Mike Pham

Posted on October 07 2016


JC Ro is an artist based here in Long Beach, CA, but his talents and blue collar work ethic were forged back before the Metro-Detroit native made his move for the west coast in 2003. What started off as a move towards California in the pursuit of palm trees, pretty girls, and year round skating weather, has since transitioned through design and into a career in art. Mostly noted for his interpretations of various Jordan sneakers to his larger than life mural of Kobe Bryant on Melrose in Los Angeles. JC’s latest exhibition at the D.O.M Gallery in Los Angeles received a lot of attention, and the giant Kanye head featured outside could even be seen on Kim Kardashian’s snapchat a couple times. He has now taken his creative talent to the walls of Proper with his Kanye piece “I feel like Pablo when I’m workin’ on my shoes”.

It’s evident that you are a fan of Michael Jordan, how did that even come about seeing as that you are from Detroit, home of the infamous “Bad Boys”?

It was heartbreaking sometimes to watch the Pistons rough him up and take him out of his game! Now I can really enjoy the Bad Boys’ era, but at the time I was so young I didn’t understand how that was fair play. I remember my Dad laughing at how mad I’d get sitting 1 foot away from the TV, or the first Bulls/Pistons game I went to I was the only kid wearing a Bulls shirt in a crowd of Pistons fans.

MJ was everything when I was young, and I was just past that age after you found out Santa wasn’t real, and you’re mad that Ninja Turtles are just dudes in costumes, or that Batman doesn’t actually exist... but Jordan wasn’t fiction, he was real and I was getting to see it with my own eyes. I guess he was my first hero as a kid that no one could take away or tell me was make-believe.

How did you get started creating your style?

My first attempt in this direction was a portrait of my dog, Jack. I saw a lot of artists experimenting with similar types of illustration, and I noticed that there were certain things that I wished I could emphasize or do in my own way. This first piece took much longer than I had expected but I had no clue that I lost complete track of time until I was done. I got hooked on getting lost in the process and the calming and satisfying effects of hours in simplified focus. It reminds me of when I was a kid and you would just be outside playing all day until the streetlights came on. After that I went on to doing movie scenes of two of my favorite movies: The Big Lebowski and Friday. Next I started doing portraits of Jordan’s, I wanted to recreate all my favorite sneakers with exaggerations on certain details. Once the first one was finished, seeing my vision of the shoe complete was just as enjoyable (if not more) as owning the shoes, so I would just simply create with the same repetition inspired by my insatiable love for sneakers.

When did you notice that you could do this for a living?

To be honest, I started this whole process as a means of a creative outlet. I had been freelancing and to fill the void between times I created a separate Instagram account to keep all my work on a separate platform. Everyday I would either come up with a new shoe I wanted to create, or concept or something inspired by whatever the sneaker community was buzzing about. Soon thereafter a couple of blogs would repost my work and it started to build momentum where people started requesting prints so that they could hang along their sneaker collection.

How has Instagram played a vital role in your rise?

I feel like Instagram is helpful for creative people, because some of us communicate best visually. I remember being young and in art class, they would often say, “you can’t really make a living as an artist, unless you want to be an art teacher”. Thankfully 20 years later with the help of social media platforms like Instagram, a ton of opportunities have been created for artist to get their work out and have it be seen around the world.

First Michael, then Kobe, now Kanye, why Kanye? Are you a fan?

(Laughs) I am. He has certain relentlessness as a creative that to me is just as driven, focused, and unapologetic as MJ was with his game on the court. He sees where he is going, whether anyone believes him or not. I think it’s rad that Adidas has given him space to create and he’s steady pushing and exceeding the limitations. His willingness to fight for every opportunity to express himself, even after he’s been denied, is inspiring.

What was it like to see Kim Kardashian snapchat your interpretation of Kanye in front of D.O.M gallery and then see Kanye’s reaction a few days later as he passed by it as well?

It was crazy! My first reaction was “Oh shit, she liked it” when people started showing her first post, and then I wondered if maybe she had shown him or if maybe he had seen it yet?... and then a week later when she posted the video of it again and Kanye driving past it, I was shocked obviously and thought “well that answers that question, he saw it!” ha-ha

What was your inspiration behind the mural?

Well, on his recent album, Kanye rapped "I feel like Pablo when I'm working on my shoes" and since a lot of my work is centered around my love of sneakers and I'm a big Picasso fan, that line stuck out to me.  The idea sparked initially a bit like a joke, but it developed quickly into something creatively tempting.  I think each time I heard that part of the song I would laugh and enjoy how bold and confident that statement was, and I would draw more similarities in Kanye's and Picasso's personas based from stories and documentaries I'd seen on Picasso. 

I've always been fascinated by the footage and photos of Pablo Picasso in his studio, looking for gems, the methods, the madness and the more that song looped in my head I imagined Kanye ever-so-confidently painting a shoe on a giant canvas as if he were actually Pablo Picasso.  Luckily I found a photo of Picasso that not only had him painting a large canvas, but it had elements and artwork in the background that gave me an opportunity to visualize a few more likenesses between the two.  Their matching bravado inspired the 'self-portraits' in the background, and their well known and expressive self documented love of the female form inspired the abstract piece of 'Kim's waist' seen up high in a golden frame.  I added a few extra Kanye elements with the bear, his gear, and the wallpaper in a sort of yzy 350 pattern.  This is one of my favorite pieces for sure, and it was a lot of fun to explore relating/connecting 2 completely different types of creative people that have inspired me in a lot of ways.

Have you ever owned any pair of Yeezy's?

Stuck out every time so far, keeping my fingers crossed for the next one. 

What are your five favorite shoes of all-time?

Jordan 1 (Chicago)

Penny 2 (Atlantic)

Jordan 12 (Taxi)

Just Don x Jordan 2 (Beach)

Jordan 5 (Fire red w/ 3M tongue)

What would you consider your holy grail of sneakers? (the one sneaker that will always elude you)

Jordan Oregon 5s or Yeezy Red Octobers

Who are some of the artist that inspire you past and present?

Past: Pablo Picasso, Leonardo Di Vinci, Bernard Buffet

Present: MadSteez, Market Price, Sam Rodriguez, Freehand ProTit

What can we expect to see next from you?

More paintings for sure, I’m looking forward to more time in my studio! Oh and be on the look out for the occasional product drop. 


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