John-John Jesse opened his latest solo show at the Opera Gallery this past April 16th, his first solo show in years. I worked up a few questions and was able to get John-John for an interview when he came back from the reception.
Creep: You have stated that among your favorite artists is Caravaggio, a favorite of mine as well. Can you tell me a bit about what first drew you to his work, and if there is any influence he has had on your style?
John-John: Its just soo dark and beautiful and narrative. I wish i could paint like him but i can’t, I just tell my story as i remember it and with the best ability i can. I can honestly say i’m not influenced by a lot of art especially whats out now. and my favorite artist isn’t even a painter. It’s Jamie Reid. I’d rather be at a museum looking at old masters than checking out paintings of hot rods and frankenstein at a lowbrow gallery.
Creep: The figures in your paintings are friends and people you knew growing up. One of the first things that struck me was the feel the figures have, You can tell when an artist doesn’t quite have anatomy down as the flesh clearly looks like there is nothing behind it, empty. With your figures however you can sense density, muscle and bone, and easily get the feeling that the flesh is soft and represents something real. As you are self taught what did you do to give yourself a better understanding of anatomy?
John-John: Only some of the figures are friends growing up. Most are live models i’ve shot pictures of for the paintings. And i use those figures to narrate me and my autobiography. pretty much. As for anatomy. i work from photos i’ve taken or were sent to me so i have a good reference point. But school. No not for me. I’ve always felt like i was in prison when i was in school. Like a caged wild fucking animal waiting to explode. I can just paint the human form it just comes natural.
Creep: Coming from a wild background myself, when I decided to clean up and and focus on art, the only way I could describe it was that the volume on life had been turned down a bit. It took a while to get that feeling back up again without doing the same old things. Did you experience something similar, if so what things along with painting do you do to keep life loud and colorful?
John-John: Life ain’t much different. I just don’t shoot drugs or drink 2 fifths of whiskey a day anymore. I guess love, painting, hobbies and firearms gets me high these days.
Creep: American Dreamer is your first solo exhibition in a few years. There seems to be a trend with some artists overworking themselves and almost showing too much. What sort of things did you do during this time to prepare for the show, or any new techniques you have learned?
John-John: Well i think most of those artists are in group shows a lot and if it seems they have lot of solo sows well its probably a lot of leftover unsold paintings from previous exhibits. I mean i work almost everyday. Being a painter is a lifestyle. Such as Punk Rock.
I can’t say if i learned any new tricks but as an artist of any kind be it musician or painter you must always grow as we grow as people hopefully. And theres always new life experiences, good and awful that makes the story expand.
Creep: Your upbringing, punk rocker and former catholic school boy, has helped to create this juxtaposition in your work, or “gravitation and trials of those two opposites” as you have stated. For me the two backgrounds blend perfectly in your work. One of the things that always interested me as an art historian was some of the elements that might be inspired by classical works, The unique way you sign your name, the altar like layout of some of the paintings, and the idea that some of the elements in your work, guitars, crowns and clothing are in way like the religious iconography one might find in so many works during the Renaissance. How did the influence of this period, aside from school, make its way into your work? Do you spend a lot of time looking at classical works, going to museums, etc?
John-John: Its true BUT i didn’t say that. it wasn’t written by me. It was partly written by some gallerist years ago.
Its not such a conscience decision to make it this or that or this iconography or that. Its just part of the life story being in Catholic School for years, touring with my anarchist punk band for many years, being hooked on drugs, falling in and out of love and rising from the gutter.
I don’t get out much so i get to a museum like once every couple of years. Im not an art buff or anything. I became a painter as a career by accident. I do it because i have that need to, like eating or sleeping. It makes me complete.
Creep: Being self taught and making your way through the trials of learning materials and developing a style, is there any one area in your first few years of painting that gave you the most trouble?
John-John: nope. Its just something i can do, that i was born with i suppose. It feels natural.
Creep: You have created music and paintings, is there any other artistic things you would like to work on or something we might see in the future?
John-John: I don’t know. I always have some kind of project or hobby going to keep me out of trouble. I recently put together a .308 sniper rifle together and i’m currently working on building a big Jabba the Hutt’s gangster palace diorama. Thats pretty fucking cool. But nothing I can do well enough to make a career out of. I already do what i’m suppose to.
Creep: In the Fecal Face interview back in 2010, fans learned that along with an amazing house, you are also a collector. Have you ever had a hard time relinquishing a painting to a new owner? Is there one, or more than one painting you have kept and will never sell?
John-John: I don’t own any of my own work. not one they’ve all sold. There’s 2 i wish i owned. I think it was “The St. Martyr Twins of Williamsburg” and “Sugar”.
Creep: Most of your inspiration is drawn from past experiences. When you are working on new paintings, is there anything else you do to help build a perfect creative mood? Any music or movies that always help?
John-John: ALL of it is from past or current experiences. No i just paint. no need for anything to make it happen. like i said before. it comes natural.
Creep: Finally, is there any contemporary artist that you have not shown alongside that you would love to share wall space with?
John-John: Not really, i’ve already shown with a few i’ve admired already. But maybe a collaboration of some sort someday would rule.