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The Artist Who's Hanging From Your Walls And Covering Your Garments

vii is a talented artist out of Bridgeport, Connecticut who's art you're gonna want hanging from your walls and covering your garments. We were able to speak with CJ about his artistic background and the inspiration behind his famed "no eyes" characters. In addition, CJ also spoke with us about many of the different clothing garments he’s created over time, the meaning behind his brand, and how he plans to expand his artistic horizons with new mediums over the course of the year.

Where are you from?

CJ: I’m from Bridgeport, Connecticut. I was born in Norwalk, then stayed in Stamford for a brief period in time but I’ve been in Bridgeport most of my life.

Do you know Muerte?

CJ: Yeah I know him personally my guy George runs Muerte, he literally lives right down the street from me. He’s another young talent and also very hard working. Hey we’re trying to put Bridgeport, Connecticut on the map and I believe we will. Day in and day out the work never stops. Too much talent over here not to get some sort of recognition.

Is your brand called vii or is it Seven?

CJ: It’s pronounced “vii” (v-i-i), which means seven in roman numerals. Some people say "seven" and others say "vii" but it doesn't matter.

What made you come up with that name?

CJ: So the use of the number “7” is often shown in my work and it originally began in 2015 when I joined a clothing brand out of Stratford, CT “sevenviews” clothing founded by Javan Parks. I’m currently still with them as a designer. The sevenviews slogan is “understanding another’s perspective” and it correlates with the spiritual meaning of “7” which is “knowing nothing is exactly as it seems and that reality is often hidden behind illusions”.

Since then I found a likeness to that number and ran with it myself, branched off and came up with “vii” meaning 7 in Roman numerals. My slogan is “no eyes” meaning you don’t need sight to know truth, which correlates with this… (knowing nothing is exactly as it seems and that reality is often hidden behind illusions) 7 means truth, vii is my truth.

What’s your background in art?

CJ: I’ve been drawing ever since I was like 4 years old. Imma be honest though, from the age of 4 to like 18 or 19 I didn’t really produce my own work, the majority of it was references from my favorite cartoons, tv shows, comic books all kinds of stuff like that. I drew lots of anime, comic book styled art, even did some realism for a couple years. But all of that has both prepped and shaped me into the artist I am today. I didn’t really do my own stuff until recently. March 17, 2018 is when “vii” started for me. I felt as if I finally found my purpose as an artist as I now have this alias “vii” to be identified with and a style to go along with it. But my inspirations also played a huge part into that transition like Takashi Murakami, Kaws (Brian Donnelly), George Condo, James Jean, Virgil Abloh, Tyler the Creator, Kanye West and the list goes on. I’m constantly inspired not just by artists but by people.

What happened on March 17, 2018 that birthed VII?

CJ: Coming into 2018 I already told myself that I was going to produce my own work, it was something completely new that had never been done or seen before, that was my mind set. I just didn’t get started right away. On March 17, 2018 I was staying out in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a couple days and I had a pair of these black denim overalls. I ended up painting over them while staying out there and I made these six characters with three faces on each side of the pant legs and they were the first official characters of vii. The first 6 characters were Scottie, Basquiat, Carnell, CJ, MF’7, and Jericho. As my art develops with time the characters are too and I’m always adding more to the drawing board. It’s starting to pile up and now I feel as if I have more than enough, it’s turning into a catalog. It’s never enough though. Honestly creating is endless.

Where does the inspiration for your famous characters with the big mouths come from?

CJ: I wanna say the Story of O.J. music video from the album 4:44 by Jay-Z and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s self portrait from 1983. So the characters from the music video “The Story of O.J.” are a representation of how America portrayed African-Americans in the 1920’s with these exaggerated features. It was a form of ignorance, racism and oppression. But for me instead being upset over how my people were depicted I embraced it and the music video gave me a voice. I took something as negative as blackface and put my own spin on it. I honestly get a lot of mixed reviews about it which I love. Some people actually get offended still, some people really like it and some are just in between saying it’s interesting since they don’t know if it’s offensive or not. But this is exactly why I wouldn’t want to explain the artwork because it’s best for everyone to voice their own opinions. The minute I give the piece a meaning of any sort it suspends everyone's thinking. I'd rather say nothing at all, it’s for the public to interpret.

What do they represent?

CJ: Society and everyday life. You’ll start seeing these characters more often over time as they’re still evolving. They’re growing as I grow.

Why don’t your characters have eyes?

CJ: You ever heard that saying “seeing is believing?” I hate that saying. Some people say that seeing is believing but that’s not always true especially when looks can be deceiving. Some see by faith just fine. You don’t need sight to know truth.

Have you always mainly drawn heads and characters?

CJ: Nah, I actually have a sketchbook of more stuff but the character heads are what I've been putting out recently. I kind of got stuck doing 1 of 1 clothes for a while now and I just recently snapped out of it. The last piece of clothing that I did was a pair of white overalls, but now I’m painting on canvases and working more towards that. I’m taking a break from clothes briefly and focusing on other mediums of art. I just want to do something else since I got caught up doing clothes. People get me confused and think I’m a clothing brand a lot since I’ve been painting 1 of 1 clothing consistently since September 2018 up until this June. In a way I am branding myself though, I’m just capable of doing other things as well. I got too comfortable doing just clothes so it was time to move on.

What made you gravitate toward fashion and starting to make clothes?

CJ: It was fun at first. To be honest I genuinely enjoyed making them but also it’s all this fast fashion that made me take step back from it. Everyone else is starting to do it but carelessly. I was just doing this for the creativity and actual craft. I’m still going to continue to do it but as of right now that’s not what I’m looking to do. Also I’d rather separate myself from all that. I don’t want to be placed in that category. I’m more than just a clothing designer I’m an artist.

Talk about the custom white overalls and pants you recently designed. What inspired those?

CJ: It was inspired off the most recent painting I posted and that’s actually my fist official painting ever. I actually did the painting first then worked on the overalls after. I posted the overalls and a hoodie first since I know they’d be my last for a while. The piece includes three panels on each pant leg. The painting itself is 3 panels which are yellow, orange, and red, vii’s main colors. Blue is also a color I love to use every now and then.

I really like the blue “seven” character that I’ve seen in different pieces. Does he have a name?

CJ: Yeah his name is Blue. There’s also a younger version I make of him which is Boy Blue. I do that with a lot of characters.

I recently saw him in the three piece mural you did. What made you make that?

CJ: I had this little sketch of Blue that I did a while back and I decided to put it on canvas one day. I was looking at a bunch of other pieces I made. So I’ll take previous work and capitalize on it by taking a piece from some old work of mine and I’ll make it into its own piece.

Do you do commissioned pieces as well?

CJ: Yeah all the time. When people request me to do something most of the time I’ll get creative freedom so they’ll approach like, “hey I have this piece of clothing and I want you to do whatever.” It’s way easier when people come to me saying I can do whatever. But I honestly do this for myself and people just so happen to be interested. It’s tough to be doing 1 of 1’s since now more people are interested and it’s changed my way of thinking. Now I want everyone to have the chance to get something that's vii.

Talk about the white hoodie with the different colored dots on it.

CJ: It was real minimal. I did that because of the color scheme of the painting as well. I wanted to see if people would react differently towards that piece compared to the one I did that had much more going on. To be honest people asked for the hoodie more because it’s so simple. I actually got the reaction I wanted. I was just curious honestly.

To get away from 1 of 1's are you gonna release something that more people have access to?

CJ: I'm gonna mass produce a line and some other products eventually. I’m working with some people right now that are helping me with that.

I’ve seen you make things from shirts and overalls to shoes and bags. Are there any other pieces you plan to experiment with?

CJ: I'll do anything I can get my hands on. If I can paint on it I'll do it. I’m trying to expand though since I don’t wanna just do clothing, I wanna do more canvases, sculpture, plush toys, furniture and lots more that I'm interested in. Anything that I can make a vii product out of I’ll do.

Are you focusing more on the fashion or the art behind your brand?

CJ: It’s always about the art. I said I don’t wanna be caught up in the fashion. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion and I love clothes but you’ll just see me exploring with more mediums now. Stuff I’ve never done before. I’m trying to get into sculpting as well before the year ends, whether it be woodwork, clay, welding, or anything else. All the stuff I'm talking about is in the works. People I’m connected with are helping me bring the vision to life.

What are some other artists you’d like to work with?

CJ: That’s tough to say. I’m not looking to work with anybody but if an opportunity comes my way I don’t mind working with someone. Especially if we can both benefit I’ll do it. It could be clothing, it could be with someone else that also paints or draws, whatever it is. Anything that could help me create a new vision I’ll do for sure.

What should we expect to see from you with VII in the near future?

CJ: I’m not really looking to do anything specifically I’m just constantly growing. I just want to take what I do and push it as far as it can go and that’s forever. I’m just trying new things constantly. Everything and anything.

What do you want to accomplish by the end of this year?

CJ: I’m focusing on the painting and then after that I’m gonna try a new medium as I mentioned earlier with some sculpture work. But that could change over time honestly I can be unpredictable. It definitely depends on how I’m feeling. One day I might not feel that way and end up doing something completely different. I want to try everything. I want to do it all.

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