Focus on the shine.
JB Ghuman, Jr. has the tendency to destroy all serenity with his grandiose persona like a foul-mouthed rainbow-colored tornado. Funnily enough, the artist’s childlike obsession with pretty things is what helps to create the foundations of his color wheel persona. We seldom cross paths with such a vibrant, spectacle of a person who so refreshingly radiates optimism–his positive sloganeering typified by his anthem–and his youthful spirit so effortlessly conjures the beloved playthings of our youth. You only need a quick survey of his Los Angeles pad, aptly named “STARLAiR”, to see what we mean. At the heart of his enterprise is a purity of aesthetics, which is made abundantly clear in his immediate surroundings. Words alone are unsuitable for such a stupendous find, so scroll through the gallery above and read on for our intimate conversation.
You seem to live a life of fantasy very outwardly from day-to-day. Is that sometimes difficult to maintain?
I usually express myself through Instagram, music videos and Grace Jones movies, so obviously with something like this, it’s a bit clumsy for me. If you want me to use words… [Laughs] I guess to answer your question, it is difficult to maintain. I think the irony is that I’m happy, but in terms of inspiration, I’m in constant pursuit of it. As with any artist, we have some darkness in our lives too, which can get extreme at times. That’s one of the reasons why I moved to Skid Row. You can get pulled into drugs or surround yourself with self-destructive people, which is common on Skid Row. But the point is that you can take the dark in these lives and match it with light. It’s that pursuit, which is what people are observing I think. So although it can get hard to keep up, do I really have a choice if I want to be happy? No, I don’t.
What were you like as a kid?
I was a chubby kid, which is rad because now I have shoulders. [Laughs] I got called fat a lot. In elementary school, I was really quiet and shy. I lived with my mom and my sister, and we moved around. My sister was a year ahead of me and when I got to middle school, she was leaving the eight grade. She got these giant tits and had blonde hair and green eyes, so all the gangster boys loved her. In middle school, I became a cool kid because of my sister. That’s when I got into rap and got gold teeth. I was this thug, but that shy boy from elementary school was still in there. I would come home and watch He-Man and cry, believing in the lessons. I would watch Ghostbusters and understand why Slimer was actually a good ghost. I loved The Little Mermaid, Ducktails and TailSpin. It was such a good time. That went on until I was 20. I was sitting around listening to scores by myself, being a wacko. On the outside, I was a breakdancing thug, fucking every girl with gold teeth. I shit you not!
You were the only white kid in that group.
I was. I just love music, man. I love bass. Especially in my situation, I don’t do drugs and I don’t like gangs. Granted, I did at the time and I was having sex with chicks, but I still had to somehow not get the shit kicked out of me. I couldn’t be a fucking nerd. Breaking was dope and got really into it. [Cop cars pass.] Hear the sirens? Skid Row, man. You should see my street. It’s crazy.
I used to live in Downtown L.A. I didn’t go in very deep. I lived on Flower.
Flower Street! Oh, girl.
You spent some time in New York. What brought you out there?
I graduated high school in ’99 and went to New York in 2000. My buddy was moving there to become a fashion designer and asked me if I wanted to come along. He was actually my first gay buddy. When I went to New York, I fell in love with it right away. It was humming with energy. I was a Miami boy all the way. The magic of Miami like the beaches, the warm sand and just the way the city breathes is so fucking dope. Then you go to New York and it has that energy too, but in a totally different way. It was fascinating to me. I also knew I wanted to be an artist then. I’m sure Miami has a huge art scene, but I wasn’t in it. I was a 19-year-old closeted gangster, so I didn’t fit in. [Laughs] I never even knew people like that existed and New York was full of them. I love the subway and staring at the cracks. Harlem is amazing. It’s a gorgeous city.
When did L.A. enter the picture?
I came out to L.A. with a friend of mine. She was my roommate in New York. I was an actor at the time. I had booked something in L.A., but I didn’t like it here. I hated it, dude. I would rather be a struggling artist in New York in the dead of fucking winter or summer than drive down the streets of L.A. as a struggling actor. It’s so mind-numbing, but doing that taught me so much about myself and my own insecurities. I also found something I couldn’t find in Miami and New York–Malibu. It’s a sick place. What a gorgeous GPS point. The shoreline, the cliffs… Breathtaking. So now I love L.A. I even love Skid Row because it reminds me of Harlem. I was able to pinch some of Miami and reconstruct Harlem to make my own little bubble.
How did you get into acting? Did you actively pursue it?
I sort of fell into it. I did some of it in high school. When I was in New York, someone asked me on the subway if I wanted to do an Urban Outfitters campaign. I was like, I don’t do that. I’m not a model. Until they said it pays $1,700 a day… I was a struggling artist. The campaign led to a spread in Seventeen magazine and they threw money at me again. It was like, really? For wearing jeans? That then led to a Pringles commercial. In L.A., commercials led to a pilot and I did something on Scrubs. I was in an indie film that took me to Sundance. I eventually got to a place where I didn’t want to do it anymore because I wasn’t happy. But I learned so much during my brief stint as an actor, while making a shitload of money. I was able to learn how to use equipment by just being in front of the camera and that changed my whole life.
So that experience was your direct path to filmmaking. You never aspired to make movies when you were growing up, did you?
Those experiences definitely took me here. I didn’t think I would ever become a feature director. It was just part of my evolution. I wrote Spork in 2005 and kept fucking with it for 4 years.
Can you recall some memorable movies that have influenced you?
I saw Welcome to the Dollhouse by Todd Solondz and loved it. I’m not a huge fan of his darker stuff though. It’s too dark. I fucking throw glitter into the air and the characters in his movies say things like, “I fingerbang my daughter.” [Laughs] His earlier movies were gayer and campy. He was like a dry version of John Waters. With Spork, I wanted to make something funny and make fun of certain stereotypes. I wanted to have fun with it. Spork started out kind of pointless and self-absorbed, but ended up being something far different. I think the fat kid on the swing always comes out in me. As I continued to rewrite the script, I was adding more of my personal stuff and it took on a lot of heart.
Spork is how I first learned about you. When it picked up the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, I wanted to check it out for myself.
Isn’t that neat? When I started making the movie, my dad moved on. It was really dramatic, dude. I was in this crazy relationship at the time too. I had fucking 18 days to shoot it. Also, before Tribeca, Sundance passed on it and my producers took the film away from me. They told me my edit was too weird and moody, and that no one would get my visuals. It was gnarly. This is not a JB thing. It’s a human thing and I think people should know that. I barely got into Tribeca. At that point I was like, I don’t care. I wanted to get stoned and walk around the city. Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal wanted to talk to me at the day of the awards, so I went. But I was like, why am I going? I’m not going to win. As I’m sitting there waiting for this bullshit ceremony to end, they said, the Audience Award blah blah blah Spork! I could not believe it. You cannot be serious. It’s this crazy money prize. I went to Times Square to watch the sunrise like I had planned, but not in the way I expected to at all. I’m literally going to start getting teary-eyed right now.
What have you been working on since then?
William Morris Agency signed me after Spork came out. They really pushed me to go studio with my next film and I didn’t want to do that. In their defense, everything I just told you, they don’t know anything about. I think if you’re an agent, you should at least respect your client. You know how personal this emotional journey has been for me and I want to have that experience again on a larger scale. Not only did John Waters and Todd Solondz really impress me with their beautiful albeit small films, I’m also very inspired by directors like Tim Burton. I’m very inspired by Baz Luhrmann. Romeo & Juliet gave me goosebumps and Moulin Rouge blew my mind. I want to make larger than life spectacles full of emotion. I had less than a million dollars to make Spork and shot it in 18 days, while literally blowing kisses into the wind, Paula Abdul style, at my dad under crazy circumstances. [Laughs] So I would like to take another swing at it.
How did you respond to your agent about working in the studio system?
They weren’t having it and kept saying I needed to do a studio film. That’s when I brought up the idea of making a live action Jem and the Holograms movie. William Morris represents Hasbro, so it seemed perfect. I had all this money from winning awards for Spork, so I used 15 grand to bring the concept to life with a giant photoshoot. I pitched that to Hasbro and Universal. Although they loved it, they were kind of freaked out because it’s an ’80s cartoon. They wondered, whose going to see this movie? You want a Transformers type of movie where the core audience would be faggots and girls. [Laughs] I wanted to do this Sin City meets Sucker Punch sort of thing. My next film is called Rhino and I just finished the script.
Was your agent receptive to that one?
William Morris said it was cool, but again, they asked me if I thought I was going to get it made. It went something like, we love you, but we don’t know how to angle this. You won all these awards, but you’re not keeping the lights on in here because you pass on everything, won’t make a studio film and you’re not taking commercial work. You have no intention of meeting with this and that actress. You’re so snobby. I went to Griffith Park Observatory every single day for almost 2 years at sunset to watch that bitch go down. I have to make this film. Spork was about an 11-year-old hermaphrodite who learns to love herself by talking to her dead mom’s stuffed animal and breakdancing on a Twister pad. To better answer your question, I decided to do what I did with Spork. I’m going to close my eyes and jump on my own magic carpet. I’m not doing this out of arrogance or cockiness. I just want to express how I feel the way I feel necessary. You shouldn’t let money or career opportunities dictate what you want to put out into the world.
I also wanted to discuss your music video work. Would it be fair to say that you only work with people you like?
Since I didn’t want to do anything else except focus on my next film, I’ve been working on a shitload of music videos. People like Luciana, Cazwell–all these dope people–have allowed me to do my thing with them. Lady Tigra did the soundtrack for Spork. It’s all really neat. And I don’t think it’s nice to name names and say disrespectful things, especially when they’re not here to defend themselves, but I do have artists that I’ve worked with who don’t appear on my website and who I wouldn’t work with again. Looking back, it was completely self-absorbed on my part why I worked with them. I wanted their notoriety to push my own name. I thought if I tried to express myself through them, it would be worth it even if I didn’t particularly admire them. I might as well be an actor again at that point. No diss on actors! I’ll even go make a video for a country artist even though I’m not a big fan of that kind of music as long as they’re a dope person who’s humble. If I make something with you and it’s really fucking cool, you need to take that energy and recycle it. You have to meet that quota for me. I’ll stay up til 8 in the morning and work for free. So I do have to be a fan of the person in order to creatively jizz through them. [Laughs]
What’s your perspective on contemporary queer cinema? Why is it that films that get the most attention for its artistry are always so bleak?
There’s no real roundabout way to answer something like that. If you ask me on a psychological level, it’s going to be blunt. If you want me to be blunt, I think people respond to those kinds of movies because they’re hurting themselves. Not to sound like Miss Cleo or Doctor Freud, but it’s the truth. Life is an adventure and the word adventure doesn’t make it necessarily fun. You don’t want to meet your soulmate and fuck that up. You don’t want to watch people die. You don’t want to realize you don’t like yourself. Your parents are going to die one day. You’re going to get old. You’re probably going to get fired one day or come to hate your job.
I was just in Cardiff in Wales where I was on the board judging films. I was sitting there in my wolf hat and a pink cardigan with my giant tities, alongside people like a Vogue editor and a film critic from London. We had to pick movies and, like you said, they wanted things that were so fucking dark! I had to sit through film after film and short after short that I couldn’t miss. I sat through these screenings hungover, watching people kill themselves and being told how they were faggots. I got into this big debate with Vogue’s grey-haired fierce European bitch. Their argument for the dark film was that it’s real because it portrays what happens in the real world. That’s great and I understand that. That’s great, Tony the Tiger! But that dark shit affected people and it spread. People saw it and it brought darkness into their lives. They went home and felt just a little heavier because you decided to share that with them. You’re hijacking beautiful things from humans. Going back to your question, I do see it. I do think curators have the responsibility to show the upside. I know people will roll their eyes and go, whatever queen. It’s just how I feel.
How was your trip otherwise?
I’m crazy and I’m crazy everywhere. In Cardiff, I was up til 7 AM. I fucking streaked down the street and no one even knew it. I did crazy shit. [Laughs] I got fucking stoned. I got drunk and woke up in some random house. When I travel to these cities, I need to really experience them because I might never be back. I’m going to live it up.
I have a feeling you have an interesting story behind the wolf hat.
A random lady was selling it on the street and that bitch sold me the hat! There were different hats of course… It’s not like she’s a fucking psycho. Actually, that might be kind of neat. An old lady is just standing there, “TAKE THE HAT“. [Laughs] But it wasn’t. It was a peddler. This was around the time when shit was really hard for me and it was so dark, dude. I got this hat and it was silly, but I loved it. When you get emotional and you’re going through things in life, people put on their sunglasses to kind of hide their tears. For me, I just put on my wolf hat, girl! Everything has a meaning. My necklace has a meaning. This is my life. What do you want me to do? I don’t want people to know about all the darkness in my life. I don’t want them to see pain. But sometimes you need to tell your story in order for people to understand where you’re coming from. Just do what I’m doing. Focus on the shine.