Continuing our Amplify series, where we utilize our platform to amplify the voices of Black artists within the atmos family, we're highlighting atmos NYC Creative Lead James Drakeford. We just launched a collaborative apparel collection and hosted an exhibition for his art series Chromatic Streams of Consciousness exclusively at our New York location. Below we sat down to get to know James beyond sneakers.
WHO IS JAMES DRAKEFORD?
Just a Midwest kid from Dayton, OH. Currently residing in Harlem. I like shrimp and mango drinks. Well, mango-flavored anything, to be honest. My Marantz turntable is a top 10 possession of mine. Jason Bourne is the goat. I love photography.
CHROMATIC STREAMS OF CONSCIOUSNESS IS THE NAME OF THE SERIES. DIVE DEEPER INTO THIS IDEA AND THE MEANING BEHIND THE INSTALLATION. WHAT SEPARATES YOUR ART?
I've been painting in this style for a while now, right around 10 years when I look back at my old works. After all these years, I've never had a name or title to describe my paintings. So when I started working on this collection of paintings, I said to myself, 'I have to think of something.' This lead me to break down my process and just think about what I enjoy about painting. I ended up settling on "Chromatic Streams of Consciousness". I love expressing myself through color. Like my clothing style approach, I use shapes and colors to express how I'm feeling. When I'm painting, I do so spontaneously. Not knowing what color or shape to paint next, I let the shapes and colors come to me as I go. There's a certain type of 'sense' that every shape makes to me, an indescribable consistency, just a stream of consciousness. Each shape is unique in form and ever-so-delicately painted. Ultimately, my paintings are made of colors and shapes that make me feel good.
I don't think much about being different or separating myself, I like to make sure my art is mine. The authenticity behind everything I do naturally separates me from others trying to fit in or imitate others.
IF YOU WEREN'T AN ARTIST, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
Most likely teaching or producing events full-time. I have a degree in physical education, so teaching is something I know how to do, and it's something I enjoy. I also think about potentially being an art teacher one day. Is that cheating? Would that still be me being an artist?
WHAT ROLE DID SNEAKERS AND STREETWEAR PLAY INTO FINDING YOUR PERSONAL STYLE?
I come from an athletic background; this was key in developing my love for sneakers and finding my style. I've always loved athletic shoes, mainly basketball and running models, with outdoor/training styles closely behind. I fell in love with shoes like the Nike Flight 95s, the Flightposite series, Foamposites, Air Bakins, classic Nike Basketball. My love for sneakers is what got me into streetwear. I enjoy finding new ways to blend different styles, like mixing workwear, athletic wear, outdoor gear, and high-end.
IF YOU COULD ONLY WEAR FIVE PAIRS OF SNEAKERS FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, WHAT WOULD THEY BE AND WHY?
Na, this not fair… But I'll share five shoes that have been worn heavily over the last 1-3 years. Black on black Nike Shox TL, Engineered Garments x Danner Hiking Boot, Bodega x Nike Air Footscape Woven Chukka, Bodega x Saucony Grid Azura 2000, Nike ACG Mountain Fly (High & Low). Each of these shoes makes the cut because of comfort and versatility; I'm good for every occasion with this rotation.
YOU'RE FROM OHIO BUT CURRENTLY LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY. HOW HAVE BOTH ENVIRONMENTS AFFECTED/INSPIRED YOUR WORK?
I'm the type to make myself at home anywhere I am. I can always find love, joy, and inspiration in almost every environment. I'm very attentive and particular, these characteristics allow me to tap into my surroundings. Ohio isn't what many people think it is, the country and cornfields do exist, but I was born & raised in the city (Dayton) and spent my years after high school in Columbus, which is the 14th largest city in America right now, so I've always lived in a metropolitan environment. Obviously, NYC is its own beast, and Ohio lacks in a lot of areas that NYC is famous for, i.e., entertainment, creative culture, creative opportunities, professional opportunities & so much more. Coming from a place where a lot of people don't have much, and where a lot of opportunities to climb socially are lacking, I've developed a strong work ethic to combat those circumstances. I don't take anything for granted; being in New York City is special to me because I know certain opportunities are coming to me that I would not have been able to get back home, because they don't exist. At times NYC can be distracting, there's so much happening at all times, which can make focusing difficult, but I've done a decent job of using the city's energy to motivate me and spark my creativity. I also love NYC for its diversity. People may not be the most friendly here, but I still enjoy my interactions and observations of this city's people.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE TRYING TO GET INTO THE CREATIVE SPACE AS A BLACK CREATIVE?
The proof is in the pudding. I like to focus on the work, art, skill, passion, purpose, etc. My Blackness speaks for itself, but my work only speaks when I put the time, energy, and effort into it. Focus on your pros and not other people's cons. I don't let anyone's insecurities, prejudices, incompetence, or hatred get in my way, take my joy, or avert my focus. Something that people always overlook and underestimate is being dependable. Sometimes being consistent and being dependable is more important than being talented. Be the full package. I learned long ago that you have to do for yourself what you wish others would do for you. Creating your own opportunities is a must. Invest in yourself, money, time, and effort.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE COMING NEXT?
Next up is the @streetwearflea, a streetwear event I've been putting on for a little over six years now. If you like sneakers and streetwear, it's the event for you.