Garfene Grandison, Gleaner writer
Taj Francis was born in Kingston, but has lived in Spanish Town, St Catherine, for most of his life. His parents nurtured his interest in art into a passion.
His time as a student at Meadowbrook High School was a period of growth, physically, socially and in art, but naturally, the last was not quite at the level he wanted. Francis left Meadowbrook a little early, as he didn't see the need to finish sixth form because he no longer had interest in the courses provided.
Having always impressed everyone around him with the work he produced, it was time to move to a more critical stage. He enrolled at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts and says "I have been perusing art all my life. I say perusing, because looking back on all I've done, I've only been in the process of developing my skill and practising my craft, which prepared me for what I'm doing right now. Even now, I'm still perusing art. I'm still in school learning and even when I leave, I'll still be learning and developing, so there is never a peak point in the evolution of your skill".
The Gleaner (G): How long have you been in this field?
Taj Francis (TF): I can't really put a definite start date on when I started, but I would have to say I've been officially doing illustration and graphic design for about two years.
G: Where have you studied?
TF: I'm currently doing studies at the Edna Manley College, with my major being illustration. The balancing of work and school isn't easy, but I try my best.
G: Why this career path?
TF: It's what I've wanted to do my entire life. Most children, when asked what they wanted to do, just say doctor or lawyer as a template, because those are the careers that have been programmed in their minds as meaningful career paths. But how many of them are actually pursuing it now?
I knew I always wanted to do work within the arts. I just wasn't entirely sure of the exact field until recently.
Nearing the end of my high school years, I met one of my uncles, graphic designer and photographer Seymour Watson-Grant. He was one of my major encouragement for my career path and going to art school - the best decision I've made in terms of what I want to do with my future. Thanks to his influence.
G: How was the process when you first started in this career field?
TF: I began with the generic event flyer designs and logo designs. That was my first step into a commercial setting of art. It got tedious and I wanted much more than what I was currently doing.
What was especially awakening for me was the reality check I got when I started to go to Edna Manley College and learned exactly what design and illustration was. It was then and there I think I made a dramatic change in how I went about doing my art and what I wanted to present to people and what I wanted to represent. I began to think more critically about what I was producing and tried to develop a style of work. My work began to get more recognition, over time.
G: What are you currently doing to further develop your ambitions for your career path?
TF: I'm always learning or researching art and keeping up to date with styles of art and the concepts and ideas people are coming up with around the world.
I continue to develop my craft and try to learn new things and new ways of creating a particular piece of work. I'm also trying to learn new skills in art. I probably want to explore motion graphics, animation and architectural design.
G: What do you hope to achieve in 10 years?
TF: In 10 years, hopefully, a millionaire. Well, not necessarily, but, if I just so happen to become a millionaire in the process of doing my work, then I wouldn't mind.
Truthfully though, I want to have an established name as an artist and have artwork shown all over the world. I'm not particular to working in a graphic studio, or media company, I just want to freelance or establish my own media house. I hope to own my own studio and work from there.
I'm more inclined to do fine arts rather than always working commercially. Doing commissions can become tedious and I may not get as much freedom as I would want. Hopefully, my work will enable me to travel a lot and see new places and get more inspiration.
I also have my brand called J. !Nk clothing, which I co-own with my business partner, Randall Richards, and we hope it will develop on a much larger scale, but not to be a 'sell out' brand that's just massed produced and seen in every corner store. I would like it to retain its level of quality and originality while still being desired by a mass of people.
G: What drives and inspires your career path?
TF: I am driven to work by my own passion for what I do and to continue developing as an artist and a designer. I have a love for music. I get my inspiration from music mostly. The concept of a song, a particular lyric or line, the emotion of the song as well, these are the kind of things that inspire me. I'm really into hip-hop and reggae, but not the generic, everyday hip-hop everyone listens to; that provides no inspiration for me at all.
I would have to say my favourite artiste of all time is Lupe Fiasco and then Damian Marley, at a close second. They do the kind of music that inspires me to do what I do. I have a deep appreciation for quality and superlative effort in whatever it is someone is doing. That alone is a big inspiration for me.
G: What do you have to offer as the future of the next generation?
TF: I offer a new fresh outlook on how people go about representing something. My artwork will be a medium that provides an interesting aesthetic, while prompting the mind to think and be inspired and enlightened, while still being able to appreciate it for what it is and what it represents. I am seeking to provide a quality of work and style that will give a new appreciation for the arts and visual media; [I want] to push forward as a representative of what Jamaica has to offer as a nation of talented people with ideals which are not bound to a statistic.
G: Do you consider yourself to be revolutionary and how do you plan to change the game (your field)?
TF: Revolutionary? That's a strong word, I wouldn't call myself a revolutionary. Maybe, if people want to label it as such, but I wouldn't consider myself revolutionary. I simply am seeking a better way of fulfilling my passion for art and inspiring others. If that so happens to induce change and a revolution, then I would be glad. I have my hopes that I will do something great and meaningful, [but] I'm not in a rush to prove anything to anyone. The world of art is vast and it's hard for one single person to stand out and make an impact, but I will try my hardest to be a breath of fresh air rather than blending into the atmosphere. Hopefully, one day I can put myself on the map and inspire those that have never seen a map to get on it as well.
G: Besides access to education, what do you think needs to be done in order to transform youth in Jamaica?
TF: The youth also need encouragement and the nurturing of an interest into a passion.
G: What distinguishes you from your peers.
TF: My dissent, my passion, my way of thinking.
G: What's been the most challenging part of making a name for yourself in your field?
TF: It's hard to make a name for yourself when you're young, with no connections and no form of high status, especially as an artist. Anyone in the arts - whether visual, music or performing - finds it hard making a name for themselves in their respective field, especially in Jamaica. Career choices within the arts are hardly encouraged by parents, much less respected, until you become someone significant.
There is a flood of youth that want to establish their name and be seen among the masses as something great. That alone is a challenge in itself to overcome.
The simplest way is to really not seek it, but let it find you. I try not to chase being the best, I just do what I love, but that alone is hard.
You have to put yourself out there if you want people to see you. You're less likely to be found out if you're hiding, so you have to put yourself out there and let people know you exist and don't hide or be shy with what you do. As I said, at the end of the day, it's better to just do what you love and try your best as an artist and a creative mind. You are a creator. You never really chose your craft, it chose you, and it's up to you to follow through. In the end, we're just part of one large master plan of God's universe.
G: Old men rule the world, true or false? Why?
TF: True, old men do rule the world, or at least the mentality they've instilled. That's why the world is the way it is. Their ideals, which are no longer relevant or worth using, are still being recycled, so we end up in a cycle of things repeating or things getting worse.
You can't possibly heal a wound with the same worn out band-aid. Old wisdom is precious, but the youth need to develop new ways of thinking if we want to avoid being stuck in our ways and no longer develop.
I don't think I will get into what I think of those that 'rule the world', because that involves a whole conspiracy theory, but I do sense a change is coming with the uprising of the youth and new ideals.