Jesse Draxler brings an unexpected set of tools to the canvas: colorblindness and relentless self-questioning. Though most would see these aspects as a negative, Jesse uses them to balance out his work. His colorblindness gives him an angle on color that the rest of us lack. This self-questioning serves as Jesse’s ‘counsel,’ or a second inner voice constantly interrogating the ways his work could improve.
Fortunately, the visual artist knows himself well. From meditation, to travel, to binaural beats, he knows how to maximize his own potential and extricate himself from creative dead ends. CONVICTS caught up with Jesse on the phone and got his word on the relationship between sound and visual art, the difference between city and country, and the sometimes frightening experience of ego-loss.
Hey Jesse, how’s it going man? Why did you back from your recent adventures?
I had to get back because I have a show coming up and a book coming out and all that shit. Once we finally finally nailed down dates on all that I had to get back and get my ass back to work on this shit.
Can you tell us a bit about this book you’re working on?
What does that mean?
It’s when someone has a really negative reaction to sound, when you hear something and it gives you an over-the-top extreme reaction. We all fucking experience that sometimes. But that’s misophonia. When sounds give you an extreme overreaction in a negative way.
What is the relationship between sound and your work?
I use it like a tool if I’m not sure what I’m doing, if I’m not sure how to make what I want to make. I’ll listen to music that sounds the way I want a project to look, if that makes sense. I’ll almost piggyback on the music to get to the goal. If I know a feeling can be produced by music, through that music I can create a visual that matches. Sometimes, it’s easier for me to understand my own feelings through music than it is through a visual medium. Then, though, I’m able to understand a visual better through music, you know what I mean? It’s like a conduit.
Talk a little bit about your process. How do you translate what you’re feeling into a piece that will cause the viewer to feel something similar?
It’s important to maintain objectivity. There’s irony in me saying that because I’m like the least objective person when it comes to my work. I have the hardest time being objective about it. I’ll find out that nobody even notices the one little thing I’ve been obsessing over. I’ll realize that I’ve been living in a fantasy world that I’ve created and it’s not consensus reality. So I have a really hard time being objective, but when I get pretty deep in that tunnel of my own reality, that’s not a true reality.
Travelling seems to factor into your process. Can you talk a bit about how that instinct relates to your process?
That instinct is huge. The times that I’ve noticed I needed to step away, I do step away for a set period of time. Like two to three weeks. I force myself to slow down. If I didn’t do that, I think I would spontaneously combust, split into pieces, I don’t know. When I look back after a break, I realize how deep of a place I was in, how deep down my own rabbit hole I went. So yeah, it’s really important.
Is it simply the process of travel that clears you out? Or is it the places that you go?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t like putting absolutes on things, but personally there’s a big difference between the city and the woods or the wilderness. That’s something I’ve been exploring a lot lately. City seems like an extension of the self, of the ego, of everybody’s ego. When I go out in the city, I don’t feel like I’m even outside. Even when you’re outside, you’re inside. You’re inside the constructs of somebody else’s idea. When you’re in nature, there aren’t not those constructs anymore. So when I go out and bike through the city I’m gathering inspiration, I feel like I’m very much still doing art, but it is a relief. The simple physicality of that is a huge help to clear my mind, but doesn’t release me from my own self the way that going into the country or the wilderness does.
Can you elaborate a bit on that?
The last time I was out there in the woods, there was an ego dissolution. That sounds pretentious but I lost myself in a way for a period of time. I almost got scared because I just didn’t care about art. A snow storm hit and it had been a while since I experienced something like that, so I was out walking and taking photos for a few days just being mesmerized by how beautiful this was. After a few days I realized that I hadn’t been thinking of my own art and then when I started to think about it, I just didn’t care. It didn’t seem important. It seemed to pale in comparison to what I was experiencing.
What happened then?
I was like, ‘Shit. How do I make myself care about this thing again? Because if I don’t I won’t have any money to survive.’ I don’t have any other ways to survive, so it was scary for a moment. That’s what inspired the idea to bring a project with me and work on it out there for a month and see what kind of work I produce because I don’t feel like the same person after a while. It would be like a different person making it, but I’m hoping to strike a balance at some point between the two.
Do you seek counsel from your peers or are you confident enough in your own vision to not have to do that?
I don’t think those are mutually exclusive; seeking counsel or not seeking counsel implying that you’re confident in yourself. Being an artist comes with a certain degree of self-doubt no matter what. And if there isn’t…I don’t know. The counsel is when you doubt yourself. Then I really start to dig in and think why or I don’t know.
How does your work change from project to project? Do you consciously respond to your prior work?
It should be a very organic process. I’m not the type of artist who works in one style and then all of a sudden decides that I’m going to try something I’ve never tried before and go completely off the map. I don’t even know what that would be anymore because my process has led me to try almost everything I’ve ever wanted to try. The diversity is really important though. I switch mediums often and I use a lot of different media and painting collage drawing digital. I take photographs and do a lot of different things. I rotate through those in this sort of ritualistic way. They go in these cycles where I’ll be collaging for a long time then the next thing I do will have to be a painting or a drawing. Again it’s not really like this purposeful thing of knowing what I’m doing it just comes naturally.
So you don’t consciously try to do new things?
If you’re trying to try a new thing, that’s kind of an oxymoron. It’s not the right way to go about doing anything. You should have it built in organically. You can build rituals into your processes, then switch up the medium through the processes and rituals.
Switching gears a bit. What are the things you struggle with?
Have you heard of imposter syndrome? A friend told me about it once, then I looked it up to make sure it was a real thing and it’s a real thing. Then, I was at my therapist’s office a while ago and I saw it on the cover of a mental health monthly. My self-doubt, my blocks are always tied to mental health issues in a way. I don’t like that term mental health issue. I don’t know if it’s a chicken and egg scenario, where the blocks come because I get depressed or I get depressed because the block comes. After a while, they flop back and forth where they are one in the same. They feed into one another. It’s a vicious cycle of wondering whether all you do is trite and meaningless, if it’s saying enough, if it’s saying too little, if it’s saying too much, I don’t know. It’s all those things that feed into it. To get perspective you have to step outside yourself and see yourself from an objective point of view as much as possible.
Is it only travel that offers perspective like that or do you have other methods?
I’m always trying to chill out so I do exercises when I can’t get away and take a long break. I try to stop myself whenever I remember that I have two seconds and listen to binaural beats or meditate as ways to get away without getting away. There’s a quote from this a nun in Chef’s Table. Season 3, episode one, this nun talks about freedom and what real freedom is. She says it’s the ability to go inside of your mind and outside of your mind then inside your mind. That’s real freedom. I’m nowhere near being able to do or even conceptualize what she means. But that idea is exactly what I strive for and will continue to strive for until I get it completely. That’s where I try to find balance: when I have self-doubt and question myself, I just try to dig in.
Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with color?
I obviously work completely in monochromatic greyscale and for the time being I’m not interested in working in any color. When I see color in other people’s work used well, I admire it for sure but I never envy it, if that makes sense. There hasn’t been any moment since I’ve stopped using color where I’ve thought I should try color again, or wished that I used color. I’ve already told you I’m colorblind, so that plays into it, but mostly, working in greyscale helps me in lots of ways. That’s more the reason than me not being really able to see color. It enhances so many other things like composition and shape. When you work in greyscale, those are the things that are the most important. Working in greyscale removes a whole dimension that you’d have to worry about. It doesn’t matter. By taking something away, I gain a lot.
Right on. Lastly, why do you continue to produce the work that you do?
I’m the only thing in my way as far as being fulfilled with my career. It doesn’t get any better than this. I’m literally fulfilling dreams, like having a book coming out and being released on one of the best independent record labels in existence ever is a literal dream come true. If I told that to myself fifteen years ago I would have pissed my pants. I would have lost it. Once those things start happening you realize, ‘Oh shit, this is my life. I’m in it. I’m in the middle of it. I’m not waiting for it to happen anymore. It’s not the anticipation for things to come it’s actually these things.’ But then you realize, ‘Oh shit I’m not 100 percent fulfilled or whatever.’ I don’t like to use the word happiness because it’s just so trite and clever — I don’t know if I even believe in such a concept — but you realize the yearning, the hole inside you doesn’t go away. Then I realize the only thing that could make life better is improving myself and the only thing in the way of that happening is me.