The artwork of Jim Mahfood, aka Food One, exudes kinetic motion — thick playful lines, colorful bursts, mythical creatures, ink splatters, and strong sexy women. Jim made a name for himself as a comic book illustrator at the age of fifteen, working for Artline Studios. He would go on to self publish the Girl Scouts series in 1995, followed by both Clerks and Marvel’s Generation X Underground Special in 1997. Since then he has worked for every major comic book company and has expanded his art into illustration, advertising, murals, fine art, animation, live art in nightclubs, and custom body-painting. AMMO sat down with Jim to discuss his newest projects, what it’s like to paint in front of an audience, and the meaning of Visual Funk.
AMMO: What’s Your AMMO?
JIM MAHFOOD: Ink, paint, my sketchbook, and my record collection.
A: You often refer to your artistic style as “visual funk”, as in funk music. How does music influence your art?
JM: It is the main ingredient; I set the tone for the day in the studio with music. I started drawing and painting to the speed and the rhythm of the music. Making art is my excuse to listen to the records I want to listen to all day long. I get to listen to ten or twelve records a day, every day — I’m like a big consuming magnet for music. I’ve been collecting since I was like ten or eleven, so I have a pretty large, eclectic collection. That more than anything has the most immediate effect on me, mood wise and energy wise. There’s something about the cosmic nature of the sounds of music and the beats. There is something almost tribal about it that just makes me want to create. I don’t play music, so my reaction to it is “make marks”, like caveman style. I am in my own head making these marks, like a crazy person, and the marks make these images that you see.
A: Would it be wrong to make the leap to the ‘70s and ’80’s New York art scene at this point? The big names come to mind — Basquiat, Futura 2000, and Fab 5 Freddy were all inspired by the music scene of that time. When I look at your work it reminds me of those artists, would it be fair to say that your style is influenced by that movement?
JM: I always say that the visual funk formula is all of the different movements of art that I have encountered through my life. It started with American comic book art and animation, then I discovered skateboard graphics and the punk DIY album covers and zines. Then I discovered graffiti art and then the late ’70s New York art movement of Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Kenny Scharf. There is a little Japanese anime, ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic rock concert posters. I just sort of put all of that into a blender, add my own spice, and what comes out of that is Visual Funk — it’s an amalgamation of all of those different movements with a little of my own weird thing.
A: Many artists are more comfortable working in a quiet studio, tucked away from the world. You have been known to swing the complete opposite direction and create your art on stage at clubs and other venues. How did you get into doing live art?
JM: I started doing live art when I moved to Arizona in 1997 and I met DJ Z-Trip. He and his crew had the number one nightly underground hip hop event in Arizona. They saw what I was doing and asked me if I wanted to come and paint onstage with them while they were DJ-ing. I said yes, because I wanted to be part of the night; the vibe was so electric and so incredible. It was all these different people showing up and getting down together. It just blew up and I really got into the performance part of it, because like I said I’m not a musician but I love music and that energy. The closest thing I could get to that was being on stage with these guys, sharing the cosmic energy of that moment. This was back when DJs actually used real records too, so you would be on stage and there would be crates of records everywhere. It was like an alchemy of weird crazy shit happening, and people responded to it. There was the auditory experience and then there was the visual experience.
A: In a live art environment, especially at parties, there is an element of the unknown — do you have a favorite moment of encountering the unexpected at a live art event?
JM: There have been a few incidents of drunk people saying or doing weird things, or people falling into me while I’m painting. The most surreal thing was when I went to London and Paris and got to paint in night clubs. I was painting with French artists, who barely spoke English, but we were connected that night, we didn’t even need to communicate through words. The crowd would come up to us and yell things at me in French, and then buy me drinks. The energy of those performances is an immediate way of connecting with people. It’s all about art and creation uniting people. It sounds cheesy, but it’s a real thing.
A: You also create living art, when did you start painting on human canvases?
JM: That started here in Los Angeles. There was a magazine called BPM, it was a really good underground music magazine. They did an article on me, and I didn’t want it to have just a plain photo of me. So I convinced my friend Kat to model for me and let me paint on her. The photo was her in the foreground and me in the background; it was an about the author photo done in a way that I hadn’t really seen before. The idea really came from my friend Love, who is a photographer. She said, “You draw and paint hot women, why don’t you just draw and paint on real hot women? Do your design elements of the arrows and stars, the things you put in your work, and do that on real people.”
A: Every artist evolves over time — your first nationally published work was a story for DC Comics in 1995, while you were still in art school. How has your work evolved since then?
JM: I finally feel like I have really learned how to draw over the past five years. If you see my old work, it has a style to it, but it’s really kind of flat. In the last five years I have gone out of my way to use a lot of photo reference, and to learn from other artists like Jason Shawn Alexander, Kent Williams, Mike Huddleston, and Dave Crosland. I feel like we’re all getting better and better, influencing, and inspiring each other. Moving to LA twelve years ago really changed a lot for me. There are so many artists here and so many different styles, that I don’t see it as competition, I see it as inspiration.
A: Speaking of your work in 1995, your self-published comic book from that year, Grrl Scouts, is being turned into a TV pilot. What is it like seeing your comic book come to life?
JM: That was one of the weirdest things that has happened, this weekend was a complete trip for me. The whole process of casting the girls and then seeing them on set in character, dressed up, it was just amazing beyond words amazing. We got the three perfect girls to play the characters and, thanks to our costume designer Jade, they look amazing. The girls are all super professional actresses who KILLED it for us. This kid Mike Diva is the director; he has an insane kinetic visual style. We actually turned Mike Diva’s house into the Grrl Scout’s house; I went in a week in advance and painted the main wall in his living room and hung my paintings, then we installed the couch. His living room IS the girl scouts living room. We have a ton of post production work to do with animation, art, and animation in the background. Then we’re going to shop around and try to turn this into a series. This is the first step, but I feel like we’re in good hands.
A: Shameless self promotion time, what’s the next big project you want everyone to know about?
JM: The big thing I have this year is a new comic book called Miami Vice Remix; Joe Casey wrote it and I drew it. It’s a five issue series through IDW, a publisher out of San Diego. The first issue just came out and the second issue comes out April 22nd; once all five are released they will be published in a large art book. My brand new project, that I’m starting right now, is a top secret comic book project for Marvel. My friend Scotty Young is writing it and I’m drawing it. Filming of the Grrl Scouts pilot for New Form Digital just wrapped, and to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Grrl Scouts I released a limited edition print which is available on my website, jimmahfood.com. I’m also doing a brand new Grrl Scouts comic book series for Image Comics; it will be the same characters, but done in my current style.
Check out more from Jim Mahfood here: www.jimmahfood.com