A yeti is rumored to be a large human-bear creature that creeps around the bottom of mountain slopes gobbling up slow skiers. Is it reality or a myth? No one knows, and, frankly, its authenticity is overshadowed by its purpose to humanity. The hunt for a yeti unites us and brings friend and foe together through a pursuit of mystery and intrigue.
Every community needs a yeti.
Cincinnati may find its yeti in 24-year-old street artist Elliott James, who also uses Yeti as his artist moniker.
Raised by a single mother from Indiana, James was always on the go as a child, constantly moving and adapting to new situations.
“I knew the way I was raised was something that could fuel me,” James says.
“I was raised by a cop as my recent stepfather,” he adds. “It was hard — I felt like I was always pushing against something.”
So James focused on finding a home, a place where he could go with the current instead of working against it, and Cincinnati has filled that role for him. He’s still pushing — street art is illegal here — but he wants to contribute by bringing this intimate city even closer together via his artwork.
“Most of my work is personal and Cincinnati is a personal city,” he says. “Community is something I want to build with my work.”
James feels his work adds character to the city, filling a niche. He hopes his work will inspire some kind of response — ideally it would encourage more artists to go to the streets and create, but he is open to critical feedback, too.
Some might know him for the trash-filled sandwich bags nailed to telephone poles on Garfield Place downtown; the strange wheat pasting squares with comic, hieroglyphic-like symbols on the sides of buildings in Over-the-Rhine; or the Japanese cartoon-monster Domo’s mouth on sidewalks and houses in Clifton Heights.
James’ first piece, the appropriated Domo, came from a classic muse — heartbreak. After a rough break-up, the cute brown monster just made him happy, so he started spray painting its image around Clifton Heights.
With a giant red mouth and sharp white teeth, the creature bears little resemblance to James himself, but it’s hard to not see the similarities between Domo and yeti — two misunderstood beasts.
“[Domo] is compassionate when you see it and harmless, but on the same point it’s a monster and very scary,” James says.
The same feeling applies to James’ work as a street artist. While his work could be considered vandalism, James believes he is creating art, not trying to harm anyone. “I’m just trying to do what I love and influence people,” he says.
One of the ways he tries to evoke tolerance for street art, which is treated on par with petty crimes like jaywalking in larger cities, is to exploit loopholes in the paperwork that determine legality.
James has received formal complaints from Urban Sites Developments and wants to explore what property owners deem legal or illegal. This is one of the major purposes in James’ experimental trash-filled sandwich bag project, Leaf in a Bag.
With these pieces, James creates a representation of the environment we live in from the things we neglect or forget on the ground, forcing people to consider what they throw out. He gathers these objects in sandwich bags and nails them to places where it is legal to hang flyers.
These Leaf in a Bag “collages,” as he calls them, represent James’ desire for more pieces of artwork on the street — and fewer people just writing their names on walls.
“Tagging is the way [street art] started, but we’re past that now,” he says. “You can’t just throw your name up and gain respect.”
As an artist, James is gaining respect off the street as well. He’s exhibited more traditional work such as paintings and drawings at frameshop in OTR and has participated in every Red Door Project monthly pop-up gallery.
James was recently drafted into the talent pool by ArtWorks and is waiting to be assigned a mural to work on for an assignment to and legally do what he’s already been doing — make Cincinnati beautiful. ©