Artist Taj Francis Is Building His Own World. Appleton Estate Just Brought His Vision to Basel

Taj Francis speaking at the Appleton Estate event. All photography courtesy of Appleton Estate.

Taj Francis has always been crafting his own reality. 

“I would come home every day and draw a comic book page in high school: It was an obsession,” he admits. Creating this work only for himself, the Jamaican-born, Kingston-based artist formed the basis of a disciplined, generative practice, one which continues to ground him to this day. His references—everything from manga to Jamaican festivals to the work of Wifredo Lam and Mœbius—meld together until he is “marbling tropicality” to create the existence he seeks.

Thursday night, Appleton Estate brought the artist’s vision to Basel, Switzerland, with an intimate cocktail hour at Acqua presenting his work and highlighting Jamaican excellence. Timed with the annual art fair, the evening buzzed with the effervescence of the scene as collectors, advisors, gallerists, and art lovers alike sipped on Appleton Estate aged rums while making conversation. Master Blender David Morrison and Francis himself both gave speeches as guests drank Appleton Mai Tais and Daiquiri cocktails, and DJ Atiké spun Afrobeats in the rustic, industrial space throughout the night. 

For Francis, the opportunity to travel to the Swiss art hub represented more than personal success; it was about expanding the narrative around Jamaican creativity. “People associate Jamaica with music or tourism, islands, and sports. When you speak about art, people don't necessarily think, ‘Oh, well, Jamaican visual arts.’” He’s quick to point out the cultural impact of such a small country—home to just over 2.8 million people—and the artists who have inspired his own work, namely the late painter Barrington Watson. “He had a particular way of capturing that Caribbean essence and Jamaican-ness that definitely resonated for me … It made me look [differently] at making art about the space you're from, taking simple things and making them extraordinary.” 

His “surreal Black Caribbean aesthetic” transmutes everyday scenes to ones outside time: The “Gilded Suns” series crafts a West African Gilded Age separate from the framework of Western colonization. Saturated yet sharp murals electrify his figures, as if their pulsing electricity was captured in a snapshot. No matter what medium the artist is working in—pen and ink, digital art, spray paint, animation, the list goes on—he prioritizes the cohesive worldbuilding he’s been pursuing since adolescence. “It's something that I always want to feel.”

Yet even with his continued success, Francis isn’t keen to rest on any laurels—or labels. “I don't readily label myself because I still consider myself a student of these mediums … I want to leave room to be able to grow and learn.”