Talanoa : Jack Eastgate

Fiji born, Jack Eastgate is graphic designer, muralist, live painter, art educator and children book illustrator. Seven years ago he bought a one way ticket to Oakland, California and flew across the Pacific ocean with a suitcase, flip flops, coconut oil and 4 kgs of yaqona.

I talanoa with Jack about his journey as an artist.

Life is art is life. Inspired by life and the beauty that comes with struggle, I infuse the elements of my present urban society with multicultural roots, allowing me to articulate my personal and shared experiences. ~Jack Eastgate

Tell us a little about yourself and how you became an artist?
Life is Art is Life. This is my mantra. I am a Live Painter, Art Educator and Creative Designer.

I grew up in Suva, and Nasese was the old stomping ground. As a young boy I loved drawing and exploring the depths of the imagination.

I remember days when I’d sit with my Grandfather on the verandah. Everyone called him Uncle Bubba, but we called him pops. Sipping tea he would tell me stories of his childhood on Gau, the back-breaking work on copra plantations and his many adventures on the sea.

We’d build boats from scraps and old toys, and he would make little animals out of Heliconia flowers and twigs. I would watch the clouds dance and tell their stories, shaped by the wind. I would stare at the hedges and would pull faces and scenes out of the yellows, greens and shadows.

I drew a lot. I kept doodling my way through school to the dismay of my teachers who weren’t always happy with my sketch filled books and homework hand-ins. They didn’t believe me when I told them it helped me concentrate.

Unfortunately, this was my only art experience until the last two years of high school. That was when I had my first art class, which was all it took; I was hooked. After graduating high school, I worked the family farm in Naitasiri, but there was an uncertainty in my direction. I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t know what that meant or how to get there.

A few months later an opportunity arose for me to come to America – it was accessible for me to migrate here as my mother is from San Fransisco, and my sister was living in Oakland at the time with her Husband, soulful singer songwriter, Damond Moodie.

That was 7 years ago.

Oakland, so beautiful and crazy at the same time. The culture that existed, a melting pot for music, art and people.

Life took many turns, many sweet victories and sour battles, all that helped shape my existence and perspective about life.

I went to school for Graphic Design, a degree I believed to encompass art, and the business of Art (much to the liking of my old man, who wasn’t so optimistic about artists due to the stigma associated with being an artist and the fact that he didn’t know too many successful ones). It was here that I found my voice. It was here that I discovered my passion – Live Painting.

During a figure drawing class, my professor decides to bring in a male model. Now with drawing from live models and nudes, the first class is always the most exciting; the whole time you’re sitting there saying, “Wow, it’s just like in the movies,” or “Wow, she’s really naked!” nevertheless, once you start drawing it quickly fades in lines curves and shades. So on this day, in walks the male model, and out I go. I just wasn’t inspired. As I’m walking down the hallway, I catch a poster that said “Talking Wood, an African Jazz Ensemble Live at Campus Cafe.” Great, I can kill time and catch a show. During their set I sketch the band. Afterwards I show the very talented lead singer, Amber Mczeal my drawing. She was impressed and handed me a number to call. I place the call and it is answered by Atiim Chenzira. “I called because a lady said you needed a live painter”, and he replied “great, this is the date, time etc., can you paint Mandala style?” There was a pause and I said yes. After the conversation the wave of excitement quickly changed to panic as I began to wonder what the heck was Mandala style and how do you paint live…

The day of the event arrived quickly and I collected every piece of painting equipment I could possibly fit in the car, rushed over to the art store and bought the largest canvas I’d ever attempted. I was excited and uncertain at the same time. I had never taken a painting class nor drawn/painted on anything larger than the standard sketch pads 18 x 24 inches; the canvas was 9 x 16 feet!

The venue was spectacular– several Bay Area artists were exhibiting on the wall and there were several bands, Djs and performances. I was placed on the mezzanine, overlooking the stage. This is it–I had to get over my stage fright and shyness now. With excitement overcoming my fear I embraced the uncertainty and the first stroke was lay’d. The last stroke was put at 5 am the next morning–11 hours after I started. Atiim, who stayed at the space left me a cup of coffee and said “Handle it.” It was unbelievable–the rush, excitement, the wonderful mistakes, the colors, and textures. As my brush moved to the music, my heart opened up, my mind expanded beyond its capacity and I was engulfed in love. What was this?! That was 2009.

After graduating earlier this year with a BA in Graphic Design I had my first solo show. Things worked out so well that I was able to line up three venues in a row for the month of September, and now I have two running in Oakland and one in San Francisco. I even had the pleasure of exhibiting at The House of Music, owned by Oakland’s finest, Dwayne Wiggins from old school R n B group Tony! Toni! Toné!

2011 has been a good year for me as I was also able to launch my modest company Fiji Designs, a graphic/ web, mural and live painting collective.

Recent solo exhibtion in Oakland.

What challenges have you faced, and what advice would you have for aspiring Pacific artists?
Life itself is a beautiful struggle. Keeping real, honest, and true to your roots is a worthy challenge. Life is Art is Life. We all make mistakes, so make art of your mistakes; let it become something and if anything it is a lesson. Learn from it and move on–your life is a canvas. Reflect on the past, look to the future but live in the Now! Throw away your TVs! Draw, go for a walk, talk to peoples, smile…and above all, live!

Can you give us a little insight into your creative – how do you first approach a new project?
Nearly all the pieces I’ve exhibited have been created live. I’ll show up to an event with a blank canvas, paints and brushes and basically feel the vibe, the music and the people. It’s exciting to paint without having any idea of what to paint until the moment arrives. It really defines being in the Now, and it keeps me present. I’ve definitely put in the time to practice, proportions and elements that make a composition, and from this I’ve discovered my style. Experiment, and again be open to your mistakes. Take responsibility for them, embrace them, own them; It’s a good way to appreciate your imperfections as they are beautiful.

Do other photographers, artists or creative people inspire you or have influenced you and how?
I have many favorites, and have had the privilege of meeting many of them. Folks from BDS collective (Black Diamonds Shinning), Ras Terms, Safety First, Deadeyes, and Ash Rose. Desi Womi, the front man of Community Rejuvenation Project, a collective responsible for putting up several awesome murals on the streets of Oakland, NOA-, the badass live painter with the illest brush strokes, the photography of Bryon Malik, and especially all the Djs I’ve had the pleasure of painting to- Cecil, Cali, B Brown, Damien Diaz and Nina Sol Robinson.

The Internet has seemingly made it more easy for artists, writers and musicians to share their work with the world – you yourself have your own website, blog and a page on Facebook. Do you think the Internet has created possibilities for Pacific artists and should they take advantage of it?
Absolutely! The internet has revolutionised the art world, especially the social media outlets. Haha, I book most of my shows through Facebook. Its a great tool for marketing and managing yourself. this is just the start though, and it will keep going.

If you could collaborate with another artist or creative person, who would you choose and why?
I’m down to colab with anyone who wants to get down on a canvas. It is a blast to feed off each others creativity…I would love to colab with artist from Fiji, maybe my next trip home.

What are you currently working on and future goals?
Currently I’m revamping my website, making it a little more stream lined, and adding online ordering features so I can reach a global market. My goal is to return to Fiji and start creating there, art and family. I’m not sure if Fiji has undergone this change but I’d like to see fully functional art class available from primary to secondary.

Design: Coconut Oil packaging

Design: Gospel Fest 2011 Poster and Banner

Vinaka Jack!

Jack Eastgate on the kokonut wireless:

Fiji Designs: www.fijidesigns.com

Blog: http://fijidesigns.blogspot.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jacki-Papers/155129394549522

Email: jack@fijidesigns.com

Interview conducted via email October – November , 2011. Images courtesy of Jack Eastgate.

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