Scratching the Surface: Jay Shells

March 3, 2015 | Aymann Ismail

ANIMAL showcases a different street artist regularly in our feature, Scratching the Surface. This week, we profile Jay Shells.

Jason Shelowitz / Jay Shells

Decade you were born in:
Tail end of the ’70s

City you currently live:
New York, New York

Drugs or natural highs?

How did you get your name?
My friends in college (SUNY New Paltz) started calling me that for short. I kept with it.


Why do what you do?
I’ve been making art as long as every other human being has, I just never stopped because it’s always kept me going, always kept me challenged, always kept me entertained, and after a lot of hard work, started putting money in my pocket too. I wake up every morning with the desire to make something, anything. It’s what drives my existence.

How does your mother feel about your art?
My mom is my second biggest fan. She’s always encouraged me and continues to be a huge supporter of my creative pursuits. Hey mom!

Are you making a living off your art? How’s that working out so far?
Fortunately, yes. My income is split between art sales and my graphic design work. I interned for Milton Glaser in the early 2000’s and I’ve aspired to maintain the same balance I learned from him: Always pursuing personal creative projects, while maintaining steady client work. It’s all fulfilling to me. So, I’d say it’s working out very well for me. But it took a lifetime of hard work to get me to this point. No short cuts. I am always pushing myself to do more, to try new things and grow as an artist.

Fuck the art world or embrace the art world?
I like to fuck the art world while tenderly embracing it.

Do you bring your smart phone into the bathroom with you? Why?
Yes. That’s when I do most of my Twitter/Insta/FaceBook browsing. So if you see me commenting or liking something you posted, you should know I was most likely in the bathroom. I still keep the latest Mass Appeal next to the throne though, gotta get a break from that iPhone screen sometimes.


Do you ever feel like giving up?
Never ever! I would never give up on something I love.

Suggest an artist to follow.
Martin Schmetzer does some of the most incredible lettering I’ve ever seen. Check him out.