By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
J. Pierce sits on the sofa of his Gilbert home donning black pants, a playful Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles T-shirt he designed, and colorful shoes that pop.
The cream-colored walls are bare, which is surprising for the prolific artist who has sold his Keith Haring-like artwork to likes of rapper Rick Ross and Ethan Lawrence of Lawrence Motorsport in the Airpark.
“His personality and his being are truly what his art is like also,” says Lawrence, who commissioned Pierce to paint murals throughout his showroom. “He’s as much of a character as his drawings are.”
Pierce is one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets. Besides his work for Ross and Lawrence, Pierce designed T-shirts for Samuel L. Jackson and artwork for former professional baseball player Howie Kendrick, who lives in Phoenix. Pierce’s work, particularly for Jackson, led to mentions on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
“It was cool when Jimmy Kimmel gave me a shout out,” Pierce says with his trademark wide smile. “He said I was an Arizona artist. There are always California artists, New York or Miami artists, Chicago artists. It’s cool to represent Arizona.
“It’s been awesome, man. I originally started out doing art walks, like the Chandler Art Walk, and selling my paintings, right, for $20 or $40. Now I’m seeing my artwork sell for hundreds and thousands.”
Living in the ‘hood’
As a child, Pierce split his time between California and Chicago after his parents separated. He attended high school and college in San Jose.
In Chicago, he lived in the “hood,” as he calls it, where he learned to hustle and paint T-shirts for gangsters.
“I never messed around in that (gang life), but I was always protected,” he says. “They liked me because I skateboarded and lived in the hood in Chicago.
“But there would be barbecues every other day with my family. So, I would be in Chicago, going downtown and being in the city. Then, living in San Jose, it had the whole Cali vibe.”
He discovered penciling and sketching at age 15, when he was in foster care as his parents were going through “tough times,” he says. They went their own ways, and Pierce spent two years in foster care. He, in turn, basically emancipated soon thereafter.
“In high school, I started painting custom clothing — like painting on shoes, shirts and dress shirts,” Pierce says. “I’d wear it to school, and all my friends asked where I found the stuff. It led to painting on canvases.”
In high school, he was inspired to start his own brand by LRG owner Jonas Bevacqua, who died of natural causes in 2011.
“He was one of the biggest streetwear brands,” he says. “I’d send him my art and show him. He emailed me and said to keep up the good work, keep doing my thing. He sent me free gear. That inspired me through those times in foster care.”
He moved to Anthem at age 18 and worked at Outlet at Anthem stores like Docker’s, Quicksilver and Columbia Sportswear. Besides participating in the Chandler Art Walk, he was part of the jury.
“I had a business partner who I was working with in Anthem,” Pierce says. “He was a business partner and investor who was going to help me get my brand and my art to the next level. Nothing really panned out, and we parted ways.”
He stayed in the Valley, however. In 2008, he moved to Gilbert, where he still resides with his wife, Christi Fuller, an avid supporter.
Pierce has collaborated with a slew of local businesses, restaurants and organizations. He encourages his clients to share their art direction, and he takes it from there.
“We created a limited-edition shirt that can be purchased at any of the Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles stores,” he says. “It’s pretty cool, because I’ve never collaborated with a restaurant. And to see the staff walking around with my shirt and my name on it, it was so cool.”
When the Arizona Coyotes hosted Hockey Fights Cancer night on April 19, he created a special sneaker for several players — captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jakob Chychrun, Clayton Keller and Jordan Oesterle — to share how cancer touched their lives.
The shoes were auctioned to raise money for the Arizona Coyotes Foundation. The collaboration came about after Gutierrez’s wife contacted Pierce through Instagram.
“She said they were looking for a painting for a wall space,” he says. “They invited me to their house.”
Unfamiliar with Gutierrez, Pierce asked what he did for a living. He told Pierce he was the president and chief executive officer.
“I thought, ‘Oh, dang. That’s awesome,’” he says, laughing. “I said I always wanted to do the Kachina logo in my style of art and collaborate with the Coyotes.
“He said, ‘That’s why I wanted to talk to you.’ He connected me with the foundation.”
Inspired by the late Haring, Dr. Seuss and Picasso, Pierce says Arizona is the lead character.
“I started doing Arizona landscapes because you see horses in oil paintings and things like that,” he says. “I wanted to create a new, fun look at Southwestern art.
“I’ve done tons of portraits. I do a lot of cartoons based on pop culture and retro cartoons that we grew up watching, like Looney Tunes. Landscapes and skylines are big, too. I’m always trying to think of new stuff to paint, rather than just sticking to one.”
Pierce grew up skateboarding and was entrenched in the culture and lifestyle. He attended skateboarding trade shows and hung out with the skateboarding community.
He’s always tickled when new collectors discover his art.
“There was this one dude who I worked for, he has 80 paintings throughout his house and just found out about my stuff,” he says. “He said, ‘Dude, I want to collect a lot of your stuff.’”
Art is Pierce’s full-time job. If he isn’t painting murals, he’s working on product design logos, custom shoes and “anything art related.”
“Other than that, I’m always busy painting, fulfilling orders and patterns,” he says.
Pierce has plenty to be proud of, between his works for Jackson and Ross, as well as businesses and homes around the Valley. He’s still amazed by the way his art has traveled. He even had a clothing and shoe line in Wuhan, China, four years ago.
“It’s huge,” he says of Ross, who purchased a painting of himself and custom art. “He’s a huge person and to have my art go into his house and the way he hung it up and everything is so awesome.
“My other huge accomplishment was when Samuel Jackson shouted me out on ‘Jimmy Kimmel’ and then getting Jimmy Kimmel to follow me on Instagram. Being friends with Samuel Jackson has been a blessing.”
Pierce and Jackson became acquainted two years ago when he, on a whim, reached out via Instagram to Jackson, who was filming overseas.
“I hit him up late at night because he was in another country,” Pierce says. “It was morning for him, and he responded. I said, ‘Yo, can I send you some of my shirts to you?’ He responded with, ‘You had me at shirts, brother.’ Then he gave me his address and I thought, ‘Wow, this is sick, dude.’ Hard work and faith are the keys to whatever I do in life.” ν
Instagram — @iamjpierce
Website — artbyjpierce.com
Online store — https://arena.store/collections/j-pierce