Jordan E. Moss, an artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, has always known her calling. “There’s nothing else I’ve been doing my entire life other than art,” she says. “I want to create really awesome things that made me feel good and that make other people feel good.”

And Moss is accomplishing just that. She creates surreal, psychedelic dreamscapes that appear to be the past, present, and future all at once: a field of melting poppies that glimmer in the dark, stage visuals  that look like a cosmic desert, and cityscape that feel like MC Escher meets airbrush art.

“I create things that I wish were a world I could actually enter,” Moss says.

At 25, Moss has built an impressive body of work that includes commissions from Coachella; editorial illustrations for the New Yorker and Medium; environmental graphics for a David Chang restaurant; party flyers; public art installations; murals; motion graphics; and merchandise for a skateboard brand. And that’s just her personal work and freelance commissions. Her day job is in the advertising industry. She worked at McCann, first as an intern before moving up to junior designer then designer, on branding campaigns, and is now a graphic designer at Superfly, an experience agency.

“I love the fact that I am not put into one specific box because I want to be able to try everything out,” Moss says. “People ask me, ‘Oh, what do you want to do?’ I want to do everything.”

Moss’s boundless ambition and creative approach is inextricably tied to her life in New York City. She was born in Brooklyn and when she was young, she would doodle the fire escapes, taxi cabs, and buildings that composed the scenes outside of her window over and over again. Her parents were both creative people—her mom is an interior designer and her father writes poetry and makes comic books—and they encouraged her to express herself.

“New York has always been embedded in my brain as this fantastical jungle of craziness, kind of like overwhelming amounts of energy,” Moss says. “New York has been my safe space, my peace of mind, my world, and probably the driving force of me becoming creative.”

As a kid, Moss thought she would become a graffiti artist that lived off the grid, in her own world. “That probably comes from seeing all the amazing street art in New York, and feeling like you could create something as big as the buildings in New York,” she says. (The graffiti connection also explains the bubbly, airbrushed effect in much of her work.) “I wanted to be able to stamp myself over everything. I would draw all over the walls at home.”

As a kid, Moss thought she would become a graffiti artist that lived off the grid. “I wanted to be able to stamp myself over everything.”

When Moss was nine, her family moved to Delaware, where most of her extended family lives. She wasn’t as engaged with the suburbs—the slower pace and scant visual intrigue was no match for the cacophony of city life—and so she looked inward, to her imagination and dreams of New York, instead of her immediate surroundings.

“I probably got even more into my art because I felt so dissociated from everything else,” she says. “Like, I didn’t understand grass.”

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Perhaps this is why the cities and environments she illustrates feel like they’re dreams, because for years the city she was deeply connected to became distant. It was both part of her and almost a mythic, magnetic character in her imagination. When she lived in Delaware, she visited nearby Philadelphia as often as she could.

“Philly was my haven when I was in Delaware,” Moss says. “I was able to go there and feel like I was home in New York.” When she turned 17, she moved back to New York to study design and visual communications at Pratt and hasn’t left. She now lives in a studio apartment in a Bed-Stuy brownstone, filled with plants. “My little jungle, apart from the jungle I grew up in.”

Moss creates intuitively. She’s always paying attention to what’s around her and subconsciously files away certain colors, shapes, moods, and images: it could be the shape of a plant (one of her obsessions), the color palette of a film, or something she scrolled past on Instagram. These references sit in her mind for a while, and she’ll daydream about them until she imagines a visual and puts pen to paper—though more recently it’s been cursor to Adobe Photoshop screen—to sketch an image that she might return to for a project in the future.

When she works on commissions, the process is similar: collaging images and references together to build an environment. For the collaboration with Burna Boy for his Coachella stage graphics, Moss met with the musician’s creative agency to hear about what they were thinking and feeling. Outer space was a recurring theme, so she pulled visual references—photographs, prints, anything—that evoke outer space to create a visual library of sorts for the project. She then created sketches, storyboards, asset libraries, and color palettes for the graphics. Animator Aaron Fernandez brought motion to the graphics.

“There were a lot of moving parts and voices, but that works for me because my first real creative career was with McCann, the ad agency,” Moss says. “And so I kind of only know how to work with too many people and on very short timelines.”

While Moss designs visuals meant to be seen at scales anywhere between your iPhone and a festival stage, the large, outdoor work excites her the most. Last year, she was commissioned for Track Takeover, a public art exhibition on ad space in Philadelphia’s subway system, for which she illustrated a glowing cityscape. “Philly is this electric city, so I wanted to create something that felt like it was glowing in the dark,” Moss says. “It’s known as being this dark, scary city, but it has this magic to it.”

Throughout Moss’s work, there’s an undercurrent of liberation. Sometimes it’s very direct, and sometimes it’s less overt, but perhaps more subversive.

Throughout Moss’s work, there’s an undercurrent of liberation. (When people reach out to collaborate with her, they often comment that her work feels feminist.) Sometimes it’s very direct, like Woke Magazine, a personal project of hers from 2016. The satirical publication addressed our era of mass information—being constantly bombarded with the 24-hour news cycle and clickbait that exploits trauma—and misinformation—of media that doesn’t tell the full story or flat out lies. Through the publication, Moss sought to tell social and political stories—like the Flint water crisis and protests in Brazil against the authoritarian regime—in a softer, but still true, way. She also used color blocking to visually represent censorship and how news can be altered.

“It’s even more relevant now than when I first made it,” Moss says. “I was imagining what if there’s a way for me to stay up to date with current events and not have a mental or emotional breakdown from it. What style would it have? What would the illustrations and color be? The style and colors are all optimistic.”

And sometimes it’s less overt, but perhaps more subversive, like editorial work for Quell, an independently run media platform for women skateboarders. Or with artwork for Discwoman, a collective of women in electronic music, who recently dedicated the sales from one of their mixes to Equality for Flatbush, a tenants union and housing justice organization. Or her nightlife flyers.

“The party promos sort of have this utopian feeling; they’re also about wanting to create a safe space and wanting to celebrate creativity,” Moss says, noting that she’s been really lucky to work with people who feel how she feels about certain social topics and ideas. “Now more than ever, I feel—not pressure—but this need to really be clear with what my work speaks to what it's aligned with.”

Moss was involved with an open letter that illustrator Shantell Martin published about a recent flood of interest from a brand in using Black artists in solidarity campaigns after the George Floyd and movement for Black lives protests, which left her feeling pigeonholed and used.

“We’re kind of in a place of feeling exploited or tokenized, but we also want to share and produce and give as much as any creative,” Moss says. “I think every creative, let alone creatives of color, are feeling the pressure to declare where they stand. It’s a very hard space, but a beautiful space, to be in.”

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and protests for racial justice, Moss has still kept creative momentum. In July, she painted a storefront mural in East New York for Gates of Atlantic, an initiative to help small businesses in the area and beautify the streetscape. In many ways, this was Moss’s childhood wish come true: making something as big as a building in New York.

Still, Moss knows there’s much more to design and create in this world; while she’s very proud of the work she’s made so far, she isn’t yet satisfied.

“If there's a child's book that happens to have an animated element later, that would be the dream,” she says.

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