MEET: Jesse Wright
From shredding astronauts to shark-surfing skeletons, illustrator Jesse Wright aka JESWRI creates weird and wonderful characters sprawled across walls, t-shirts, records, and sometimes even beers.
There’s a reason Jesse’s work looks like some of your favourite childhood cartoon characters. On acid. The self-confessed “big, bearded, tattooed kid” draws inspiration from comic books, cartoons and toys, then stretches the idea past the point of no return.
Once a trouble-making teenager with a spray can, these days Jesse has a belt full of wisdom and a playlist of love-fuelled pop songs to inspire upcoming artists to pursue their dreams of full-time artistry. With a whirlwind of projects on the horizon and group exhibition DÉJÀ BREW just one week away, we chatted to Jesse about refusing to grow up, his journey as an independent artist, some of his favourite projects to date and why a rescue dog makes the best administrative assistant.
YOUNG HENRYS: Tell us how it all began! How did your love for art blossom initially, and evolve into more than just a hobby?
JESSE: I've always been into art ever since I was a kid. Even in school, it was the only thing I really invested interest in. I always really liked drawing cartoons and comics. Around 14 or something, I started hanging out with the wrong crowd and got into writing my name on anything and everything. From trains to drains, I hid in bushes and ran from cops to get my art fix. After a while, I started getting requests to paint commissions for companies and people, mix that with studying graphic design I jumped into launching a streetwear brand and gave up graffiti. More and more people just started requesting my work and eventually scored some big name projects like Neil deGrasse Tyson, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Young Henrys and heaps of rad names. I like to think that it's still a hobby and I'm super lucky that it’s also my job.
YOUNG HENRYS: How is your personality reflected in your work, in terms of your style and expressing yourself through different mediums? Not to mention the various surreal/ quirky characters that are evident in your work.
JESSE: I think like my personality, my work is super reflective of the world around me. I always like hiding little details in my work, kinda like the comic book movies I watch when they hide 'Easter eggs'. I like to think bigger is better because I love Hollywood Blockbusters. My personality and expressive nature is rapidly shifting; so if I feel like being angry and actively loud, then I'll create a shirt voicing my opinions. I love pushing people’s buttons but at the same time, I really go out of my way to entertain people. I've always been a bit of a 'look at me, can you hear me now' kind of person, which probably explains why I was so easily drawn to graffiti.
YOUNG HENRYS: What is your creative space like, and how does this affect your work or creative process?
JESSE: My creative space is situated in what I call 'The Beat Laboratory'. Which is a spare room, transformed into a study. It's got a bookshelf full of comic books, design mags and self help books which I've never read. The room is scattered with toys because in my heart, I'm Peter Pan and I'll never grow up. I've got movie posters, posters and shirts I’ve made and Foo-Town cans, but most importantly a couple of good plants. Basically, I surround myself with things that make me happy. I've worked in and got fired from a ton of shitty jobs which had dull working environments, ie. kitchens, corporate offices and swimming pools with kids weeing on me so I decked my space out with things that remind me that I'm a kid. A big, bearded tattooed kid, that likes wrestling and cartoons.
YOUNG HENRYS: Are there any designers, artists or creatives that have influenced you, and if so who are they?
JESSE: I'm heavily influenced by people who do things differently to me and to be honest I really don't look at other artists. I find that when I do, I'm subconsciously drawn to copy, reference or gain influence from, so I'm happy to follow them on social media, but I look outside the box. I look at Steve Sagmeister, Revok MSK, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller and I have a bank of 80-90's punk rock and movie posters that I like to look at for inspo when I need it.
Does your work comment on any current social or political issues?
I used to be heavily motivated to speak my mind about political issues. My brand Vilify used to be a Gatling gun for voicing my opinion on current matters; whether it was vegan activism, marriage equality or police brutality. I think that I've kinda settled down a bit in regards to how vocal I am, to be honest. I kinda realised that you don't fight fire with fire, but oh man.. I love fire. How exciting is fire? I kinda take the approach 'you attract more bees with honey than vinegar' these days. Without sounding like a wanker, I try to push a bit more of a positive agenda, but yes, just like my Easter eggs, if you look. You'll most often find something.
What separates an average artist from a great artist in your field of expertise?
I think that it's pretty easy to get lost in what someone wants and what someone needs. So I believe the difference between a good artist and a great artist is how much they can bend the rules. I love the idea of twisting a brief or an idea. I spent some time as an art director in a couple advertising agencies and I like to think that the difference between a good idea and a great idea is how fuckin batshit crazy you can get, but still sell the idea. I think that equally applies to being an artist. Sure a client might want a message saying 'peace, love and happiness' with rainbows and flowers. But you gave them Ziggy Stardust snorting a rainbow wearing rings of those 3 symbols? Boom. Copyright JESWRI 2018.
What skills and techniques have you needed to develop to become a full-time commercial designer?
You need drive. Simple. You need a good portfolio and a devil on your shoulder saying 'send it, send that email'. You need to be curious, so curious that you're not gonna wonder if the grass is greener on the other side but just hop the fence. You need to remove the safety net of an income and you need to go and rescue a dog. You're now accountable for that dog. You need to buy them bandanas and bickies. That dog is now your administrative (and emotional) assistant. They will go with you everywhere even when it might not be appropriate. They need to become part of your branding. You need to upload videos of them sleeping in the car whilst you're listening to The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack. You've done it. You're now a full-time designer.
You've obviously worked one a tonne of artistic projects, from beer labels, t-shirts, to logos and murals. Which has been your favourite to date, and why?
I think that my favourite projects were ones that I spent the least amount of time on. I love the Foo Town design because of the story behind it. I had 24 hours and some rough doodles from Clint (from YH). That was fun because I didn't sleep the entire time and it had a massive reception from the community. That was fun. I think my favourite project by far has been my debut solo show PILEDRIVER. Yeah, that sucked so bad. I didn't really sleep for 3 days leading up to the show and finished 1 hour before people rocked up. I was there with a hair dryer, drying paint whilst setting up. I'm an idiot sometimes. I created 8 pieces of skeletons wrestling and an arcade machine. That was awesome because that was legit the biggest crowd I've ever seen at Good Space. Mmmm. Sleep was great that night once it was over. I like projects with fun stories.
How do you determine a brands identity, and what factors are involved in the design process when creating a brands logo?
I think that it's important to really understand not only who they're targeting and where they sit in the market, but also how DIFFERENT they can be whilst still really and completely expressing themselves within a logo. OMG that sounds so wanker-y. Ah well. A brands logo is like someones literal face. It's the first thing someone looks at, so it needs to unique to that brand. It can’t be a simple typeface off 'dafont' I feel like there needs to be character in it.
How does one transition from working for a company to being a freelancer? What was most challenging about this significant climb in your career?
I think for me, it took awhile for me to figure out that I was unemployable. Not because I fucked up or anything. But I just never really fit in anywhere that I've worked. I think I've literally had 20 something jobs in 10 years. Maybe more. I've been fired from like.. nearly all of them. I've worked in places where there's just been shit rules, toxic environments and nonsensical 'yes' men. I hated every job I've ever had except the one I've got now. That's working for myself. I make my own rules. I don't have to please anybody, I take my dog to work and I can't get fired. Transitioning just made sense. It was kinda easy. I just remember being fed up one day and looking at my partner and said 'I can't do this anymore' whilst facedown in her lap and she said 'don't'. There wasn't anything necessarily 'hard' about it. I think it's just a matter of betting on myself and going all-in is scary for any situation.
What advice can you give to other aspiring artists looking to one day achieve the dream of becoming full-time, commissioned artists?
My advice is kinda like running a race. You're gonna lose if you look at how well other people you're running against are doing. I think that everyone has something unique to offer. Stop venting on social media or telling everybody you're 'hustle' and spend that time creating awesome work. Do something every single day to push your style and develop skills. Stay ahead of the curb listen to 80's love songs. Actually, yeah. That's the only advice. Forget all the other advice. Listen to 80's love songs. Here's my starting selection. Wham!, Queen, ABBA, David Bowie and Whitney Houston. Create a playlist and just jam out some drawings to this stuff. Right now, I'm working on a couple of private commissions, a few large mural layouts. I've got some shirt designs from New Japan Pro Wrestling that just came in and juggling the DÉJÀ BREW group exhibition for Vilify, a Mario Kart tournament, another group show for November which I'm curating called FOR THE RECORD and finally my second ever solo show (two in one year) called BANGARANG. I really like to load my proverbial plate.
Favourite soundtrack/ music to create artwork to?
HOW CONVENIENT THAT YOU'VE ASKED. I've created a whole Spotify playlist called 'Antidepressants'. Full of love fuelled pop-songs or just songs that kinda make me feel bubbly and happy. I like listening to hip-hop like Wu-Tang, Biggie Smalls and A$AP Rocky when I'm deconstructing looser briefs. If I need to zone out, I've recently discovered VIET-ROCK. Which is like 70's & 80's rock from Vietnam obviously. There's something super fun about listening to music you have no idea what they're talking about. I like the quote, "When you're happy you enjoy the music. When you're sad you understand the lyrics". Maybe it's me tricking my brain into saying, "well you can't understand it, so you're happy.. get back to work loser"
Sum up your style in five words.
I've had it up to here with your rules.. Nah. Um.. "Blackwork. Drunk. Japanese Comic-book."
Check out DÉJÀ BREW at Goodspace gallery on Wednesday, October 3rd for an exhibition/gallery of 10 hand-picked favourite Sydney-based artists, with 10 canvas’ made from kegs of beer.
The night will include a knockout elimination Beer Pong Tournament made up of 32 teams of two, at $5 entry per person. All beer pong money will be donated to charity, with all kegs up for silent auction and proceeds going to the artist. Young Henrys will of course be supplying the free booze on the night, just in time for Oktoberfest.
See Jesse Wright’s works at DÉJÀ BREW at Goodspace gallery on October 3rd.Follow JESWRI on Facebook / Instagram
Check out the paintings, designs and illustrations of JESWRI
See the works of JESWRI at Goodspace gallery on Wednesday, October 3rd