From Cleveland.com, written by Nikki Delamotte May 10, 2017
CLEVELAND, Ohio – James Quarles knew from a young age that he wanted to design album covers and movie posters. Drawing influence from Stanley Kubrick to Herbie Hancock, his intricate, graphic-inspired art weaves together social commentary, poetry, street art, politics and music.
“I always really loved movies and pop culture,” Quarles says. “They’re present in my work; it’s an integral part of who we are.”
His new solo exhibit opens 6 p.m. Friday, May 12, at Canopy in Ohio City. DJ A Live will spin tunes. He’ll also have an artist meet-and-greet Monday, May 22, at Young Kings record shop, 1418 West 29th St.
Today, the Shaker Heights native’s work can be seen on the albums of local acts Muamin Collective, LMNTL, DJ Self Help, Peerless and The Cordial Sins. His concert posters are plastered throughout venues like the Grog Shop and Now That’s Class, and his lively illustrations for the Hessler Street Fair’s 2017 flier capture the bohemian festival’s energy. He’s created logos for hip-hop act FreshProduce and downtown Cleveland’s new record shop, Cleveland Break Room.
Quarles is a graduate of Columbus College of Arts and Design, where he first enrolled as a graphic design major. Later changing his concentration to fine art and illustration and began exploring painting and intaglio.
“The art world just opened up to me in ways I didn’t know before,” Quarles says.
Quarles remembers discovering his brother’s copy of Outkast’s second album, “ATLiens,” as a teen.
“I was flipping through the liner notes of the Outkast CD booklet, and it was all comic-book characters, sci-fi, afro futurism and street art,” recalls Quarles.
It was the same feeling he would get when he saw the covers of Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic “Axis Bold as Love” and Miles Davis’ surreal, darkness-meet-light “Bitches Brew.”
His Canopy show will feature pieces centered on musicians, such as Sharon Jones, Tina Turner and J Dilla. While his usual characters tend to draw more from the surreal and fantastical, this exhibit will feature more portraits than he’s done for any in the past. It stems from a series of portraits he created for a Shaker Heights Public Library show, “Notes from Black History.”
“I’ll always want to paint a picture of Miles Davis playing trumpet; I’ll always want to paint a picture of Chuck Berry playing guitar,” Quarles says. “I haven’t done portrait work in a long time. I kind of got into the groove of it. I love these marvelous characters in music.
Quarles has become known for his vibrant, busy party scenes, but he traded in the buzzing atmospheres for a focus on the technical details in the portraits. A recent piece featuring James Brown shows every crease of his purple suit and the shine of his leather shoes.
“I really like colors, form and shape a lot,” Quarles says. “You’ll see me getting into the small details, like the wrinkles of clothes and drapery to the flower in Billie Holiday’s hair.”
Quarles fell in love with horror movies from the first time he saw “The Shining” at a drive-in.
During college, he took a job at Unit 70 Studios, an animatronics horror factory, where Quarles learned the fine art of assembling fake zombies.
“That was probably one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had,” he says. “It gave me a new respect for the craft and all the effort that goes into it.”
He cites classic horror films all the way up through modern-day Jonathan Demme flicks as some of his biggest inspirations. “Especially ’70s, weird, psychedelic horror movies, like Christopher Lee’s ‘Dracula’ movies. Those movie posters were amazing,” he says.
But it was also illustrated classics, like Edgar Allen Poe’s work brought to life by Vincent Price, that left an impact on Quarles. As a poet himself, the written word often mingles with his own art.
He began writing in middle school after seeing Saul Williams in the movie “Slam.” After that, he’d tag along to poetry slams, notebook in tote.
It carried over to his interest in comics and graphic novels. He counts Jamie Hewlett, the illustrator of “Tank Girl” and artistic mastermind behind Damon Albarn’s animated musical project, Gorillaz, as one of his favorite artists. Todd McFarlane’s comic “Spawn” also has played a role in his work.
“When it comes to detail, if anyone sees one of my inkings, they see I’m really getting into detail, it’s from car rides spent just reading ‘Spawn.’ It was like the Stephen King of comic books.”
For something a little different, he’s also working on illustrations for young adult books, “Slumberland,” on the heels of 2014’s, “The Adventures of Waly.”
He stepped away from his own poetry writing until three years ago. He’s planning to publish a small collection of poems with accompanying illustrations, “Born Blue,” that he describes as Shel Silverstein meets William Burroughs.
“I just started playing jazz records and saying the poems on top of jazz records, and started recording until I had enough to do a reading,” Quarles says. “Then I started drawing pictures like I did back in the day.