A couple of weeks ago, we had Chicago-based street artist NstJ stop by Threadless HQ to adorn our walls with yet another beautiful mural! Naturally, we took a little time to sit down with NstJ to ask him a few questions about street art, Chicago, and the influences that drive his work. Stop by Threadless HQ to see the mural in our atrium!
How about a quick introduction? How did you come up with your street name?
I am NstJ. N Saint J. NstJ72, No72, the Prince of Peace.
I started posting work on my Instagram before I had a name worked out, so basically it is my last name before my first, with a saint in-between the two.
What’s your process like?
It depends on what I am working on. For something like this mural, I just tried to think as much as possible then sketch based off a few ideas I had. I actually mocked this up in illustrator to make sure Threadless approved, but most it is freehand. Things I put on the street are usually just whatever is on my mind at the time. I try to embrace the power of now and I am often influenced by pop culture, song lyrics, and people.
How did you first get involved with doing street art?
Growing up on the south side of Chicago, I was always exposed to graffiti. As I got older and moved up north, I was exposed to more street art, so I always liked it and wanted to do it. My first street art was in 2010 in response to a hit and run accident where a 9 year old girl was killed on her bicycle on the south side. The story ripped my heart out and I felt the need to do something, so I created these stencils that had a bicycle with eyeballs in the wheels. Some had little sayings like “Start Seeing Bicycles,” and I put them up on some stop signs around the neighborhood. I still think about that girl and will continue the “bEYEcycle” project in the future because it was really satisfying and I believe it can make a difference. My peace sign image was somewhat inspired by the movie The Interrupters and gun violence in Chicago. I was in NYC and saw Shepard Fairey putting up a mural with assistants, but he was doing all the work. It was just after Exit Through the Gift Shop came out. After that it was on. I decided to start and once I started I vowed to never stop.
What was your inspiration for the piece you did in our atrium?
To make something as cool as possible for the cool staff of Threadless. I also wanted something with some depth that brought you into the wall, yet enough simplicity to be understood and seen from across the room (or across the street). In the end, the piece is about taking control of your dreams and making them a reality.
What do you hope for people to take away from your art?
I feel like my art is like the psychomagnotheric slime (mood slime) in Ghostbusters II. It is flowing under the city, spreading throughout. If I yell at it or give it negative emotions, then it’s going to run through the city and make us all negative. If I keep it positive, focused, and optimistic, then those vibes will just spread throughout the city, the country, and the world. So that’s what I want people to take away, positivity, good vibes, peace.
How would you describe the difficulty of using a spray can versus a pencil on paper?
I am really a novice with a spray can, so I consider it pretty difficult. Pencil and paper is okay, but I always felt unsatisfied with my line work of a pencil. I think a paint brush and paper is ideal. It just feels very free and is better than canvas. I did the entire mural at Threadless with a brush by hand.
Do you think street art needs more appreciation?
Not really. It’s great to me that you can put stuff up in Chicago and people will notice. They don’t have to, but people do. If your work is good and you get up, people will appreciate it. Chicago is incredibly supportive and you have galleries like Galerie F, Vertical Gallery, Maxwell Colette, Chicago Truborn, and so on. Also Johalla Projects, Pawn Works, and Site Chicago are doing big things involving artists from all over the globe.
Do you have a favorite piece you’ve done?
Besides the Threadless mural?! I did a fat ol’ peace sign that I had right by the blue line in Logan Square.. It was my first big piece and had a great placement. Really any piece that gets up is a favorite because people can see it, and that’s the main goal.
What’s the biggest challenge or weirdest encounter you’ve had while working on the street?
Luckily things have not gotten too weird, but when you are out late there are always interesting characters and plenty of drunks. Over the summer I ran into fellow street artists Sirus Fountain / Pyramid Oracle, Penny Pinch, and Funk n’ jive as they were out pasting. Then we hit a few spots together it was fun and a great way to meet those guys just by chance.
Do you have a formal art education? Do you have a day job?
Yes. I went to art school, but my major was animation. I actually use it, and do animation and design work for commercials and television. I have collaborated with GOONS, as well as Chris Uphues, to make animations with their drawings. I never took a painting class, oddly enough. Actually, my wife showed me how to properly use a paint brush, the day After my first gallery show.
What would be your advice to young artists trying to find their groove?
Don’t wait to start. Don’t start to stop. Just keep going and you will get better, good ideas will come, opportunities will be there. Say yes to everything. I used to wait and make excuses, and it made me an unhappy person. You will feel better making things. You will get better too.
Have you ventured outside of Chicago? If so, what are some of the differences you’ve found in other cities?
So far I have only been to Milwaukee and Austin, Texas. There’s definitely far less street art in both cities. It’s really fascinating to me how Chicago is so dense with street art and Milwaukee is like an hour and a half away, and I have maybe seen four or five “street art” pieces up there in the past year or two.
Have you ever considered submitting to Threadless?
Absolutely… I should get started on that right now.
Any last words or shout outs?
Big, big thanks to Lance and Everybody at Threadless for the opportunity and for having me. Thanks to my wife, my family, and friends for being so supportive. I Love you. What up to the Local Brick Scrubbers Union.