Though he creates futuristic 3D renderings, visual artist Jahmel Reynolds reaches into his past to find inspiration.
Jahmel Reynolds has a core memory from his childhood that concisely explains who he is as an artist today. He’s sitting in the Brooklyn home he shared with his family, listening to the hip hop blasting from the car stereos outside as he indulges one of his favorite activities: voraciously reading his uncle’s comic books.
“I always say this is my artistic style,” he tells Shutterstock. “The collision of my Brooklyn environment and the sci-fi, fantastical worlds merged together.”
As Jahmel became an artist in his own right, he never let go of the connection between music and storytelling, nor the worlds of sci-fi and fantasy.
And, though his young career has made some turns and pivots, he’s made a name for himself in the art world, exhibiting his brand of “contemporary futurism”at SXSW, Art Basel, and the Brooklyn Museum.
As a Create Fund artist, Jahmel has created The Angel Series—a collection of 3D characters from a mystical planet where angels reside. It’s unlike anything Jahmel has worked on before, but it shares a similar allegory to much of Jahmel’s work in that it draws from his experiences growing up as a sci-fi loving kid in Brooklyn.
Check out our YouTube interview with Jahmel Reynolds. . . .
Below, Jahmel shares his journey from film school to NFTs, and how his childhood is reflected in the futuristic art he creates today.
Shutterstock: Let’s start at the beginning of your journey. Who and what were your earliest influences—the things that got you into art?
Jahmel Reynolds: I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I got into art through my uncle—he’s my favorite artist. He draws, he’s a photographer, and he’s also a really big comic book guy.
We all lived together in Brooklyn, and whenever he went out, I would go into his room and read his comics. While that was happening, people were playing outside. They were just blasting hip hop and dancehall music out of their cars, and I always say, that’s my artistic style—the collision of my Brooklyn environment and the sci-fi, fantastical worlds merged together.
I would draw, and I would write stories as I got older, but I didn’t really tap into artistry fully until after I left high school.
SSTK: When did art start to get serious for you?
Reynolds: I went to the Art Institute for Video Production, and for two years I learned all the different facets of filmmaking, from pre-production to post. Then I graduated and did internships—the whole thing.
It was tricky to land a job in the field, but I really enjoyed the process and the craft, and I just loved the medium of film.
I started shooting music videos with different artists in New York, and those started going really well. My videos were put on blogs, and it opened up a whole lane for myself, where I would just continue to make music videos.
I built up enough experience to want to make my own short film, and I did that. It didn’t go so well, but it was a huge learning lesson.
License these images via Art by Jah.
SSTK: How did you end up in the world of NFTs?
Reynolds: My partner Latasha is a musician, so we started working together on music videos. I would also do VFX, and I guess you can say VJ her live shows. That’s how I got into the VFX world, and we just consistently did that until we got the opportunity to move to LA with two of my best friends from college.
Latasha and I started making more music videos in LA, but then the pandemic happened, and everything shut down. We were just trying to look for different things to do, and I ended up finding Web3, which is NFTs.
I put all the videos we made on the blockchain, and they exploded. It started going extremely well for us—to the point where I think one of our music videos ended up making $50,000, just from selling it on the blockchain.
Through that process, Latasha became the first woman rapper on the blockchain, and our team was one of the first people to bring music videos to Web3 and to have such success with it.
The success from that led me into 3D animation, because I always have this love for filmmaking, telling these large, fantastical stories. Doing it in live action is obviously really expensive, but 3D animation is a way I can more easily tell stories and build worlds.
Things just kept growing from there and then last year, I found out that I was going to be part of Shutterstock’s Create Fund, and I also ended up going to Art Basel.
SSTK: Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Reynolds: At my foundation, I think I’m a storyteller. I think all of my works are allegories for my personal experiences.
Maybe it’s a coping mechanism, or maybe it’s a way to understand reality. I used to watch Star Wars and Star Trek with my uncle. They were these fantastical stories, but at the heart, they were allegories for things in our real world.
Especially Star Trek. They had so many different conversations on that show about race and other important issues.
As a kid growing up in my environment in Brooklyn, I just experienced so many different things—the good, the bad, everything—and I think stories are a way for me to convey my perspective on the world, but in a way that feels good to me.
SSTK: For Shutterstock, you’ve created a series of 3D models. How did you come up with those characters and what was the process of creating them?
Reynolds: I call this project The Angel Series. Sometimes when I’m working, I start off with just experimenting, just trying different things, and playing with different concepts and ideas, and this idea just came to me.
I was like, Okay, maybe I can do these different characters called angels, but in this context, angels are just beings from another planet. Let’s try that.
I created most of the characters within two days. I was surprised that I did that so quickly, but the process was interesting. There are moments, like with everything, when you get stuck. You start with one way, and then you go back into another situation.
I think that’s the beauty of 3D, it’s just this open canvas, and you have all the tools there, you just have to learn and figure out how to do new things. I did this project faster than I thought I was able to.
I’ve only been doing 3D for two or three years, so to be able to get that result at that speed, I was like, Oh, wow. It was one of those moments where I shocked myself.
License these images via Art by Jah.
SSTK: The goal of The Create Fund is to support up-and-coming artists and diversify Shutterstock’s library or content. How do you think your work aligns with that mission?
Reynolds: Like all my work, The Angel Series comes from my perspective, and my experiences. The idea of creating from that place, from a unique lens, I think that adds to the diversity, and adds just a different layer of context.
When I was researching 3D models of angels, I didn’t see anything that looked like what I made. My work has the hip hop layer, the sci-fi element, and the story of angels being from another planet.
Again, all of that comes from those experiences of just hanging out with my uncle, watching things, and learning about my own Jamaican culture. Those things are reflected in my art, and that’s what makes it stand out.
SSTK: Whose work inspires you now?
Reynolds: I live in a house with three other creatives, so I’m always inspired. My partner Latasha, and my best friends Terrence Young and Angel Darmillo are my direct inspirations.
I saw Spider Man: Across the Spider-Verse a couple of days ago, and I was like, That’s incredible. They took all these different art styles and just merged them together in one film, and it was amazing.
There are so many different inspirations. Of course, again, my uncle is my first connection to creation. But, right now, it’s just great stories that inspire me, and the people I’m surrounded by.
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