Talking Art with Jaime Tortorelli

Jaime is a 17-year-old artist currently located in the DMV. Though he is still very young, he is already involved in all sorts of creative endeavors. He is primarily interested in digital art and has recently opened his own online store, Optimism, where he sells his merchandise. I would describe his art as eclectic and vibrant. He is someone that is definitely not afraid of mixing different shapes, textures, colors, lights and shadows to create a completely original composition. 

We linked up at the end of last year and met near MICA in Baltimore to chat and take some pictures. In this interview we discuss his creative process, the impact of colonialism on latinxs’ psyches, his sources of inspiration, among other issues. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 
I’m James Tortorelli (I mostly go by Jaime), and I was born in Manhattan to a Nuyorican mother and an Ecuadorian father. In everything I do, I attempt to bridge the gap between the crazy concepts in my own and others minds with concrete and fully fleshed out execution.

You’re a photographer, illustrator, zine maker, amongst many other things. What first drew you to creative work? How did you discover it? 
I have to say, I really never saw myself doing anything other than creative work. That being said, I was truly terrible at every outlet I attempted until fairly recently. I have grown in many areas that were once weaknesses, but I was never the kid that picked up a camera or a pencil and had an innate talent or this amazing instinct. However, I seemingly by chance stumbled upon graphic design (my mother forced me into taking an Illustrator class.) I did not like the kind of design I was doing, but I allowed myself to experiment with the medium of digital art and graphic design. Much to my surprise I found it to be engaging and relevant to today’s art scene.

Amongst all the things you do is there any artistic medium you prefer using? Why?

As I mentioned in my previous answer, I can’t get off of digital art. Whether this be animation, graphic design, or digital illustration, the power of my laptop is quite enticing when I’m looking for a creative outlet.

How would you describe your art style?
I would say my style consists of me trying to abstractly and informatively reconstruct childhood memories, past peoples and places, and re-interpret the knowledge I have of myself and the world. What this looks like varies, but I think what defines my visual style is a simple, yet energetic and youthful take on pre-existing art movements and styles. While reviewing my work, a professor from a respected art university noted how I’m apprehensive in my work, like I know something you don’t, but my “sly smile” entices further investigation and adds a layer of sincerity.

You’re interested in looking at the ways colonialism impacts latinx identity and cultural thought processes. Do you ever try to express this through your art?
Absolutely! I have a zine called “Hidden In The Pews” which attempts to tell the story of a “child of the faith” who struggles with the existence of a higher power, and, if so, why the one that was forced on an entire continent through vicious mental conditioning?

Has your experience as latinx influenced your work in any way? 
I believe it has… At a simple level, exposure to vibrant indigenous art and feeling like I relate to that more than this European bullshit, affects my thought process. I’m actually currently working on a series of illustrations that explores Kichwa art and how the style of it relates to thermal imaging.

You’re also the founder of Optimism, an online shop where you sell super dope merchandise. Can you tell us about the inception of this project?
Well, I really wanted to make pieces that people could wear. That is where that started. However, when I realized this I obviously overthought it and said to myself “If someone is going to where something I made, it has to transform whatever it is on and make it weird.” And I think I accomplished that. The story behind my patches relates to the 4 phases, or seasons of life. My “?!” patch represents infancy, the “I’M GORGEOUS” patch represents adolescence, the “MVMNT” patch represents adulthood, and “ASHES” represents the beyond.

What/Who are your sources of inspiration? Who are the creatives you look up to right now?
I am absolutely obsessed with the singer Kelela. I cannot describe how much I love her work, her thought process, and how she attacks mainstream appeal really resonates with what I’m trying to do with my career. Other than her (which she really does fill up my mind half of the time,) Editor-in-Chief of Marfa Journal Alexandra Gordienko is a total inspiration, as well as pre-hispanic literature (specifically the songs of Nezahualcoyotl… the imagery kills me), and Daniel Sannwald’s visuals always have this innate appeal and fun nature to them, which I appreciate.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years? Where do you see yourself and your artwork?
I see myself straight out of college hopefully already having made an impact on the art scene in NYC, and working… I don’t have quite specific plans, but I have my eyes on Dazed Magazine.

You can find more about Jaime here:

Ig: @inca.kola
Jaime’s zines. You can find here.