Art of Drive: Rockin’ Jelly Bean

Interview: Geoff Baldwin.

Our Art of Drive series interviews artists, designers and photographers to find out what inspires them.

Low Brow art has a tendency to raise a few eyebrows and if there’s one artist who’s raising plenty of brows and flustering a few cheeks, it’s Rockin’ Jelly Bean. What surprises a lot of people about RJB isn’t just the scantily clad ladies that frequent his artwork, it’s the fact that he’s Japanese. For an artist who grew up in what most consider to be an overtly polite and reserved culture his work oozes sexploitation style.

It’s not only Rockin’ Jelly Bean’s racy artwork and Japanese heritage that surprises people though. During public appearances he always has at least two RJB girls at his side and he never appears in public without his identity obscured by one of his trademark Luchador masks. After being active in the Low Brow art scene since the early ‘90s RJB has just released a book of his work titled The Birth of Rockin' Jelly Bean. The book is an amazing collection of sexy, voluptuous vixens, B grade movie monsters and Lowbrow culture icons that give insights into his artistic process. After being lucky enough to see his work on display in Japan, Bali, Sydney and hanging on the walls of my own home I tracked the mysterious, masked artist down for a quick interview.

How did Rockin’ Jelly Bean’s life as an artist begin?

In my childhood I was always drawing silly caricatures for my classmates to make them laugh. I went to art school but I never took a class because I was in a band and it was much more fun.

I started my career doing gig flyers back in the ‘90s. I did artwork for The 5678s, Guitar Wolf and many more Japanese bands. It was exactly what I wanted to draw and after doing their flyers most of them are still very close friends of mine.

Who have been your major influences as an artist?

Salvador Dali and Paul Gauguin were my biggest influences when I was young. I met a lot of great artists during my time in Los Angeles like Robert Williams, Von Franco, Pizz, Shag and of course Ed Big Daddy Roth. Their work has pushed my own to a higher level.

What else did you get up to while you were in the States?

Well, I was drawing art everyday in my room, even if it was a beautiful sunny day. I went out to clubs to see friends and bands every weekend. Sometimes, I flew my plane, until one day I almost crashed into a mountain. After that, my girl stopped me from ever flying again. Oh, and I lived with a tiger as a pet. Once he grew up, I couldn't control him so I took him to the zoo.

I was always thinking about California when I was living in Japan so when I arrived there I was very excited. I had a lot of experiences while I was in Los Angeles, it was a very important time for me. But, at the same time, I realized how beautiful Japan's culture is and I began to miss it. The feeling was like when you realize after you’ve broken up that your ex-girl friend could be tender after all…right?

Can you explain your creative process?

I used to get inspiration from old movie posters and flyers, but these days, I can find better images on the Internet. It's easier, but that sometimes makes me sick. I also get a lot of inspiration from my dreams.

I begin each piece by sketching a draft in pencil to find a balanced composition and the best angle for my subject. I then trace the draft on to paper before scanning it into a computer and coloring it using Adobe Photoshop.

Sexy women play a big role in your artwork. Who are the women that inspire your illustrations?

Particularly, I would have to say Phoebe Cates in the film ‘Fast Times At Ridgemont High’, she was so cute in that movie. Besides her I look at pin-up girls in old magazines…of course I love the dolls in Japanese TV and movies too.

Is there a particular era in pop culture that has influenced you the most?

This is a difficult question for me. I have lived through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s but I always wished I could go back to the ‘50s and the ‘60s too. If I must choose, I would say the ‘70s. If you asked me to list my top 10 films they would all be from the ‘70s.

Your movie poster remakes and PVC superheroes have been a huge hit with your fans. What was it like moving from print to producing three-dimensional sculptures?

I’ve done a lot of movie themed poster for EROSTIKA and I started to do them in conjunction with MONDO as well. I’ll keep doing this until I stop enjoying the movies.

I draw the posters, but I don’t sculpt figures myself. Instead I direct their development, which is much harder for me. If there’s something I don’t like on what I draw, I can fix it easily by myself, but with the figures I need to talk to the sculptor and try to make it clear what I want. It’s really difficult to get my ideas across.

I’m currently working on a Devil’s Cheerleaders figure. It will be on sale this summer. This PVC figure is highly detailed and I would say it’s one of my best figure works so far.

You only appear in public wearing your Luchador masks, why?

To cover my face. I don't want my mom to know what I'm doing.

Rockin’ Jelly Bean’s book ‘The birth of Rockin’ Jelly Bean’ is available through his Erostika website and via various online art stores around the world. His original print’s can fetch over $1000USD and if you’re wanting one of his limited edition PVC models you may have to spend even more.  RJB has also recently opened a store in Tokyo that goes by his brand name EROSTIKA. Here you can immerse yourself in his world of Low Brow art and if you’re lucky may even catch a glimpse of him sketching away, wearing one of his wrestling masks.

This article first appeared in Tank Moto issue 04.

Follow Rockin Jelly Bean: @rockinjellybean.

Geoff BaldwinArt, Japan