Interview with artist Randal Jacobs

photo by Jesse Winter

This story was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2017 of PATTERN Magazine as part of the Detroit focus section.

“Creator” is the first word Randal Jacobs uses to describe himself. But the man wears many hats, so to speak. He’s also a stylist, collaboration artist, and a curator working in textiles, design, fashion, and clothing.

Last spring he curated a project that involved a display of hats for Harlem’s famed Red Rooster restaurant. The exhibit, of sorts, was shown from April through January. (Jacobs currently is in negotiations to take the show to London.)

“There’s a historian in Harlem who’s also a collector with over 500 vintage hats,” says Jacobs. “I selected about 25 and installed them throughout the restaurant. It was a beautiful project, and I’d never done anything in such an odd space. I learned a lot about food in the process, and smells, and how to protect the hats.”

The 36-year-old says he has come into his own as an artist, no longer afraid of what people think, including the corporate clients he often works for as a still life stylist. He tries to be as progressive in his thoughts and concept as possible.

“I’m not a fan of just creating for creation’s sake,” he says. “In the spaces I form, I want people to feel enchanted—but more than that, I want them to feel transported—giving people what they don’t even know they want. I’m even pushing myself and my own boundaries.”

One of Jacobs’ most recent works holds particular relevance in the current political climate. A soon-to-be unveiled collaboration with photographer Jesse Winter, it examines people’s relationship with the American flag. The origins of the project likely took shape when Jacobs came to Detroit in 2013, after years of living in the Big Apple and working for magazines such as GQ.

“Moving to Detroit four years ago opened my eyes to America,” Jacobs says.

After spending time in New York working on the hat exhibit, he started to notice—in a more pointed way—the mixed ethnicities of his friends there. He also realized that many of those of color had a very different relationship with the American flag than his caucasian friends. And with that observation, a photography project was born.

Jacobs and Winter photographed about fifteen friends with the flag, allowing them to choose how to display it in each photo. He also documented conversations about what the flag symbolizes for each subject.

“Doing the series, I realized that I hadn’t really dealt with my own prejudices,” Jacobs says. “In talking to my friends during this project about stuff we hadn’t really talked about before, I learned a lot about myself and why, in a lot of diverse communities, patriotism means something so different.”

He says for his white friends it was a symbol of freedom and exploration. But for his friends of color, it was more reflective and pensive, not anger, but an apathy.

While he was in the process of working on the project, the nation had become obsessed with opinions on NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem.

“I realized I wasn’t crazy; this was something,” he says.

These are interesting times we are living in, and creators such as Randal Jacobs are here to interpret and document them. And just maybe along the way, they’ll open someone’s eyes to a perspective they hadn’t considered before.

Though Jacobs’ advice to emerging artists seems appropriate in any time period: “Never stop creating,” he says. “The mainstream will catch up.”

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