Eyes are the window to the soul, or at least that’s what the old adage says, and yet Jay Joree is able to create an otherworldly mashup of traditional portraiture and abstract silhouettes that not only exclude the eyes, but the entirety of the face, while still retaining the subject’s spirit. How does she pull this off? It’s all in the little details and the passion that fuels her art.
Faceless portraits are nothing new. Rene Magritte’s surreal work often obscured the subject’s face, and Pietro Sedda helped popularize the technique in the tattoo world. While her work obviously carries those influences, Joree’s main muse is pop culture, and thus the art becomes instantly accessible. Trying to figure out the meaning of a surrealist masterpiece is an exhausting mental task, seeing a glass of wine in place of Linda Belcher’s face makes you smile. To put it simply, Joree has made surrealism fun.
“As far as the faceless pop culture shit goes [I was influenced by] Pietro Sedda, because he has those really cool illustrative faceless things, but I was OBSESSED with Looney Tunes,” Joree explains. “I was just like, maybe if I mix these two it would be tight, and I didn’t think that anybody would give a shit about it. I did a few, and then out of nowhere it fucking blew up.”
Filled with bright colors and minute details aimed at tugging the heart strings of super fans, it’s easy to understand why people connect with her work. Take her portrait of Marty McFly from Back to the Future. The silhouette alone is recognizable enough, but that’s just the beginning. “OK, I can’t just not do the DeLorean because that’s what [the client] wanted in the face,” she says. “But I needed to put the clock tower with the lightning in the back and I’ve always wanted to tattoo that fucking shoe, so I just threw that at the bottom.” Getting all of these little details right starts exactly where you think it would — by watching the movie.
While conceptualizing and composing a piece, Joree doesn’t merely pull stills for reference, she watches the film and listens to it while working. This full immersion into the subject matter helps to instill an emotional connection with her work that aids in capturing the tone and mood of a film or TV show in her two-dimensional works.
After a stint studying animation in college — a decision she was pushed towards by a combination of a scholarship and advice from her parents — Joree decided to pursue tattooing. At first she was unable to find the right fit in an apprenticeship. “I apprenticed at four different shops before I finally made it to the shop where I’m at now under my mentor,” she explains. “It was a lot of using apprentices just to get shit done.”
It is at this point that many people would just give up and pursue something else, but Joree pressed on. Art is in her blood after all. “Both of my grandmothers are artists,” Joree says. “One grandmother was an animator for Disney, she does crazy realistic watercolors now. My other grandmother does oil paintings. So art was always around, but I was never forced.”
When Joree showed up at Last Angels seeking an apprenticeship, owner Gerald Garcia was a little hesitant that she had picked up some bad habits during her previous starts and stops in the industry. Three weeks of showing up every day with a sketchbook filled with black and grey drawings eventually won him over, even if it was a bit of a ruse.
“At the time I was drawing black and grey realism portraits and selling them online to make a little extra money,” Joree explains. “So when I came in, since I knew he was black and grey, I brought those, even though I wanted to do traditional/neo. The only way for me to get in was by doing that shit, so three months along I’m drawing all of this neo stuff and he’s like ‘what are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘surprise!’”
Thankfully for the tattoo world this isn’t the end of the story, as it would have been with many mentors. Instead, Garcia let Joree’s talent shine and soon she was turning heads with her faceless silhouettes, pop culture sensibilities, and vibrantly colored geometric work.