Plastic Jesus is his name, and “guerrilla” street art is his game.The British-born artist drew international attention this week for his 6-inch-tall wall around Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But before he assumed a Banksy-style persona nearly four years ago, he was a well-traveled freelance photojournalist covering the Haiti and Japanese quake disasters and even the late stages of President Obama’s 2012 campaign.
“I’m not trained at all,” Plastic Jesus said of his stencil art and other creations — mainly set in public places but also for sale in high-end galleries. (He also works on commission.)
A photojournalist for just over 20 years, he came to America about nine years ago, he said, and now lives in the Mid-Wilshire area.
“I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the way media was going — with content being almost exclusively celebrity in nature,” he said. “I can’t write particularly well, so that wasn’t an option. I decided to take on street art. … And it’s going very well.”Journalism’s loss was political art’s gain. His take on current events — building an inexpensive wall — delighted sightseers on Hollywood Boulevard.
“I think it was $6.99 from Home Depot” for the wood, “and about $15 [for] paint,” Plastic Jesus told MyNewsLA.com Wednesday.
The barbed-wire topped wall — meant to evoke a Mexican border wall vowed by the GOP presidential nominee — was in place about 24 hours.
But it had its critics.
“One of the street characters, Edward Scissorhands, was getting pissed with it because it was getting way more attention than he was,” PJ said in a phone interview.
“Tourists were flocking to it to pose up for photographs and ignoring him, so he attacked it apparently. I’d like to say he attacked it with his razor like fingers, but he didn’t. He actually just kicked it with his foot. But it was fine. I put it back out again [Wednesday] morning. It’s in the back of my truck now.”
Already famed for slogans such as “Stop making stupid people famous“ on T-shirts and “No Trump Anytime” street signs, he said the Trump wall “has attracted more media attention. I was hoping it would attract some. It’s beaten the other pieces I’ve done that have gone viral.”
A legal immigrant himself (a green-card holder), Plastic Jesus says he grew up in the southeast of England — a “very … middle-class residential area, nothing spectacular at all really.”
A group of close friends know his true identity, including a number of people he collaborates with. “(They) help me out when I need it.”
Unlike traditional artists, he doesn’t attend artist receptions at galleries that show his work.
“I don’t conform with what galleries like,” said the lifelong bachelor. “To be honest with you, I don’t like working with galleries. My art is public art for a reason. I want to appeal to regular people, not elite privileged people who can drop tens of thousands of dollars on a canvas.”
He realized that they’re the people that buy his art, “and I respect the fact that they do. But I’d rather that my work appeal on a greater level.”
But why “Plastic Jesus”?
He has two levels of explanation.
“If you’re religious, I’d tell you that a plastic Jesus is a figure to remind us of our beliefs, our morals, our ethics — and that’s what I believe,” he told “Inside Culture” last month on the Irish-based radio RTÉ station. “It fits what I do quite well. In my street art, I try to convey something of a moral attitude or ethical position on most subjects.”
If the questioner is not religious, the self-described atheist has another explanation.
“I’d say that when I first came to L.A., I was kind of surprised and amused by the number of people who drive around with these plastic Jesus figures in their car. And I’m thinking: If you need a $4 figure to remind you of your religion and your belief — is your belief really that strong?”
Although he’s been likened to the mysterious Banksy, he disavows part of the tagger creed.
“I do some (graffiti),” he said, “but I try and do it in a way where it causes minimal damage to the property. I would never spray on a wall that’s been painted — or isn’t easy to paint over.”
In fact, once he paints on a wall (and it’s gotten suitable social media attention), he’ll often return and paint over the piece, he said.
“People say: Will you come and paint a piece on our wall?” Plastic Jesus said.
He recounts his “guerrilla career” in wonderment. “I have a girlfriend,” he said. “Between us we manage to pay most of the bills, yeah.”
Next up for Plastic Jesus? He can’t say.
“With a background as a journalist, most of my pieces are quite reactive to news, current affairs or culture, which appeals to me at that time,” he said. “I don’t have a whole list of projects. I’ve got some ideas that I’m bouncing around on subject areas I’d like to address at some point, but nothing specific at this time.”
In any case, he’ll continue selling art to well-heeled buyers.
He says he recently made an agreement with a gallery in London and a large gallery in L.A.
“The whole business model for galleries is changing,” he said. “Previously, an artist would rely on a gallery to bring their work to a new audience. However, with social media I find that my audience is often larger than galleries’ audience. And people can connect directly with the audience.”
He’s not longer “hidden away in a dark studio, painting furiously.”
Part of his heart remains in England, though, as evidenced by royal subjects in his Instagram feed.
His favorite soccer team is London’s Arsenal Football Club.
“Never played soccer other than school,” he said. “I was never very sporting; I was more creative.”
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