Creator Profile: James Yeboah, a painter who takes no shit

Find more art on his Instagram, @thrdeyetears.

James Yeboah is a painter from Mississauga, based in Brampton, but frequently in Toronto. I met him during a personally difficult time - but this guy stood out to me in spite of the others around us. Loyal, intelligent, and cool as hell, James was the type of person I wanted to keep in my circle long after I left that place.

Years later, I’m glad I did. His Facebook statuses are real, witty, and informative - they hold problematic people accountable and clearly align with his personal mission. Not only is he a stunning person, but a stunning artist as well; what I've seen so far has made me proud as hell. I feel so, so blessed to have had the opportunity to ask him the important questions about his creative process and what he’s looking to impact through his art. 

Here's the profile...brought to you by many badgering messages over Facebook ;)

 More from his upcoming solo exhibit,  When Black Boys Cry . August 10-12.

More from his upcoming solo exhibit, When Black Boys Cry. August 10-12.

Upcoming event: Eventbrite
Instagram: @thrdeyetears

Who are you and where have you been?
My name is James Yeboah; I’m a painter from Mississauga, currently living in Brampton (definitely hoping to change that, haha). As far as where I’ve been, I really haven’t been too far and wide to be honest. I went to NYC last year for Afropunk and that was lit. I’m hoping to go back and hit up Montreal this year!

When did you know you were an artist?
There was really never a time where I woke up and was like, “Oh holy shit! I’m an artist!” I just developed a love for creating at an early age and have kept it going on and off ever since. When I was a kid, I’d trace over cartoons I liked, and when I was in high school I’d try to draw my own anime characters and such. One person that’s always been an influence on me artistically is my cousin Joe. Back in high school, he told me to never lose sight of pursuing art and to always strive to get better…that, more or less, has kept me going ever since.

Tell us more about your creative process and what it means to you...
I usually start by going through poses on like Google images [search] or even like Tumblr or Instagram for inspiration. From there, I come up with thumbnails on what I want to do and how I want to go about doing it. I’m pretty sure everyone says this, but like the worst part of anything is starting, and I sometimes take forever to start. But, once I start, I get into the zone and tend to not stop until I’m finished a piece or at least nearly done the most basic concept of it.  One thing I firmly believe in is being able to let go of a piece once you’ve completed it. Don’t make any add-ons, don’t change your mind – just let it go.  It’s difficult as hell, but I think it’s necessary in the process as well.

How do you settle into the head-space of creativity?
I take a shower. I know that sounds super weird, but like, it’s refreshing and it helps a lot to be refreshed before taking on a task. I also just set up a workspace so a lot of cleaning comes into play beforehand.  After that, I set up my Spotify playlists and sometimes might make myself a drink and then I get right into it!

Can you give us some more insight into the Toronto art scene?
Oh boy…the Toronto art scene…well, the pros are honestly: to be able to meet with potentially like minded people that are more than willing to share resources with you to help you toward your success. I’ve met some really cool down to earth people that just want to be able to communicate through their craft and express themselves, so I find that to be very refreshing.

The cons: Well, as we all know, the art scene is seen with a very very white lens. Artists of colour aren’t really represented that well and I tend to find that our stories and our bodies are for consumption you know? It just makes me feel pretty uncomfortable. 

What do you strive to contribute to the community?
I want to be able to create a space for black people – artist or otherwise – to share their stories without feeling like they’re commodities. I want us to be heard in a way that lets us be heard, you know?  I want blackness to take center stage without having it being performed to white people…haha I don’t know if that makes sense. [Editor’s note: hell yeah, it does.]

Where do you want to go from here?
Well, I’m currently planning a solo show and I’m also going to produce a zine in the summer! Hopefully I can get it all done so people can see it!

How does the stigma you face in your life fuel you?
As a black man, I get fetishized on the regular (see: “I only date black guys”). I’m seen as a danger to society, and for some reason, I’m not supposed to express the fear and the pain that comes with it. I’ve recently been using that in my work to illustrate that it’s okay to express your emotions despite society prescribing against it.

What advice do you wish someone gave you before you started out as an artist?
I wish someone kept me going sooner. There was a time where I didn’t want to do art and I just wasn’t inspired anymore for a while. I just wish someone told me to keep going and to not give up.

Some of artists have a very clear separation between their art and their self. Does your public persona differ much from your private self?
No, not really.  Like I can be awkward sometimes around people, but what you see is what you get. I’m not a fan of the whole idea of not being completely yourself around people. Plus I don’t even think I can be one person alone and another around others, you know? Just not my thing I suppose.

What gets you through the day?
My art. My day job (ugh). My friends.

Current playlist, must-listen-to-while-making-art songs?
Right now I’ve been heavy on my Afrobeat: Sarkodie, Mr. Eazi, Wizkid. Im also still rotating Goldlink, The new Vince Staples, Tyler the creator, Kaytranada, Sango, and Kendrick. Also, big on mixes like Soulection and I just found this new mix where Earl Sweatshirt and this producer Knxledge go back to back and play tracks, it’s really soothing and I would say it gets me through my work the most.

I know I asked about what stigmas you encounter as you but we always talk about stigma we face and never its evil, not always obvious counterpart: abuse. Are you able to share some outright abuse you've experienced and how we can do better to catch and call it out – and do something about it?
Yea I can share. It was in my early 20s I think? It was St. Patrick’s day - a few friends of mine and I were chilling after a bar. This one random guy I met for the first time (he was a friend of a friend, I guess) kept making black jokes in front of me. I kept nervously laughing and avoiding him the whole night, but he kept doing it. We all went to hang out at a friend’s house and I can’t remember why, but somehow this guy ended up calling me a nigger. At that point I calmly told him to chill and he tried to explain to me his friends are black and they let him say it…

My friends at the time heard him say it and no one said a damn thing, so I just sat there like an asshole until my ride home was ready to go. I haven’t hung out with them since.

The issue here is that, if my friends called it out right off the bat, he wouldn’t have said anything. My friends were there the whole time he kept making black jokes and laughing, and because no one spoke up, he found the courage to call me a nigger. This, to me, is where allyship is important and necessary: if you want to be an ally to a cause and you have the privilege to speak out against oppressive behaviours, do not hesitate - just do it.

Recently, James spoke to NOW Magazine about his upcoming solo exhibit, When Black Boys Cry. The experience, running August 10-12, will take place at Toronto's Magic Pony (2104 Dundas St. West).