Love, light, joy, and peace are only a few of the sources of inspiration that help New Jersey artist Tegan James create powerful, daring, and also eye-opening visual art. While most recently James has started painting with actual paint and brushes, he’s been painting with words from an early age. Tegan James is the founder and creator of GALA magazine, a publication going on its 10th year this October. “While no longer available as a [print] publication,” the artist explains, “GALA does continue to highlight LGBTQ artists on its social media accounts. I’ve met many incredible people through [this outlet].”
The work of some of the artists featured in GALA magazine (like Teresa Korber for instance) has influenced James’ own visual artwork. “ I first came across Teresa Korber when I was researching LGBT artists for GALA,” James explains. “It was around the time that she was creating love-based paintings for a show. I connected with the passion, emotion, and the fluidity of her art [which] seems to dance on the canvas.”
Keith Haring is another artist who has influenced James’ outlook on art. “I love the bold, bright, and solid colors that [he] used in his graffiti-influenced art,” James says. “His cartoonish work wasn’t complex to look at or understand, but it was powerful. I’ve always had a not-so-secret desire to create street art, but to use it in a way that would inspire people or make them question things they think they know. [Keith Haring’s] work wasn’t necessarily ‘street art’ but it was art on the street (or subways, or sidewalks). I find that to be rebellious in a way. His legacy lives on through his art, continuing to raise funds and support HIV/AIDS research and organizations that help underprivileged children. This inspires me to use my own artwork to raise funds for LGBTQ organizations.”
In that sense, Tegan James’ artwork becomes “a loving response to [people’s] warrior cry,” offering hope, love and support, in particular when it comes to issues affecting the LGBT community and those struggling with addiction and/or mental illnesses. “I think it’s especially important to offer hope to the LGBTQ community, as well as anyone who is struggling with addiction and mental illness,” James reiterates. Commenting on the sources of inspiration for his artwork, he explains that a decade ago, he, himself was “ lost in a very dark and scary place. I was in the middle of my addiction and on the verge of losing any trace of sanity I had left,” he says. “Now, I’m four years sober and experiencing living life in a beautiful way.”
Directly addressing those who might still be struggling to find their way out of that “dark and scary place,” James says: “Just know that you are not alone, ever. Before you give up, ask for help. It’s possible to experience life fully. The hardest part is asking for help when you’re worried that the rest of the world will turn its back on you.”
Over the years, Tegan James has continued to give hope and love and light through his art. This past summer, James learned from a friend that Mark Sher, the owner of What’s New Mens’ Consignment Shop on Main St. in Metuchen, NJ, was looking for local artists willing to create artwork for his store. That led to James’ first solo art show, which opened April 15th, at What’s New Mens’ Consignment Shop. “Come check out the store. On the same block there are coffee and ice cream shops, pubs and restaurants, and live music — something for everyone,” says Tegan.
James has at least a dozen new pieces of various sizes in the show. The theme focuses on validation, self-acceptance, authenticity, and speaks to the LGBT community and the spectrum of gender.
Tegan James doesn’t only create art, but he also teaches art. He’s a part-time art instructor at Pinot’s Palette in Manalapan and instructs paint classes at Cai’s Café in Metuchen. He gives lessons in art and painting, but also in life. He gives his students the same love, light, and hope he uses to inspire his own artwork. He encourages his students to keep creating art, because nobody else can create art, paint, the way they do, and because, well, “practice makes progress. Nobody’s perfect but everyone can grow with practice.”
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Presently, Tegan James is also working on a Fine Arts Degree at Middlesex County College in Edison. He believes that art education offers artists “a new way of seeing and understanding the world. You can find inspiration anywhere, but it won’t always just happen. So make it a point to dedicate some time to art [on a regular basis]. Keep a journal. Don’t toss your art; just hide it away for a while, if you aren’t happy with it. Some day, you may look back and be quite surprised at what you find.”