You don’t need to head Downtown on First Fridays to find art in the Valley. Jak B. spends hours with his sketchbook at one Green Valley Starbucks.
He’s never sold a painting. But then again, the 33-year-old Hawaiian native only began his journey in the art world eight months ago.
“I first got into [drawing] when I was in the hospital,” says Jak while sketching under the familiar green Starbucks umbrella at 1500 N. Green Valley Parkway. Suffering from seizures, he was hospitalized for a month. “Every day I just looked out the window and sketched the same sunset over and over and over until I got the skill. So that was my training.”
Despite never attending formal art classes, Jak has always held an interest in creative expression. “I love writing; I love language,” he says. “I didn’t want to lose that, so I try to find ways of integrating text with art.”
Flipping through his sketchbook, words wrap around figures, poetry is interspersed with imagery. Notes to loved ones are segmented, banished to the corners of a page.
Melted crayon, cigarette ashes, even a bit of his own saliva helps Jak experiment. “It’s kind of gross, but I lick my finger and I just smear it across [the ink],” he laughs. “When I give my art away, I tell people ‘You’re literally getting a piece of me.’ So they’re like ‘Oh, that’s so nice!’ because they think I’m joking. But I’m like ‘No. My DNA’s really on that piece of paper.’”
Before he spent his days sketching at Starbucks, he used to pass them making drinks behind the counter. “I was a barista and through the medical problems, I lost my job,” he explains. The seizures got so bad, that he attempted suicide. “I was tired of [having seizures.] So I basically decided, ‘I give up.’”
Jak’s doctor informed him he should have died after the attempt, but Jak has embraced his second chance.
“One of my friends told me, ‘You went through that so if someone else comes along who’s going through the same thing, you’re equipped emotionally and experienced to help them out.’ So I learned from it a lot. It was an important lesson.”
As far as his art, Jak cites Edward Degas as an influential force, but counts his best friend, Nicholas, as his true inspiration. “He taught me how to see things. How to be,” Jak says. “He taught me about how you kind of look back, and how to change your personal history. Everyone has the ability to be whatever they want at any given time.” He continues, “I decided, well, I’m going to go from ‘Adley the Starbucks barista’ to ‘Jak, the artist.’ And basically changed my name. It’s weird, but I think it was needed.”
The reinvention began when Jak moved to Las Vegas six years ago. “I didn’t want to spend my entire life on an island,” he says. “My parents never left Hawaii. I wanted to see what was out there. I felt like something was pulling me.” He adds, “It’s still pulling. I haven’t found it yet.”
Perhaps that tug will lead Jak to a career in art – maybe have his work displayed in a gallery, as opposed to the photocopies of his sketches he’ll randomly hang around town to share with others. For now, he just rips a page from his book and gives it away. He doesn’t accept payment, though a cup of coffee is always welcome.
“It’s basically saved my life,” Jak says of discovering his love for drawing. “It’s a coping mechanism for a lot of things.”
While he’s tried paint and clay, Jak is drawn to ink for its finality. “It’s so unforgiving, you know? You make a mistake, it’s either work around it or you learn not to make the same mistake again.” Holding the pen cross-hatchings on heavy-weight paper, it seems Jak is talking about far more than a simple drawing.
To view more of Jak's drawings, visit his MySpace page.