By Lucia Viti
James Sullivan, a Hillcrest resident born and bred, will be featured as RAW’s Visual Artist on May 21 at the San Diego’s House of Blues. The artistic tour de force will exhibit his larger-than-life abstract paintings: images boasting with vibrant colors and soft edges that command attention for their sheer sake of beauty.
Selected by RAW for his undeniable talent, Sullivan will unveil his signature “street art graffiti modern” portraits. Urban undertones and flowing cascades that provoke the viewer’s need to question “what and why,” will brand the artist as a visionary and storyteller.
“My work is a real-time dialogue that questions, ‘what does this mean?’” the 35-year prodigy said. “The work’s not dead. It’s an excavation, an unraveling that incites thought, ‘Why is this happening?’ You don’t just get it by looking at it.”
Sullivan’s work combines graffiti street art with illustrations that “evoke an understanding of the people and their expressions.” Slightly outlandish and “kooky” images narrate tales of urban life. Colors balance together. Nothing is callous. “Pinks, blues, and yellows are coarse and rough,” he continued, “but subdued so they’re not raw. I wrap a street urban feel with light to create an all encompassed feeling of life.”
Although inspired by the Latino graffiti art of East LA, Sullivan refuses to label himself as a graffiti artist or a tagger. The impressionistic, part computerized, part hand-drawn graffiti modern was cultivated through trial and error. Successful pieces – lighthearted and tantalizing hues interlaced between a sea of faces that depict Sullivan’s love for life and art – sell well.
“My large, colorful abstract work sells well,” he said. “I wanted a style that would brand my work outside of abstract art. I can manipulate different mediums and distinguish myself among other abstract artists with graffiti street art. And the design allows me to work large scale; as a matter of fact, the bigger the canvas, the better it looks. Facial snapshots bring life and reality to the work while I bring my heart.”
RAW chose Sullivan because of the uniqueness of his gift. “I found James on the Etsy website,” said Heather Ireland, RAW’s San Diego and Nashville showcase director. “I was amazed by his work and reached out with an opportunity to present at RAW San Diego. RAW picks the best of the best and James is an awesome talent with great communication skills, both of which will take him very far. ”
RAW is an independent art organization founded by artists for artists. Noted to “provide independent artists of all creative genres with the tools, resources, and exposure needed to inspire and cultivate creativity,” RAW showcases artists within the first 10 years of their career. Artists include those dedicated to film, fashion, music, visual art, performing art, hair and makeup. The monthly, one-night pop-up art arena spans 60 cities throughout the United States, Australia, Canada and the U.K. Described as an “amazing circus of creativity,” the 6-year-old organization was founded by fashion designer Heidi Luerra for the “many people who are talented yet go unnoticed.” Film screenings, live musical performances, runway fashion shows, and a visual art gallery reign among the featured spotlights “to be seen, heard, and loved.”
Sullivan is no stranger to the harsh reality of life as an artist. Years in LA as a full-time artist lay the foundation for balancing supplemental contract jobs with his artistic endeavors.
“I’m not a starving artist today because I learned the hard way living in LA as a full-time artist,” he said. “Months are great and months are not. An additional source of income lightens the load so everything isn’t dependent on selling pieces – which is a career in itself. Anxiety, angst and apprehension make my artwork gloomy and ominous. I strive to create fun, positive art that vibrates with levity; pieces that people want to look at forever.”
Sporting a bachelor’s of science degree in business administration from San Diego State University not only enabled Sullivan to sustain himself through the economic downturn, it gave him back his art.
“I took a five-year corporate job hiatus to rid myself of the financial jam that art put me in,” he said. “Defeated, but prudent, I worried that I was wiping my dream clear. And during that time everyone expressed my artistic ability as a blessing; a gift of God’s calling. My heart wanted back in. So when I arrived at the perfect place to be an artist in a practical sense – no debt, a savings, no marriage and kids – I knew that it was time.”
Time is now on Sullivan’s side. More than 80 pieces are exhibited in multiple art galleries in San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas as well as local coffee shops, salons, restaurants, yogurt shops and bars.
The House of Blues event opens at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 21. Cocktail attire is required. Tickets can be purchased at rawartists.org/sandiego/sensory.