Jamie Roxx is perched precariously on a slim stool in the lobby bar of downtown's W Hotel, nursing a Jack and Coke—the first of three on this post-Thanksgiving afternoon. He stands out among the clean-cut tourists surrounding him. He's short and rotund, and in sharp contrast to his pale skin, his clothing and fingernails are black. So is his shoulder-length hair, which he's wearing beneath a scarf that sticks up on either side of his head like devil's horns.Yet for this 37-year-old artist, who splits his time between San Diego and Las Vegas, the W is a regular hangout, as are many other high-end spots around town. At parties and industry events, Roxx is often photographed with buxom women and local movers-and-shakers, the evidence of which he posts on his website, Jamieroxx.com.
He is the antithesis of the starving artist—or, in his terms, a Warhol versus a Van Gogh. It takes him and a staff of several, which includes two full-time employees, an assistant and a “shop rat,” to run the thriving business that is Jamie Roxx.
“You're never just selling a painting,” Roxx suggests. “You're selling yourself.”
Like Andy Warhol, the father of Pop Art, Roxx is a bon vivant equally skilled at art and commerce. He grasps the concepts of self-branding and networking with circulation-stopping intensity. He's even sponsored by a water company—and he sees no problem with that. As Warhol famously said: “Making money is art, and working is art, and good business is the best art.”
On occasion, Roxx's detractors have accused him of aping Warhol a bit too closely. Many of Roxx's Pop Art paintings—often portraits of celebrities done in bold, saturated colors—do follow in the Warholian tradition. But Roxx claims his technique is different—he paints instead of stenciling or screen-printing—and so is his subject matter.
“It's funny, people always say, ‘Oh, you're kind of ripping Warhol off.' I would never paint a soup can. A can of caviar I might paint. A Ferrari. A Lamborghini.”
Roxx believes his love of luxury is what lands his paintings, which sell for thousands, in so many homes and office lobbies.
High-end life “seems to have a real resonance in Southern California,” he says. “People tend to like that—images of success and hope, I suppose.”
Or consumerism, perhaps?
“Or consumerism,” he agrees with a facetious sneer. “Completely. I'm a pop artist. I'm the ultimate capitalist.”
Roxx grew up in Canada before moving to the comfortable suburbs outside of Detroit while in the 10th grade. Immediately following high school, he found a $220-a-month, three-bedroom apartment in a particularly gritty corner of the Motor City.
He moved there “for girls,” he explains. “Why does any young man do anything? Sex. I've never really looked for the artist's struggle. It's found me at times, but I've never looked for it.”
When he was 17 and living on his own, Roxx had an experience straight out of a Quentin Tarantino flick. He was at one of Detroit's riverboat bars, taking an underage cocktail break while looking for a job. In a matter of seconds, a man came up behind him, reached his arm over Roxx's shoulder and shot a bartender point-blank in the chest. Roxx was later called to testify in the murder trial—the bartender had been killed by a waiter after a squabble over $65 in tips.
“Another reason to leave Detroit and enjoy hanging out at the W in Southern California,” Roxx remarks, swirling a straw in his drink. “It could be worse.”
After this nightmarish encounter in Detroit, Roxx would go on to study art in college and get a master's degree from the University of Massachusetts. Understandably, much of his early artwork had a noir feel to it: dark, shady characters lurking in alleys and the like.
“I used to love to tell stories with my art before I sold out and became a pop artist,” Roxx says.
He makes this claim with a resigned expression, as if only half-believing his own words, even as they spill unfettered from his mouth.
“Other people have said it,” he explains of his supposed sell-out status. “I had argued with them. I don't regret it at all. It's a means to an end. And I'm good at what I do.
“The market dictates art,” he adds. “I don't hit the ball out of the park every time. Sometimes I paint stuff that I think is amazing, and you know what? If it doesn't sell, it's crap. Cash is king.”
For all of his high-end clients who are able write the big checks—and they do, shelling out $7,000 for commissioned portraits—Roxx hasn't turned a blind eye to younger, poorer patrons of the arts. He claims a big chunk of his weekly business comes from MySpace, where he peddles posters and other Jamie Roxx merchandise.
The establishment has taken notice, as well—not major art museums, by any means, but he's known well beyond the neighborhood gallery scene. One of his most famous pieces is a 14-by-16-foot painting of The Beatles, which was purchased by the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 2002. He's also sold paintings to The Rock Museum of Munich and The Centre de Pompidou in Paris, and his work is routinely sourced for background use on the sets of movies and television shows.
“I have a lot of artist and photography friends who will take a picture of a shadow or paint something,” Roxx says. “It's very personal and it means a lot. There's nothing wrong with that. But I've got a lot of mouths to feed. I would love to be able to sit around and do that. If I were like The Beatles, I'm not at The White Album yet; I'm still at the ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.' When I get the money to do The White Album, I'll be very happy.”