Hyperrealism from a Hypercreative, With Jeremy Biggers
When it comes to Jeremy Biggers’ work, expect no lip service. But do expect lips. Robust, realistic, and, sometimes, unsettling lips. These mouthy paintings have become iconic in Dallas, Texas. And as the city’s official “Hardest Working Multi-Hyphenate,” Jeremy’s expression extends beyond paintbrushes and into every medium he can get his creative hands on. Through his brand Stem & Thorn, Jeremy explores themes of personal identity and race through his unique style of portraiture, as well as photography and cinematography. Listen to this episode of The Cultured Podcast to find out what medium Jeremy plans to tackle next as his artistic empire scales. Hint: We’re particularly excited.
Michelle Khouri 0:00
Little do you know, our lips can carry as much personality as our very own personalities. And nobody appreciates the personality of lips more than Jeremy Biggers, also known as Stem & Thorn. And that’s exactly who we’re talking about today on this episode of The Cultured Podcast.
Michelle Khouri 0:28
Welcome to The Cultured Podcast. I’m your host, Michelle Khouri. And together we’ll journey into the unknown reaches of the art world.
Michelle Khouri 0:47
Hello, my babies! As always, it is the highlight of my week to be here with you and share this space about arts and culture and everything in between. This week, we have a beautiful interview with none other than Jeremy Biggers, also known as Stem and Thorn. He is a painter–an incredible painter. He is a photographer. He is a cinematographer. He makes music videos. He has a clothing line. His wife is this incredible rapper and singer. They’re kind of a power couple in Dallas. I’m not going to blow it for you. But it’s a really fun interview and I think you’re going to enjoy it.
But first, what is my inspiration this week? Well, see, this week my inspiration is acceptance. I work on this a lot. As somebody who has natural tendencies to want to, I don’t know, like, say…control things. A need for control is something that is built into my bones. And I work to unravel that every single day of my life. Every time I sit down to a meditation, every time I’m doing business, even just having a company requires that you control to some degree. But also, what I have learned in my life is that this idea of control is totally non-existent. There is no such thing as control. So the more that we try to grasp at things and control them, the more those things are going to laugh in our faces, right? So the universe likes to show us time and again, that if we want to pretend like everything is within our control, it’ll throw us a curveball and humble us right then and there.
So I like to always, like all these situations, anytime there’s a curveball coming my way and it feels like things are out of control, I find that the more I submit to those moments, and those instances, the better and smoother the outcome. It’s pretty amazing, right? Because if you actually think about what this universe is made of, it’s made of chaos. It’s made of both chaos and control. And there is this sort of elegance and this beautiful orchestration that comes from what seems like absolute random chaos. So, not that I want my life to feel like absolute random chaos every day, but frankly, it is! Everybody’s life is absolute random chaos. So yeah, I like to submit to it. I’ve been learning more and more to let go, to let everything unfold as it’s meant to. And for me, rather than aiming for control, I just aim to put my best foot forward and do the best that I can every single day. And that is my contribution. You know, I’m saying, Well, that’s it. That’s what’s inspiring me. I’m wondering – I’m sure there’s a lot of you out there who struggle with, you know, wanting to have control over things. So hopefully this helps ease your mind a little bit.
And now it’s time to talk to Jeremy Biggers. Let’s go.
Michelle Khouri 3:45
Hello, Jeremy. Welcome to The Cultured Podcast.
Jeremy Biggers 3:49
Thank you for having me.
Michelle Khouri 3:51
So tell us a little bit about who you are and what your art forms are.
Jeremy Biggers 3:58
My name is Jeremy Biggers. I’m a creative in Dallas, Texas. I do work primarily in painting, realism specifically, portraits and photography, cinematography. I went to school for design. So I’m all over the place creatively. So yeah, that’s what I do.
Michelle Khouri 4:17
You really are. So which one came first?
Jeremy Biggers 4:20
I’ve been drawing my whole life. So I got into painting when I was in high school. I went to an art high school. So once I got into painting and realized I could knock out an image relatively quicker than drawing like, I was just straight graphite on paper, just pencil and paper guy. So to see that I can do that a lot quicker with paint, even that became kind of tedious. And I was like, okay, well, I need to be able to make images even faster than that. And so I think that’s what got me into photography, as well as just needing to be able to shoot my own reference images and not waste my days trying to find the perfect image searching google all day.
Michelle Khouri 4:56
Oh, wow. You don’t even think about that. Of course that’s such a tool for a painter, especially hyper realism, you know?
Jeremy Biggers 5:03
Right. Absolutely. And back then, it definitely wasn’t Google. It was like GeoCities or Angelfire or whatever we were searching stuff on back then.
Michelle Khouri 5:10
Encyclopedia Britannica. (laughter)
Jeremy Biggers 5:12
Michelle Khouri 5:15
Okay, so you started painting, which was a faster process for you. First, describe your style.
Jeremy Biggers 5:22
My style…so I have multiple things that I do. So, a lot of the work is dealing with who I am as a biracial person and feeling like multiple people at the same time. So who you are at home isn’t who you are at work or who you are with your parents isn’t who you are with your friends. But then I started painting lips because I just needed to sell paintings and I was like, okay, not everybody wants a painting of someone they don’t know in their home. So what can I do that’s still portraiture, but not necessarily so specific that it’s, “Oh, yeah, that’s Frank from up the street.”
Michelle Khouri 5:58
Oh, that’s interesting. So that was the beginning of the lips.
Jeremy Biggers 6:02
Right, right. And so once I started doing that I, like, everybody’s always like, “Well tell me the story, like how did you get into painting lips? And what’s the, you know, the underlying theme about those? And, you know, they want some long drawn out artistic-like, you know, this is about the existential plight of man like it’s nothing of that. It’s: I painted one. It sold, I painted another one to replace that one. It sold. And then I just haven’t stopped since. So I just keep painting them because they keep selling.
Michelle Khouri 6:29
I don’t know, I feel like Freud would disagree. So you’ve already achieved, you know, building a business for yourself. And it seems like you’re really good at continuing to build on that empire and that business by adding more creative endeavors. So that’s already a huge accomplishment to be able to align passion with purpose with bank account. So tell us about this business that you’re building now, Stem & Thorn.
Jeremy Biggers 7:00
I worked with some friends of mine doing a clothing line. It ended up getting wildly popular where we were shipping overseas and crazy numbers in terms of just content and pushing out merchandise. So that got pretty crazy.
Michelle Khouri 7:14
Jeremy Biggers 7:15
So we all came together as a group of creatives that were doing our own things individually. We came together to just say, “Okay, well, let’s just release these designs that we’re working on individually. Let’s just release them under one umbrella name.” So we did that for a few years. And then I think everybody got to the point where they weren’t fulfilled creatively. So everyone went their own separate ways. And then that’s when Stem and Thorn was born. Because events that we would do, I was doing all the legwork. And so I was like, “Well, you guys want to show up to the parties. Y’all want to show up to the quote “fun stuff”, but then you don’t want to do all the less glamorous stuff behind the scenes. And so I was like, okay, when I create my own brand, when I do my own thing it’s going to be focusing on the background work and figuring out what what it takes to get there. So how can I convey this image or this message without necessarily having myself be there to explain it? And so for this particular thing, I was like, okay, well with a rose, everyone’s there, they recognize the rose for its beauty, but no one really respects how it got to full maturity. No one clipped it before it bloomed, or, you know, weather got to it or whatever the case may have been. So to be able to, you know, respect the stem that gives the rose the nutrients through full maturity and the thorn that protects it from any predators or stuff like that. So once I figured out like, okay, Stem and Thorn, it sounds kind of cool. And if I’m being 100% honest, I wanted a brand that just had an ampersand in the logo. Yeah. It’s always like, okay, it needs to have two words that just has an and.
Michelle Khouri 8:47
So let’s take it back a little. I think that was a really nice introduction into some of the, all of the things that you do. You’re a very busy guy. In fact, you were dubbed Dallas’s Hardest Working Multi-Hyphenate, isn’t that right?
Jeremy Biggers 9:04
Michelle Khouri 9:04
Wow, okay. So you are from Dallas and you show a lot of love to your city and your area. You’re one half of a power couple. Right? Your wife is a singer and rapper, I believe?
Jeremy Biggers 9:18
Yes, the lesser half. (laughter)
Michelle Khouri 9:20
So you guys are a power couple. You have devoted yourself to sort of amplifying Dallas’s culture scene. So are you originally from, like born and raised, Dallas?
Jeremy Biggers 9:33
Yes. South Dallas near Fair Park. Yep.
Michelle Khouri 9:36
And what about this city makes you want to stick around and, like, strive to elevate it?
Jeremy Biggers 9:42
So it’s a two edged sword for me these days. I’ve built quite a bit here for myself, so I want to see it through. But then there’s also the pushback anytime any culture kind of starts creeping up or anybody starts trying to bubble a little bit. Like, just, Dallas in general, the powers that be whatever it may be. I still haven’t figured out exactly what it is. But…
Michelle Khouri 10:07
Oh, so there’s like a resistance within the systems of Dallas, like Dallas’ infrastructure.
Jeremy Biggers 10:16
Michelle Khouri 10:16
That compels you almost in a rebellious way?
Jeremy Biggers 10:20
At this point, I’m kind of, I don’t wanna say tired of fighting the fight with the powers that be, but it’s a love/hate relationship these days with the city.
Michelle Khouri 10:31
Is it that constant?
Jeremy Biggers 10:32
For sure, for sure.
Michelle Khouri 10:34
Jeremy Biggers 10:36
Michelle Khouri 10:37
And I can’t imagine the kind of battle that you would have to wage when art isn’t considered a priority.
Jeremy Biggers 10:45
Right. And it’s not that it’s not considered a priority because Dallas is one of those places that there’s a lot of old money and there’s a lot of capital being moved and switched hands. It’s just a pay to play club. There’s the same thing happening within music. The same thing happening with any level of creativity or culture. There’s just always something that’s pushing back to kind of prevent certain people from giving certain things.
Michelle Khouri 11:13
Yeah. Which is such a shame because you bring so much flavor to Dallas through your work. And it is interesting to talk about this, you know, those who aren’t seen as fine artists. And you know, we’re talking about this sort of rebellion and swimming upstream, swimming against the current. Because your art, to me, very much represents that. It’s always making a statement. And it’s bold. Everything I’ve seen from you feels bold and in your face in a way that isn’t aggressive, you know? It’s like, this is the message, this is who I am.
Jeremy Biggers 11:52
Michelle Khouri 11:52
So let’s talk a little bit about your paintings. So what would you say you’re most known for?
Jeremy Biggers 11:59
I would say I’m most known for portraiture, and just like I said, just overall realism.
Michelle Khouri 12:04
Mm-hmm. And within that subset, of course, are these like phenomenal, large-scale paintings of lips with tongues coming out of them. And they almost look like aliens. Like the tongues are crazy when they’re large-scale. A tongue is a weird thing and you don’t notice it until its massive.
Jeremy Biggers 12:25
Michelle Khouri 12:26
How did your paintings of lips evolve over time? So like, where did you start? And how did you end up where you are now?
Jeremy Biggers 12:34
So basically, the first lips that I did were for a show that happens here in Dallas every February, where every single piece no matter who the artist is, what their, you know, their title says or what their accolades are, every single piece is for $50. It’s basically to be affordable for the consumer, but also it’s a donation from the artists to the gallery, this one gallery here in Dallas. They use the funding from this show to fund paying their bills for the year basically.
Michelle Khouri 13:04
Jeremy Biggers 13:05
Every year it’s crazy. You know, it’s freezing cold. People are waiting outside. Sometimes, you know, it’s ice and snow. And they’re waiting outside just to get in the door. And, you know, they run to the piece that they want to be the first one to buy it. So they’re peeking through the windows, trying to identify the one they want to purchase. And so that was the first one I did and it was the first painting to sell at that show.
Michelle Khouri 13:28
That is so cool. What a cool event all around. What’s the name of this event?
Michelle Khouri 13:39
Jeremy Biggers 13:40
Once that one sold, I was like okay, maybe there’s something to this but maybe it was just you know, that was the closest one they could get to so that just happens to be why it sold first. So then…
Michelle Khouri 13:48
How funny that we like put those little voices of doubt in our head.
Jeremy Biggers 13:53
Oh, yeah, for sure. Because being a creative and being, you know, you’re creating something from scratch. You’re doing something that you’re trying to guess what people want. You’re trying to forecast people’s taste levels. You’re doing things that are meaningful to you but also, there’s a certain point where you’re just having to say, “Okay, I don’t know, let’s just throw something out there and see what sticks.”
Michelle Khouri 14:16
Right? And I don’t think people fully understand the level of vulnerability and courage it takes to do that.
Jeremy Biggers 14:24
Not at all. It is definitely one of those things where, you know, if it happens once you’re like, hmm maybe. But if it happens two or three times, then you’re like, okay, there’s something here.
Michelle Khouri 14:33
Jeremy Biggers 14:34
I tried to figure out well, how can I make this more interesting? Because I’m 1. Not going to be able to always use images from the internet and me doing a small “study” of a painting, you know, selling it for $50 or whatever it was at the time. Eventually, the photographer that took these photos if I get big enough, he’s going to see those and, you know, come with their hand out with their lawyer in tow like, “Hey, we have copyright of that image. We’re going to need some royalties, buddy.”
Michelle Khouri 15:01
Jeremy Biggers 15:01
So that was another reason why I was like, okay, I need to start shooting these images myself.
Michelle Khouri 15:05
What were those initial versions of the lips?
Jeremy Biggers 15:08
There always was a sensuality to them. So I think the first ones were maybe a tongue, like, licking the top lip, maybe? Maybe. And then there were red lips with grills, like bottom grills,
Michelle Khouri 15:21
Why include a grill?
Jeremy Biggers 15:21
I still wanted to incorporate my culture as a black American. And just hip-hop culture in general. I wanted to be able to include that because I feel like a lot of times that voice isn’t given the the platform just in art in general. It’s not really valued the same way. It’s getting a little bit better for sure. But when I started this, it wasn’t really getting the recognition and the attention that I think is warranted. So I always wanted to include something that kind of harkens back to just like hip hop roots and just, like I said, just being a black American. And so I was like, “Okay. It’s lips. It’s pop art. People want that. But I can still throw a little bit of myself into it.”
Michelle Khouri 16:06
So you’re really business-minded. I mean, everything you’ve talked about has been really strategic. Mostly.
Jeremy Biggers 16:13
Michelle Khouri 16:14
So what are you first and foremost: a businessman or an artist?
Jeremy Biggers 16:18
I think in order to be a successful artist that doesn’t have a day job, you have to be a CEO of your own entity. It’s about putting people in place and delegating certain items.
Michelle Khouri 16:28
Right. And so do you have a team that helps you?
Jeremy Biggers 16:30
I don’t have a team per se. My wife is a superstar so she helps me with quite a bit stuff and, you know, helping me with bouncing ideas and things that I may have something in mind that I want to do. And she’s really good about keeping me humble and telling me that’s not it. That’s not the one.
Michelle Khouri 16:49
Jeremy Biggers 16:50
Go back to the drawing board. Do it again.
Michelle Khouri 16:51
It’s so important to have somebody like that in your corner. So you know, in addition to the lips that you paint and that you’re so well-known for, you do some really spectacular portraits. You do this really incredible thing where you duplicate the face. How would you describe that for the Cultured Crew?
Jeremy Biggers 17:12
I wanted to figure out how to tell the story of feeling like multiple people at once. So like I said, just growing up being half-black, half-white, I never really felt like I fit into either side of the family. And I was trying to figure out okay, if I’ve always had that feeling since I was a kid, I probably can use that within my work. And so I did a couple. And after doing the first show and seeing how well it was received, and having conversations with people, I realized that it wasn’t a mutually exclusive biracial experience. Everyone feels like multiple people at once.
Michelle Khouri 17:43
Jeremy Biggers 17:44
Because that is such a thing that everyone experiences, I was like, okay, I can open this up and make this a lot more broad. And not just have to include people that look like me necessarily. I can include anyone. I can make this a multiple, I guess multiple dimension thing. So again, going back to the business-minded side of things, I didn’t want to do the traditional sports painting where it’s, you know, you see these, at like sporting goods shops. And they’re usually rendered really well, but there’s no soul behind them. There’s no…you know, it’s basically just a backdrop for your jersey or a backdrop for an autograph. I wanted to do something that wasn’t so, you know, middle-of-the-mall art.
Michelle Khouri 18:25
Jeremy Biggers 18:26
For sports. So, again, if I paint my friends, if I paint people that I know or people that I’ve come across, there’s very few occasions where people want a painting of this random person just in their home. But when it comes to celebrity and sports culture, you know, people will hang a large photo of Marilyn Monroe in their home or Audrey Hepburn. We can name people for days. But with that being the case, I was like, okay, well, I know that people would want a Michael Jordan or LeBron or whoever. So let me just go ahead and paint these just to see if there’s something to that, you know? Adding my own little spin to it. So that’s where the the sports and athletes came in.
Michelle Khouri 19:08
This keeps coming up on the show across all these different interviews because it really is something that this split identity or many identities is something that I think a lot of people relate to. And it ends up being something that fuels a lot of artist’s work. And so there is this constant conversation about how to reconcile those conflicts because for whatever reason, our society here in the United States, but also across the world, demands that we be easy to classify, easy to categorize, easy to label. And when you’re not, it flusters people. And that confusion on their part can sometimes turn into aggression. It can turn into isolation. It can translate into a lot of negative experiences, even traumatic experiences. So I think it’s really beautiful. I had no idea that those paintings, those portraits with these like, you know doubled up eyes, doubled up mouths or like one face facing to the right and then another face facing to the left or some of the more jarring ones where there’s like a face on top of and where like the forehead should be. I had no idea that that was meant to reflect the reconciling of multiple identities.
Jeremy Biggers 20:35
Michelle Khouri 20:36
Jeremy Biggers 20:37
Thanks. And with those I was trying to make it as uncomfortable for the viewer as it feels for me when I’m in those situations.
Michelle Khouri 20:43
Jeremy Biggers 20:44
And so I wanted it to be something that you couldn’t look away from but you also didn’t want to stare directly at.
Michelle Khouri 20:53
I love that.
Jeremy Biggers 20:53
So yeah, that’s awesome that that worked. And then as far as the not easy to being classified that’s absolutely true. Everyone always tries to…they use it as kind of an insult these days, the whole jack-of-all-trades argument. And they always try to, you know, emphasize the latter-half of that first half of that quote of, you know, “You’re jack of all trades, but you’re a master of none…” But the rest of that quote is, “but oftentimes better than a master of one.” But no one ever realizes that no one ever quotes that part of it.
Michelle Khouri 21:25
Oh, I never realized that was the rest of it.
Jeremy Biggers 21:28
Yeah. And so anytime somebody tries to do that, or they try to downplay, you know, you could be a really amazing painter, if you just let go of, you know, splitting your attention with photography or cinematography or whatever. I always have to abruptly remind them that just because you can’t be great at multiple things, doesn’t mean I can’t. So don’t project your limitations on to me.
Michelle Khouri 21:52
Oh, I love that. Speaking of greatness, what’s up next for you? What are you in the middle of? And where do you hope to be soon?
Jeremy Biggers 22:02
I am starting a podcast.
Michelle Khouri 22:05
Jeremy Biggers 22:09
Yeah. I’m starting a podcast as well as some courses of just you know teaching people that want to learn to paint.
Michelle Khouri 22:15
Oh cool, are they online?
Jeremy Biggers 22:16
As well as photography courses. Oh yes, they’ll be online. Also be doing some in person as well. But primarily the initial push is going to be online. So I’ll be doing that. That’s probably the most pressing thing that I’m working on right now. As well as, like, a YouTube channel.
Michelle Khouri 22:32
Congratulations. So where can the Cultured Crew find out about all of these happenings, all of this goodness that you have coming?
Jeremy Biggers 22:44
Yeah, I am on all social media under the same name, just Stem and thorn all spelled out: stemandthorn. And then yeah, then wifey, if you want to check out her music is The Sam Lao: thesamlao. Oh yeah, I also have a website: JeremyBiggers.com. It houses everything that I do.
Michelle Khouri 23:09
Thank you so much for being with us today. We really appreciate your time and you have just left us with so much inspiration.
Jeremy Biggers 23:17
Well, I appreciate that. Thank you for having me.
Michelle Khouri 23:23
Well, it’s clear that Jeremy is a hyper creative if I’ve ever heard of one. You’ve got to appreciate that kind of drive. I hope you stay that driven until our next journey into the unknown. Keep it classy. Keep it curious. Keep it Cultured.
Michelle Khouri 23:45
Visit CulturedPodcast.com for show notes and subscription links. The Cultured Podcast is a production of my podcast production company FRQNCY Media. I’m the host Michelle Khouri. Enna Garkusha is our fabulous producer. Becca Godwin is our wonderful associate producer. Our sound engineers are Cooper Skinner and DonTae Hodge. And we’re recording at ListenUp Audio in Atlanta, Georgia.