John John Jesse began his artistic career at the age of fourteen, painting posters, flyers and record sleeves for punk rock bands. Born and raised in New York Cityʼs Lower East Side, Jesse was a founding member and bassist of the influential New York Crust punk band Nausea. As he explains, ‘Punk rock was the world in which I entered as a teenager because I didn't fit in anywhere. Not at school, not with friends, and not with my family. Back in the 80s we were all serious misfits who didn’t belong. We were angry, political, idealistic, drunk and proud. Basically punk rock music goes beyond the realms of just being a music scene. Itʼs my world, and itʼs where I fit in.’
While some may define his work as a combination of pop culture and surrealism enveloped in a dreamy atmosphere, John John Jesseʼs themes are mostly lived experiences and memories, a blend of innocence, heartbreak, rebellion and temptation.
In 2018, Crist Espiritu of the online magazine Doze Collective interviewed John John Jesse; you can read the whole piece here – we share some of Jesse’s replies.
When and where did you start doing art? Are you self-taught or did you go to art school?
Doing artwork, drawing and painting is something I could do since I was little. I didn’t even finish high school – I dropped out at fifteen, formed my punk band Nausea in the mid-80s, and spent a lot of my life touring. I never planned to be a painter. I got clean off heroin and whiskey eleven years ago, and to keep stable and sane I started painting. The career and success came on its own quite naturally.
Who are your influences, the people who you admired when you started doing art?
No one guided me too much artwise, but I love Jamie Reid who did all the cut and paste artwork for the Sex Pistols, and the Vivienne Westwood Seditionaries fashion from the late 70s for the Sex Pistols.
Can you remember when you started getting recognition?
Pretty much immediately. I just showed locally around New York City, and things just seemed to fall into place.
I learned that you’re in a punk rock band, and that the punk lifestyle seeps through your art.
My punk rock lifestyle doesn’t inspire my work intentionally. Punk is a lifestyle and a counter culture, so since my work is my autobiography it’s only natural that elements of it come into my work.
Besides the punk culture, where else do you derive your images from? I see a whole bunch of images in your paintings like crowns, superheroes and Japanese characters. How do you choose what to put in your paintings?
I don’t think too much, I just do. I don’t sketch or plan very much at all besides taking photographs of the model for the painting.
What gets you going, gives you the energy to do art?
Large cups of coffee and diet coke and packs of cigarettes.
What do you think is an artist’s role in the community?
I’m really not trying to change the world. I realised from being a very idealistic anarchist squatter a lot of my life that trying to change the world is pointless when we can’t even get along with our neighbours in our own damn country.
Where do you think art is headed?
Hopefully to the bank for the younger artists I know!
John John Jesse’s Instagram account, where you can see more of his recent work, is here.