go the route of using a third party website to distribute, because I wanted to have control over how it was presented and how people access it. I didn’t want to be in competition with other more popular art, I wanted to bring the people to me. This is something I’ve been planning since late last year (like many other things). I spent these past months working on several things, setting up this store being one of them. I wanted to make it as accessible as I could. So to get to have it out now is great!
How does it feel to be collaborating with Manifesto this year?
I love the idea of community building through the arts, so to work with Manifesto this year is awesome. We could really use more things like this on a whole, so I’m really excited about the collaboration. Much love to Toronto.