Interview With John: The Woman Of Art
John and I met for coffee at a small brasserie in Boulogne - a quaint suburb bordering Paris. We talked for what seemed like hours, an effortless conversation between two vagabond creatives.
Upon finishing our espressos, we headed toward Jardin De Serres Auteuil - a botanical garden and greenhouse located in the 16th arrondissement. A place where John says she feels most creative - one she frequents often to relax, find inspiration and work on her variety of projects.
This is my conversation with John James - a woman of art.
How Did You End Up In Paris?
I was drawn to Paris because of their appreciation for time.
If something has been here for 500 years, they want to keep it for another 500 years. In North America, at least in Canada, the concept of irreverence toward environment doesn’t really exist. I’m from a small city called Edmonton. And, I felt this need to displace myself and be in a place that really valued culture.
Obviously with visas, it’s very difficult to stay and work in France. As many others, I would go back and forth. I’d put my work in at agencies in North America and Canada, then come back here for my culture fix.
Tell Me About Your Creative Projects
I’d say it’s an even three way split -
I’m a street artist under the name Consent and I produce murals of women’s bodies.
I create armor for people who have survived trauma or sexual assault.
And, then I do advertising and design work for agencies both here and in North America. I work with big campaigns like Nike and Google.
As a creative mind, there are things that pay your bills and things that keep you sane. My art is something that I have to do, it’s a part of me.
Where Do Your Produce Your Street Art?
It depends on where I’m commissioned.
Lately, I’ve been working on installations as Consent. I’m putting together this all woman show called Circle Jerk - it’s about breaking through the glass ceiling that is imposed on you as a woman.
We’re working with other street artists, painters, a model/activist and this young, female sommelier from Italy who creates these natural wines - we’re building something with a taste that represents the new femininity. We’re looking for a space here in Paris, so I think I will approach the Galerie du Jour for the event.
How Did You Start Creating The Pieces of Armor?
I was actually working through my own sexual trauma. And, with the armor itself - it’s actually body working pieces - rehabilitative worn talismans- that recreate sensations that people were exposed during rape or abuse - where their power was taken away from them.
There’s often a negative reaction to new sexual experiences when someone is dealing with trauma. So, what I wanted to do was find a way for myself, at first, to recreate the sensations I experienced during my assault - claim it as my own and take back the power that was lost.
For full disclosure - during my trauma, I was held down and choked. So, from my personal experience - I designed pieces for my collection that were restricting on my throat and torso. I had to work with these pieces to determine what I was comfortable with in terms of the constriction. It was a matter of feeling this sensation, being able to look at myself in the mirror and tell myself that I was okay. Understanding that it’s a part of me and that I was reclaiming this power as my own.
I was able to bring beauty to something that had brought me so much pain.
When I was out in the world wearing these pieces, for example I was at this party, people would ask what type of costume it was, what exactly was I wearing.
And, since I was working through my stuff, I would be very honest and say - “Yes, it’s beautiful, but it’s a much darker story. If you’re open to hearing it then I can share it with you.”
Because of that, people became more interested and wanted to speak with me in private outside of the social atmosphere. I ended up making armor pieces for a lot of people, some editorial stuff as well, but mainly for private commissions.
People would tell me that they had been through trauma, but they couldn’t look at themselves. That they can’t experience any sensations in light of it. Or that they could feel the sensations, but felt guilty for enjoying it. A very normal reaction to those who have gone through such an ordeal.
They would tell me that my pieces will help them feel beautiful in their own body, so we would talk about what they wanted to experience and how I could help them.
How Is The Armor Made? What Materials Do You Use?
It depends on what people feel comfortable in and what they can afford.
I started using various metals, stones, objects I found on my travels, from history. And, with certain people I’ll use leather or fabric. It depends on the needs of the individual.
Where Did You Start Wearing Them?
I started wearing them in Toronto. And, people were very open to it. At that time, I was hanging out with a lot of transplants from Western Canada - this group of MoTown singers / aerobics people.
There was this one night in particular, where this one group of extremely open artists - singer, dancers, DJs - would dress up in fitness, work out gear with this avant garde, animal, femme bot twist and host a workout night. So, they would have a night where people could come work out and dance. I would hang out with these types of people and it was a very sharing atmosphere, so I felt comfortable talking about my experience.
Have You Presented The Armor In Paris?
In Paris, I did host an exhibit of my pieces at BAM - Break Art Mix - last year. They bring people from all over the world and give you a place to stay. It’s a space to just create and a wonderful group of people host you. At the end of your residency, they invite people within the community to come view what you have created. It’s in the 5th arrondissement, in a loft space. It’s a beautiful network.
From the armor, I moved to creating talismanic spaces. Rather than just a one-to-one interaction, it’s a situation where you walk into a space with many people - inviting them to drop all perceptions of the outside world, looking at me as a mirror. Allowing them to become reacquainted with their own energy field and own physical space. Being aware that how you feel and what you do - affects other people. Overall, instilling the idea of being loving within your space.
I’m hosting a talismanic space at a Pete the Monkey festival this summer.
How Did Your Jewelry Creation Begin?
Mainly because people would see the larger pieces and want to own something smaller, more affordable for them. I started sending email to my clients, letting them know I was pre-making these talismans and when they were ready that I was going to put them online for them to view and see if they were interested.
The idea behind the pieces, ideally, is that they would be a present for the individual. With my company, Honour Thy Lovers, the idea is that to honour thee, you must love thy self.
So, you can buy the piece for yourself or if someone knows what you’ve gone through, they can purchase it for you. They are meant to be pieces that protect you. A close friend, partner can buy the talisman and present it to you as a piece of themselves.
On Creating Art Despite Societal Noise
That’s something that I am currently dealing with. At some point you just have to really make a decision to go after what you want, to create the work you want to create. And, choose not to cave and do work just for a financial gain.
But,it takes time. You have to put the work out there that you want to share with the world.
You can find John’s amour work at https://www.honourthylovers.com/ and her personal website, here.