Taking in the work of Jimmy Knives requires a detailed eye, a strong stomach, and a sweet tooth.
Knives is an emerging artist on the scene, with his Instagram account cultivating hundreds of likes per post—with nearly two thousand follows and counting. Ranging in style, content, and complexity, there is no end to the rich and invasive nature of his work. Cartoon imagery that verges on parody meets 1980’s fantasy, colliding in a fun and inventive collection of what he calls “visual hard candy.” I interviewed Knives to find out how and why he does what he does, and to see inside the mind of the creator of fascinating street pop art.
VRV: How would you describe your art?
Jimmy Knives: I guess psychedelic, bubble-gummy, fantasy art lite. I take a lot of inspiration from fantasy and sci-fi illustrators, but I’m not drawing grand battles or anything, it’s a lot more chill. Not so much “Macho Man,”, not that I actively try to stay away from that style.
I grew up looking at a lot of fantasy and sci-fi art and took inspiration from the art direction in Nintendo 64 games. Seeing that cutesy, pop art style and then wanting to marry that with fantasy art aesthetics was big for me. I like the goblins with battle axes, but also the cutesy stuff, and I don’t understand why they have to be so separate. So I combine them.
I take a lot of my inspiration from more horror-based art. When I first started getting into illustration, I looked at a lot of Bernie Wrightson’s art as well as reading Junji Ito and Hideshi Hino’s horror manga. Seeing their style of body horror and pairing it with another genre was, to me, the most aesthetically pleasing. The combination of all my personal interests became my artwork. I try to make art that a 10-year-old me would be into. I try to make visual hard candy.
VRV: What else influences your art?
JK: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards left a huge impression on me. The art direction and soundtrack—I still listen to the soundtrack when I’m drawing. The Katamari games were big for me, I had Katamari Damacy for the PS2. The low poly, no-texture style with flat colors was great. I guess The Legend of Zelda was more of an intersection, the pop Nintendo vibe combined with a fantasy setting. I played that a lot too.
I went to the public library and got the How to Draw Manga books, some are still good and I refer back to those occasionally. ost were… not as good. As much as any kid my age, I watched Dragon Ball Z and Toonami. I guess anime and manga had a pretty big impression on me. Akira was obviously a big one for me, it’s kind of a big one for everybody, but I saw the movie first and started reading Katsuhiro Otomo (the author of Akira) later. For me, his technical skill level and art style is top tier.
VRV: I saw on your Instagram that you had recently started drawing again more frequently. What made you choose to pursue it among your other interests? Why did you stop?
JK: I took a big break after I dropped out of art school—Pacific Northwest College of Art—about two years ago. My art was kind of what I went to for my personal expression. Whatever charm my artwork has probably comes from me doing it by my own rules and letting it happen naturally. So when I put that into an academic framework, it just didn’t feel right to me. Doing art didn’t make me feel the same way for a while. Eventually I picked it back up, I was always drawing, but I started taking it a little more seriously this year. People are responding more positively to my work now than when I was in art school.
When I dropped out, I had gone through a major breakup, my mental health wasn’t the best, and I had just gotten a job with Sean Aaberg (Goblinko, Pork Magazine). I had interned for the Aabergs in high school and had taken classes with Sean before they were doing Pork. I was also working full time at Urban Outfitters. I eventually quit, and asked Sean if he had any work for me because that was what I wanted to do. He’s a self-employed illustrator who runs his own webshop, which is what I was looking into doing. So I started working for them, but between all of the other things I was doing and being a mess I just dropped out. I had maybe intended to go back to school, but I have a job in the field that I more or less want to work in, so why should I spend all the money to do school when I could just do this?
VRV: What was it like working for Pork and the Aabergs?
JK: It’s good! It’s a weird job for sure, the whole operation is run right behind their house in a small backhouse. That’s the shop, that’s where we do all of the mail orders and printing. Including the Aabergs, there’s five of us running the whole show. My job is basically just grunt work, it’s not a lot of creative art stuff since that’s mostly Sean’s thing. He’s a perfectionist, he has an idea of how he wants the magazine to be. I basically just help out with the web shop. Working for Sean is seeing how I would be able to do something similar, I learned a lot of what I know about drawing and illustration from him. He works for himself, everything that he can put his art on and sell he does, and that’s what I want to do eventually. I don’t take direction that well, so the only thing I can see doing long term is working for myself.
VRV: You are Jimmy Knives. Why knives?
JK: I think it started with my tattoos. I only have four tattoos, but I didn’t realize until my third one that they are all swords or knives or daggers of some sort. I was talking to a coworker, and she was joking about calling me Knives, “James Knives,” but that sounds dumb so I went with Jimmy. Also, I don’t actually draw conflict happening or people fighting, it’s usually the implication of a fight. For whatever reason, I imply violence at a later date. A bunch of dudes standing around with swords. Listening to a lot of classic rock would get me really riled up, and I think that the typical rock and roll imagery plays into the love of weapons as well.
VRV: Thank you for the interview! Anything you’d like to tell the folks at home?
JK: I kind of feel like I’m just figuring out my chops still. Don’t worry too much about finding your defining art style! I don’t know what I’m doing with my art work and that’s cool. That’s my style for now!