Made By You: Jeff Soto


This article appears in our “Made By You” special edition issue—created in partnership with Converse.

Jeff Soto fell in love with art at a very early age and his passion for it has remained strong for close to three decades now. The California native started his artistic life creating graffiti and street art. His work is often vividly colorful and always eye catching. Soto often combines pop surrealism with a street art aesthetic. He currently displays his artwork in some of the top museums and galleries in the world.

We spoke to Jeff Soto about his early inspirations, his style of artwork and the importance of being a business savvy artist.

What kind of affect did growing up in California have on your work?

It had a huge impact on my work but I didn’t understand it until I travelled outside of California as an adult. California has a special energy and a history of innovation in the arts. You have surf and skate culture, Chicano graffiti, hot rod car culture and the entertainment world. All of those things contribute and inspire many of us.

Is there a major difference between an East Coast artist and a West Coast artist in your estimation?

Not so much these days. I know many artists that live for a while in SF or LA and then move for a while to NY. I think in the past, 20 or 30 years ago, if you wanted to be an illustrator or make it as a fine artist it was almost a necessity to move to New York. It is still true that ad agencies and publishers are largely in NY…and LA is still entertainment and apparel.

Pop culture was a big part of your artistic inspiration growing up. Can you talk a little bit about some of the things that inspired you at an early age?

I am turning 40 very soon and my early years of inspiration were in the 80’s. Most artists my age were inspired by cartoons, movies and video games growing up. I didn’t get to go to any art museums as a kid—so it was all pop culture for me. As I got a little older, there were two things that inspired me in similar ways—skateboarding and graffiti. I loved the act of skateboarding—the creativity, the rebellion and the graphics. Graffiti was the same—I enjoyed the art and the thrill of getting away with vandalism. Both of those things taught many of us how to view the world differently.

Graffiti and street art was an important part of you turning into the artist you are today. What did you find to be so captivating about street/graffiti art?

I was interested in graffiti from a young age…2nd or 3rd grade. I remember seeing gang writing and spray painted drawings on the way to school. I just always liked the anonymity of graffiti. It was so rad to find new things that popped up overnight. I go into it more for the art than the vandalism. There was also the crew aspect, which was really cool in the early days, a group of like-minded kids working together to create art.

You have succeeded in so many different types of environments with your art. You obviously have a strong understanding of business, which is something artistic people sometimes struggle with. Where does your strong understanding of business stem from?

I grew up with nothing and I was hungry for opportunity. I needed to make extra money for my family. I became an entrepreneur as a teen and didn’t realize it until later. I did T-shirt graphics, painted murals for shops, designed logos and business cards, painted windows for the holidays…I was always trying to do something with my art. Early on I started to understand how to communicate with people, how to deal with money and how to market myself. I decided I wanted a career in the arts when I was 17 and started reading books on it (this was before the internet). I’m still working on the business side everyday and I enjoy it.

Did you wear Chuck Taylor sneakers growing up?

For sure! I have a long history with Converse. It’s what I wore as a teen during my early skateboarding years. They were always covered in ballpoint pen drawings and I’d change out the laces to different colors. I wanted mine to be different.

As an adult you have gotten the chance to collaborate with Converse in a professional capacity. What has that experience been like for you?

I was originally approached by Converse about four years ago and we started to get something going. It has spun into several projects over the last couple of years. Converse is really fun to work with. They respect each individual artist’s vision and direction. I love that Converse supports art and music. I am hoping to do a lot more with them in the future.


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