Updated: Nov 17, 2022
The artist flows from soul samples to san serifs.
Jacob Rochester paints what he knows. Drum machines, basketball caps, bomber jackets — interests he’s carried since his early days in Connecticut.
The artist calls them “small cues” to the experiences that have shaped him over time. Now based in Downtown Los Angeles, Rochester has honed in on several of his many creative passions — namely beat-making, typography, street fashion and painting — which has shown to attract a number of gallerists and corporations from around the world.
His client list already includes heavyweights, from Apple, Nike to Netflix — each tapping the young creative to showcase the products he’s already been using, mixed with a wealth of niche references that the artist has mined since the USB sticks he’s held on to since eighth grade.
Rochester admittedly is “still trying to figure out” what he wants to say as an artist, but whichever direction he chooses to go, it’s certain to be authentic to his personal experience and that of the people who have helped him along the way.
To learn more about his new solo exhibition at FRANCHISE, we visited the artist at his DTLA studio for the latest HypeArt Visits. Read our exclusive interview below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
“I just grew up in a really creative environment.”
Did you know early on that you wanted to become an artist?
For sure, my mom was a painter, so I was just around it growing up. I went to school for graphic design and once I graduated, I pretty much just headed out here.
How were the early days, for example, what did you gravitate towards during your youth?
I grew up playing basketball and my mom would have us watching crazy horror films when we were young. So I’ve always been into film in general. As far as art, I’ve been around it for a while — my dad was in a reggae band, so music as well. I used to play drums for my church, so I feel I just grew up in a really creative environment.
Is music more of a hobby for you or just as important as your art practice?
I always say it’s a hobby, because it’s something to get away from art or design — something to fall back on. But I have gotten’ more placements recently, so it’s becoming more of a serious hobby haha.
“It’s just all my interests combined.”
How would you describe your own art?
All my images in one package. I like to collect imagery and random magazines, records and stuff that comes together in my artwork. I feel like now, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do in this fine art space, or figure out how to navigate what I want to say as an artist. It’s just all my interests combined.
Although you’re fairly new on the scene, you’ve had quite a few big projects. What have been your most memorable?
A lot of stuff I do with Hassan Rahim, he’s another homie and artist. All the projects we work on together leaves me inspired during the process and the final outcome is always my strongest work.
Much of your work prominently features a Black subject. Would you say that is a common theme you explore?
I feel like that’s just intrinsic in my work, because that’s how I grew up and who I grew around with and the culture I’m a byproduct of. In terms of themes: fashion, contemporary culture, studio photography and basketball, are all the stuff I was interested in as a kid. It’s the same stuff but shown in an elevated light.
“Just small cues.”
A lot of your figures also appear veiled, with each garment or reference carrying its own deep subculture, such as the StarCraft callout.
It’s all small little motifs. Some people wouldn’t pick up the StarCraft reference, but that was just one of the games I would play when I was little. Or the main shirt over his face with the Sabian symbol refers to the drum kits I used as a kid.
Just small cues.
You’re just painting your contemporary experience, but hundreds of years from now, people may see these images in the same way we currently view an old Flemish painting. Strange right?
True and I haven’t really thought about it in that way. I really like the idea of being in the moment. I know my work does use a lot of nostalgic cues, but I do agree with you what you said about stemming the work in the time period it’s from.
How do you approach a piece?
A lot of my stuff is referential. It all goes back to digging in those archive collections and images I’ve saved over time. I have USB’s from like eighth grade filled with references. Usually, I just start by going through those folders and sketch a rough composition and then I’ll polish the look on the canvas.
“It’s an exploration into identity through my fashion, design, and cultural interests.”
Which mediums do you typically use — acrylics or oil?
All of the bigger pieces are oil. The smaller works are made in watercolor-gouache, which is how I start before scaling up to a larger piece.
For your new exhibition at FRANCHISE, how would you describe this particular body of work?
This is my first time showing larger oil paintings and work in general. It’s an exploration into identity through my fashion, design and cultural interests.
How about your recent capsule with Jordan Brand?
It was cool, because they reached out wanted the same stuff I’ve always been doing with illustrations. So I did and made a bunch of assets for them and it was supposed to be tied to the Jordan 2, where we pulled a lot of imagery from ’86-87.
Being from Connecticut, would you consider yourself a Knicks fan or Celtics fan?
Nah, right now I don’t really have a team. But growing up, I loved Iverson and the Sixers. Nowadays, I just like following certain players like Ja and also Kemba, being from Connecticut.
“I always jump into different mediums to switch it up.”
Are there any other projects coming up that you’d like to share?
I’ll be showing at Art Basel in Miami and other work with Hassan as well. I kind of slowed down on client work to mainly focus on the FRANCHISE exhibition. I’m also working on stuff with my clothing brand that drops every now and then.
What’s the name of the label?
Construct. I’ve been doing that for around a few years, but non-seasonal, just when I have time or ideas.
That’s definitely a fun way to go about it. Where it’s not tied to the fashion cycle.
Yeah and it makes it less a work thing. If it starts feeling like work, then I’ll just flat out not want to do it. I wouldn’t say it’s a hobby, but more so when I have time for it.
Playing on that idea of work for fun, what are some of the ideas, projects or mediums that you’d like to explore?
I literally just got a compressor for airbrushing. After this show, I plan on jumping into airbrush works and get back into digital as well. I always jump into different mediums to switch it up.
Photography by Shawn Ghassemitari for HypeArt
Interview via Hypebeast