Local artist takes an alternative path to his professional career


James Gearlds can be found in studio 13 at Broadway Studios. He occasionally holds still life painting classes in his space. (Cesar Maya/The Collegian)

By Cesar Maya, Reporter

During his junior and senior years of high school, James Gearlds often ditched his lessons and snuck into his friends’ art classes. This interest in the arts never went away. He attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, which he would abandon to find his own creative path. 

“I flunked, and I still wanted to paint. I still wanted to learn this art thing,” Gearlds said.

As a full-time working artist in Fresno, he said someone with an art degree is no different from an amateur looking to expand their work in art. What sets an individual apart from everyone else is the hard work and self-awareness that they are willing to put into their craft, Gearlds said. 

Gearlds is now one of the artists located at Broadway Studios, found in Downtown Fresno. The warehouse features 23 resident artist studios that all work independently.

The artistic work done by Gearlds is primarily displayed at galleries, community art shows and pop-up shows. 

Gearlds is a featured artist at the Black Chamber of Commerce for May and his work is scheduled to be seen at Tioga-Sequoia Brewery in August. 

Gearlds also plans to be a part of a group show at the Downtown Artist Gallery off of L Street in January 2024, as well as a solo show in September 2024.

He hosts the “Art & BS Podcast,” a show that interviews a variety of professional artists, graffiti writers and members of various art institutions. It can be streamed on Apple Podcasts and iHeart Podcasts.

Gearlds credits Fresno for his education and growth as an artist, but he said it’s tough to make it as a working artist due to the lack of public appreciation for art in the area.

He also wrote, designed and self-published a book titled “How We Got Here,” which covers the years of his work in art. 

James Gearlds’ earliest art style was graffiti. (Cesar Maya/The Collegian)

The book highlights and expands upon various experiences which have led Gearlds to find his own particular voice within his work. 

Making connections throughout his career has really helped to influence this art, Gearlds said. 

He highlighted an experience with Mike Wagner, a fellow artist, where Gearlds appreciated the richness of color that was found in Wagner’s oil paintings. As a result, Gearlds has predominantly used oil in his own art.

An important moment for Gearlds came when he traveled to The Safehouse Atelier in Los Angeles, which hosts many workshops and art classes. He attended a portrait painting class led by Shawn Barber, someone he notes as being one of his most influential mentors.  

“I went there, did a drop-in and it was a life-changing experience,” Gearlds said.

Gearlds continues to learn as an artist. From mentors to fellow Fresno artists, he said that there is always something to be taught.

Tyler Smith, a local artist who works alongside Gearlds at Broadway Studios, has found that passion is evident in everything Gearlds does. 

“That man absolutely cooks and is continuing to push his threshold as an artist,” Smith said. 

“He never fails to show up in honesty and integrity, vouching for his fellow artists and friends through support of their work and whatever they may be going through as a human being.”

Smith said that Gearlds’ work is a direct reflection of him: authentic, honest, tasteful and skilled.

Gearlds said that this is an especially important fact to know for college students hoping to soon begin a professional career in art. 

“There’s no end to what we do but the appreciation doesn’t reflect the effort, and it seems people look at us like God snapped his fingers and we just woke up and could draw things from life, and that’s not how it works,” Gearlds said. “If you’re looking to get into art, understand that there’s a ton of sacrifice and a lot of luck is required, so get ready for a lot of days at the easel and to live life as a vampire because that’s what’s going to get you there.”

Marco Tovar, another artist in the community who is close with Gearlds, applauds the work Gearlds has done not only within his own art but also within the community of Fresno artists as a whole. 

“We need more people like James as artists and as advocates for the treatment of artists,” Tovar said. “He is genuinely interested in seeing the Fresno art scene go beyond Fresno through his podcast and through the daily work that he puts in.”

Gearlds said that by associating yourself with as many people in the art world as you can, you separate yourself from others in the industry in a positive way. He emphasizes that by learning and building relationships with fellow artists at art shows, galleries, museums and any other hub for art, people will begin to remember you and you’ll begin to stand out from a highly saturated crowd. 

Self-belief is important to him. 

“I have always believed in myself. Even when no one else has believed in me, and that’s why I’m here,” Gearlds said. “That’s why I have the relationships I have and that’s why I’ve been blessed with the mentors that I have. I’ve never given up and I approach everything from the standpoint of a student, because if I don’t, then what?”