Artist Spotlight: Jay Jenkins –– Woke3
By Marq Burnett
Photography by Keep3
Jamal “Jay” Jenkins, known artistically as Woke3, describes himself as a melanated muralist and mixed-media artist from “Norf” (North) Nashville.
Jenkins was born outside of Los Angeles but left the West Coast at the age of 4. The “Norf” raised and made him into the man he is today, and he hasn’t forgotten that upbringing. It’s so integral to him that it’s in the name of the art collective he founded: Norf Art Collective.
You don’t just see Jenkins’ work, you feel it –– a man using his unique talents to ensure his community is represented in a positive, confident and bold way.
Woke3’s gift is the ability to make people feel connected, appreciated, respected and submerged in his artworks. His works are praised by the community for being diverse and inclusive and for showing how no one thing is greater than another while expressing his heart for a more equitable world for all.
He fell in love with art in high school, doing graffiti and painting on trains with friends. He became engulfed by the history behind it and how expressive it allowed him to be.
That love was harnessed and showed signs of becoming a career during his days at Tennessee State University.
Jenkins originally thought his path would be computer science because he and his friends enjoyed taking computers apart. But a conversation with friend and mentor Michael “Ol Skool” Mucker –– who Jenkins refers to as a legend –– turned pursuing and creating art into his sole focus.
“Ol Skool” told him to get in touch with Michael McBride, a painting/drawing instructor at TSU.
“After talking to them and being around other artists in classes, I got the chance to see and study artists who were living off their work,” Jenkins said. “One of my favorite artists I got introduced to is Justin Bua. When I saw his work and read his book, it changed everything, and I decided to go for it.”
Bua is an artist, author, speaker and entrepreneur widely known for his lyrical narrative paintings of musicians, along with developing visual concepts for the video games NBA Street (2001) and NFL Street (2004).
“When I found out he did those games, I was like ‘Damn, this dude is hard,’” Jenkins said. “He was doing graffiti back in the golden era. His style was dope. I didn’t even know you could paint like that. He gave me a new height to reach.”
Jenkins hopes to leave his mark on younger artists, the community and the youth in his neighborhood through his works.
That starts with focusing on the business side and ensuring that his family is well taken care of. In his quest for better balance and structure in his life, he’s made changes like journaling, eating better, getting rest and even using his calendar to create goals and keep up with what’s going on throughout his weeks.
Those are all things that sound simple but can get in the way of the creative process for an artist.
He’s committed to taking time off when needed and dedicating that to his family.
He’s leaning on the woman in his life, Angel Adams, to help guide him.
“She moves in a way that’s really inspiring, and she gets things done,” Jenkins said. “She’s sharing her knowledge, and I thank her for that.”
Woke3 founded Norf Wall Fest in 2015 by inviting local artists to create several murals that spoke to the social consciousness, history, beautification and livelihood of the North Nashville neighborhood.
But Norf Wall Fest is more than just murals. It is described as an inclusive festival for the celebration of cultural, visual and performing arts by local artists. The 2021 Festival is scheduled for June 12.
“I want to invite the community to be a part of this mural we’re creating. I want it to reflect the community and its legacy,” Jenkins said. “We want to acknowledge our history, our ancestors and what they left behind. You also want to pass the baton. I want to make sure I’m providing opportunities and speaking messages onto the wall. We want this to be something that will represent the community and for it to be something the community will be proud of seeing. It’s like a gift. I’m from here, and I want to leave something here that’s going to be up for years.”