Early this month, as Jake Van Yahres completed his latest art project — on the side of the City Stadium press box — the Richmond Kickers practiced on the field down below.
Van Yahres was on the ground, shoring up a small detail, when he heard a round of applause begin among the roughly 30 team members in the stadium.
In his head, Van Yahres figured the clapping had something to do with the team itself. But his sister Marcelle, who was there helping, told him that he was the target of the adulation.
“And I looked up and they were all clapping,” Van Yahres said. “And so I just waved. I was like, that’s really nice of them to do.”
The artwork itself inspired the praise. The Kickers commissioned Van Yahres to paint his newest logo on the press box wall, a remix of the ubiquitous RVA logo that he imagined as protests against racism and police brutality began in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in late May.
Van Yahres’ version uses the symmetry of the “V” to symbolize a black hand and a white hand joining together, one clutching the other. It turns the RVA logo into a symbol of unity.
At City Stadium, the logo forms the beginning of the phrase “RVA IS UNITED.” Van Yahres has also painted the logo on a new mural wall on the side of the Morton building on West Marshall Street in Scott’s Addition and put an original rendition on a sign near the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue.
The logo is one project in a string of impactful design work from Van Yahres over the past few years. He’s a former VCU soccer player who turned a passion for art that was apparent at a young age into a career path.
“My thought was, ‘Well, we already have this logo now that everybody knows,’” Van Yahres said this week, explaining the conception of his RVA logo. “It’s like, ‘What if I tweak it a little bit and make it into a positive message for this time?’”
Van Yahres, a Charlottesville native, designs under his own company: JVY Creations.
The fact that he’s an artist isn’t a surprise, even if it wasn’t always his aim.
His parents, Mike and Peggy, are landscape architects. His sister Marcelle is an artist, too, and teaches the subject at Charlottesville High School.
Van Yahres picked up drawing at a young age, with his earliest subjects athletes like Michael Jordan.
But his aim, as he grew older, wasn’t necessarily to be an artist but to play professional soccer. He went to American University out of Charlottesville High School and played two seasons there before transferring to VCU, where he attended from 2008-10 while playing his final two seasons and majoring in criminal justice.
The soccer didn’t work out the way he wanted, which brought him back to the idea of pursuing art and graphic design after initially working in landscaping and construction out of college. He installed various design programs on his computer and began to teach himself.
“And then eventually I was like, ‘I want to do this full time,’” Van Yahres said.
Van Yahres began getting involved in advertising design, which is what prompted the founding of JVY Creations. He wanted to learn more and went to graduate school at The Creative Circus in Atlanta.
From there, in 2016, Van Yahres went to work at the advertising agency Argonaut in San Francisco. Out-of-the-box political art became an interest. His grandfather was Mitchell Van Yahres, the former mayor of Charlottesville (1970-72) and former member of the House of Delegates (1981-2005).
Van Yahres would pitch ideas but eventually got to the point where he wondered, “Why don’t I just do it myself?” He left Argonaut in 2017 and leaned fully into his business, JVY Creations.
Acronym, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., was his first big client and remains one. Two years ago, he helped create a campaign with Acronym centered around mobilizing young voters for the midterm election. The initiative, called “Knock the Vote,” caught national traction.
Van Yahres’ personal work has done the same. Last year, in the middle of the night, Van Yahres created a “Unity Walk” in Charlottesville at a crosswalk where Heather Heyer was killed in 2017 when a driver drove his car into a crowd during a white nationalist rally.
The chalk design reimagined crosswalk stripes as interlocking hands, similar to the theme of his RVA logo.
In 2017, with Colin Kaepernick out of the NFL in the aftermath of his kneeling protests during the national anthem in 2016, Van Yahres created a logo using Kapernernick’s jersey No. 7. He replaced the slanted line at the bottom of the number with a fist.
The logo spread quickly when Van Yahres shared it online and eventually made its way to safety Eric Reid, one of Kapernick’s former teammates, who put it on his cleats in December 2017.
This year, soon after the death of Floyd on May 25, Van Yahres had the idea to recreate the RVA logo. He manipulated it and — as he likes to do during the creative process — sent it to friends for feedback until he came up with a final version.
Van Yahres, who lives about a block from the Lee statue, publicly unveiled the design on a sign there at the beginning of June, though the piece was later stolen. It had been set to go to the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.
But at Morton, a technology staffing agency, founder and chairman Mark Morton caught wind of the design from the sign. The company, after it moved to its current location in 2018, had the idea of doing a mural on one of its building’s walls.
The idea sat on the back burner for a while, but in the midst of protests, Morton decided to use the wall to take a stand against racism and show community unity.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity to contribute, not only just a piece of art to the community, but to show our support for equality,” said Claire Octaviani, people operations manager at Morton.
Van Yahres was brought in and developed a design of the RVA logo on top of a floral background inspired by the artist Kehinde Wiley, whose “Rumors of War” statue stands half a mile away at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
To complete the wall, Morton brought in artists Chris Visions and Emily Herr, who did a mural in honor Elijah McClain, Marcus-David Peters and Brandon Robertson. Also Charles Berger and Prent, who did a piece as part of the Mending Walls mural project currently unfolding around the city.
“I think what they did was amazing,” Van Yahres said of Morton’s mural wall, which was completed last month.
At City Stadium, the Kickers were looking to add something to the previously blank, white press box wall that faces the field. Chairman Rob Ukrop went to marketing and branding manager Alyn Carr, and Carr shared a couple of potential logos the team could add to the space.
“And I just fell in love with the RVA [design], with the hands holding,” Ukrop said. “I thought that was incredible.”
So Carr reached out to Van Yahres, and the piece was completed ahead of the team’s home opener on Aug. 8.
In addition to the murals, Van Yahres created shirts, stickers and face masks with the RVA logo. A portion of the proceeds support art in the Richmond Public Schools system, and ART 180, which fosters art programming for youth living in challenging circumstances. Van Yahres donated $2,000 to each about a month ago.
When Van Yahres isn’t designing, he’s running Van Yahres Tree Company, a Charlottesville-based business that he and sister Shana Clarke purchased from their father earlier this year.
There aren’t any plans at the moment to put the RVA logo up other places. But, among other projects, Van Yahres may do work in Richmond centered around the impending presidential election — perhaps something impromptu.
And, who knows? It could be the next piece to catch the attention of the city.
“I don’t quite know what yet,” Van Yahres said. “But, be on the lookout.”