Jakey Pedro: The Waves, Wild West, and Wondrous Expressions

A conversation with Jakey Pedro and his new L.A. show, “You Are the World to Me”

Artist Jakey Pedro standing next to one of his cowboy paintings.

Abby Cox

When I was young, I remember watching the Indiana Jones films with my father in our movie night rotation, my pulse quickening as Harrison Ford’s dynamic, action-packed, and albeit handsome character traversed through the ravines wearing, throughout it all, his classic fedora. 

I love it to this day both because it was a memory shared with my father, and for the pure fun of it, the movies’ riveting and youthful freedom being experiences that are harder to serendipitously come across in adult life. 

It was then, as you can imagine, an especially impactful moment when I first encountered Jakey Pedro’s work, and felt that same emotion wash over me. And it is, therefore, a greater honor to chat with him about his work, and his life, both on and off the canvas.

We’re thrilled to introduce Worklife Studio’s first artist in residence, Jakey Pedro (Jacob Pedrana). 

Born in Noosa Heads in Queensland, Australia, Jakey Pedro is a rising star in the art world, with his work being sold to superstars like Justin and Hailey Bieber, and featured in solo shows in galleries around the globe. 

Four pictures of Hailey Bieber posing in front of Jakey Pedro's work.
Image source:

Behind and beyond the accolades, however, is an abundant life of nature, groundedness, and family: 

  • Family is everything to Jakey Pedro. 
  • He’s surfed the waves of Australia all his life. 
  • His paintings serve as reflections of his inner self. 

To reduce Pedro’s corpus into bullet points is bound to be impossible, so here’s the whole interview. 

The Origins of Pedro’s Art Practice

Silvia Li Sam: What led you to painting? 

Jakey Pedro: I’ve painted my whole life. My mom used to buy me art materials for every birthday and Christmas ever since I was a kid, so I was always into it. She just knew I loved painting so much, you know? And she always used to push each of us —I’m one of six kids— in our passions in life.  My brother was a great pianist, and he still is. She always supported what we loved to do. So I painted all through school. I never went to art school–I just surfed. But painting has always been a big part of my life. 

From Construction to Painting: COVID and the Rise of Jakey Pedro’s Career

Silvia Li Sam: You were in construction for quite a number of years, how has that impacted how you think about your career as an artist? 

Jakey Pedro: Yeah, but I didn't learn anything creatively from it. I learned about work ethic, being on time, the grind, and I've applied that aspect of my past into my work now, you know, how to be there for eight hours a day. I try to keep that same work ethic in what I'm doing now.

Silvia Li Sam: When did you fully transition to becoming a full-time artist?

Jakey Pedro: As soon as the lockdown started back in May 2020, I was still working in construction and I had been for 15 years, but I'd always painted throughout the whole time. I had just never thought about selling that work, it was always a hobby for me.

Silvia Li Sam: And then you just had your paintings at home?

Jakey Pedro: My parents still have my work from 25 years ago. I just never thought of selling it. But in May of 2020, it kind of struck me. I started putting my work on my Instagram stories. And then people were asking if it was a sale, and I was like, sure.

I named the price and then sold the first few, and then I had a commission from Hawaii. When I told him the price, he just said that’s great, and that was the beginning of my journey of selling my work. Then there were a couple of galleries in Australia that picked me up. I had solo shows, and that was kind of history from then.

Silvia Li Sam: How did you know how much you were going to charge? 

Jakey Pedro: I didn't, because a lot of artists think their work is priceless. A lot of people won't sell their artwork because they’re either too scared or too worried about what people will think, or they don't know how to price it. I came in pretty hot, and it sold, and so that's where I kind of knew what it was worth to sell at the time. Ever since then, there's been inflation, so it's come to a really nice point where I can make a very good living from it.

The Cowboy Hat and Mirrors of the Self 

Silvia Li Sam: So cowboys—very American.

Jakey Pedro: The cowboy thing is more of a metaphor. So the rodeo is more of a metaphor for life, where if you feel like you're falling off the horse and you're getting back on the horse. 

Whether it's your love life or anything in life where if you're struggling, and midway through the road the horse is bucking you off. But you're just holding on and it just goes to show that if you do fall off, you jump back on, you know, after a traumatic event or, you know loss of a loved one or, you know, that, that's more of that cowboy take, you know. 

Each of the cowboy portraits is kind of a portrait of me. Each one has a different mood, and that's really what the cowboy portraits mean.

Silvia Li Sam: So these different versions of you—which one was the hardest one to paint?

Jakey Pedro: What was the hardest idea? To be quite honest, I’m never thinking about what I'm painting, because painting is an expression for me. I think I'm an expressionist painter so that's why whatever I'm feeling I'm going to be using those colors, and generally it's pretty light. Some of the paintings get a little darker, but they always feel very light, and I think that comes out of my personality.

Silvia Li Sam: It also sounds like the town that you grew up in, had amazing waves and beaches that you painted. 

Jakey Pedro: Yeah, the pallets in my work are very soft, very pastelly because I drew a lot of my color inspiration from my upbringing and from where I was brought up. I bring in the ocean with a lot of aquas, turquoise and pinks. The colors I bring into my work also have a lot to do with bringing in the coastline.

Silvia Li Sam: I did have a question on the use of your pastel acrylics and oil paints. Why that style?

Jakey Pedro: I love artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat. He’s one of my big inspirations. I love street art, so I feel like my work's a little bit street as well. I think I'm using similar mediums to what Basquiat was using.

Those portraits in the cowboy hat are almost like Basquiat’s crowns, right? And that was something that I didn't think of at the time, but just came out. 

But then when I started seeing it more and more, and I was painting more and more, maybe that's my symbol: the Pedro Hat. And it may be that it's a rebirth of something.

“You are the World to Me”: Inspiration for Pedro’s World 

Silvia Li Sam:  Where do you get your inspiration from? You read a lot about different cultures, you've lived in Canada, you've surfed down here in California. Do you have artists that you look up to?

Jakey Pedro: I try not to follow any artists, like, in social media or in my life. I don't want it to distract me from my work, so I try and just keep to myself. But I love going to art shows. As far as inspiration goes, I think my son inspires me the most. We paint together a lot.

Silvia Li Sam:  How old is he?

Jakey Pedro: He’s seven in April, but having my son to paint with—he teaches me more about my work than I would teach him.

Children have no thought process behind their painting. There's no ego, so it’s so pure at heart. I think that they’re the best artists in the world, and that's why I think everyone, when they’re a child, is a great painter. You kind of lose that through life but he teaches me so much about being free. Not thinking about your next move, and feeling it right and being present. 

And that's what surfing taught me a lot about too. That's been a big inspiration as well, when you're riding a wave, it can feel the same as when you're putting a paintbrush on a canvas or a paper. 

You should be in the moment. If I'm not feeling it, I can't force it. There’s been a couple of times this week where I haven't been feeling well and I'll just go home because you can never force it.

Silvia Li Sam: What inspired the name “You Are the World to Me” for your show?

Jakey Pedro: That's to do with the people in my life I really love. I've had so much support from my family and friends over the last four years that I wanted to make this title about them. And more so, you know, my son, because he inspires me so much, and I want to show him that you can make a really nice and good life from doing something that you love something that's creative.

Welcoming Jakey Pedro to Worklife Studios and LA

Silvia Li Sam: As a creative person, you experience a lot of emotions: highs, lows, fears, excitement, passion. How have you navigated moments of fear? 

Jakey Pedro:  I'm actually going through one right now. Being here in a city that I'm not familiar with, and where I can feel that a bit more of the world's decay here—I've always heard about it and I can see in real life like, and back home, it’s nothing like this. 

That always invokes a little fear in me, but navigating it? I chat to my son every day on Facetime, and that always helps you when I'm traveling. But when you have a deadline, it's hardest because I've got all this work to finish by Friday. I try to meditate and I have breathing exercises I do, so I’m just trying to get back to the moment, because if I get too caught up in my head, like a lot of others do, our minds go nonstop 24 hours a day, so I just try and stay right here, right now.

Silvia Li Sam: How did you connect with Bri and Worklife Studios?

Jakey Pedro: Brianne and I have been chatting for about eight months now. She started following me on Instagram. She has always been a big fan of my work, and we've been chatting back and forth. I think she came up with the idea about doing an artist's residence at Worklife. I checked out the spot and thought it was a great idea.

This is my first show internationally. I've got a lot of American clients and buyers. A lot of my prints and originals have been selling throughout Texas and heaps down in L.A. on the coastline. I thought it was a great opportunity to bring or to paint some work here and save some shipping fees.

Silvia Li Sam: How did your values align with  Worklife Studios as an artist?

Jakey Pedro: I love creative spaces. And look, I love doing work with galleries (obviously comes with high commissions), but they do put you in the spotlight. I love working with smaller creative spaces, because they're more about the artist. They're more about emerging artists giving people a go. You find in a lot of large galleries that they’re really hard to get into. And I thought this is a great start for me in the States.

Silvia Li Sam: Are you planning to come back to LA?

Jakey Pedro: I definitely will. I was actually chatting to Bri, and regardless of how well the show goes, I'd love to come back and do another show, and Bri and I were chatting about that and how we can make it an annual thing. Maybe Texas?

Silvia Li Sam: So Jake, what's the dream? You're living the dream already. 

Jakey Pedro: I'm totally living the dream. I've got to pinch myself sometimes, I really do. It's come so far in the last five years, and I can only ever see it going further. So I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. I think my work makes people feel happy and my color palette makes people feel happy. It's bright, and in this world that we're living in right now of such confusion and separation, I think it hopefully brings a bit of lightness to heart with people who are struggling mentally.

Creating Intentional Spaces for Artists 

“I don't think about art when I'm working. I try to think about life,” Basquiat once said when reflecting on his art practice. Experiencing Jakey Pedro’s work, we feel the canvas speaking for itself: a representation of what it means to be alive.  Artists like Pedro help us feel levity and groundedness in times of chaos or mundanity. 

At Worklife, we’re excited to debut Jakey Pedro’s work in Los Angeles, and continue supporting him as he brings his creative work internationally. 

You can RSVP now to Jakey Pedro’s L.A. show, “You Are the World to Me” on March 14. 

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