By VICTOR SLEDGE May, 2023
As an artist who has influenced culture since the early days of Tumblr and a resume that includes names like Prince, Nine Inch Nails and Alexander McQueen, the breadth of Jesse Draxler’s work and the way he has pushed forward in the midst of the pandemic has led to his second book, The World is Mine & I’m Thinking About You, published by Sacred Bones, releasing this summer alongside his major solo exhibition, U&I, opening June 1, 2023, at Naked Eye Studio in Los Angeles.
“[The pandemic] was the perfect storm of having the freedom to be able to make another book and being very aware of the importance of this time and not wasting it. I wanted to do something meaningful for both the community and myself and try to make it a lasting thing,” Draxler says.
With a loaded title and even more loaded pieces included in the book, the forthcoming book release and the exhibition, both planned by Draxler himself, are a step into his highly aesthetic, philosophical and idiosyncratic world.
“I really wanted the entire vibe around all of this to be way more romantic than anything I’ve ever done. So when thinking of a title, I knew that I wanted it to be a lot more poetic than anything before,” he explains.
This is definitely a romanticized moment for Draxler. On top of the book, he’s spent the last year building an exhibition that he describes as his best yet. U&I won’t only be a step into The World is Mine & I’m Thinking About You. The exhibition will go on for a week after the opening night, and the opening night is a whole experience in itself that entails DJ sets, a live performance, a video production only shown on opening night, and more. Unattached to the previous galleries he’s worked with, this is an exhibition built in Draxler’s image dedicated to allowing viewers to know him and his work in a way they haven’t before.
For Draxler, having the time and independence to work on this moment has meant he’s able to go as big as he wants and let people into his artistry. His last exhibition took place during the pandemic and he had about a month and a half to plan it. This time, though, he’s had the time to imagine all the ways he can create a multidimensional, all-encompassing experience around The World is Mine & I’m Thinking About You.
“Not many people get to interact with my work on a physical level,” he says, which is all the more important as most people recognize his work from being online.
Draxler explains that seeing the work in person, and especially seeing it in a world built to house it, is going to be a new experience with the art.
“I’ve been working on this for a year all on my own. Every single element, every single detail is dialed in,” he explains of the exhibition.
He’s brought in musical elements, which is a field he often draws inspiration from and collaborates in. He’s been cognizant of the space he’s showing the exhibition in at Naked Eye Studio, and how the exhibition is in conversation with the book.
Looking at the pieces on this scale in this format means that viewers get to see every detail he’s put into each one, and that’s intentional. Although it’s not difficult to see how intricate and thoughtful his work is on a screen, Draxler is excited for his craft to shine through as well when people see the work in person.
He paints the back of his panel pieces, finishes the edges of his pieces without a hair out of place, makes painfully precise cuts. These are all details that speak to Draxler’s acute attention much like how the work is so exacting in its metal-like depiction of dystopian, often surrealist imagery. Seeing the work in person speaks more to Draxler as a craftsman, whose hand influences everything top to bottom no matter the medium.
“In that respect, being able to show the craft of my work is going to be a very important step in my career as well,” he says.
This element of physical craftsmanship, along with how intimately Draxler has planned out the book and its introduction through the exhibition has made this a defining moment for him as an artist today.
“This is easily the most important solo show I’ve done to date,” he says. “The work is the best I’ve ever done. It’s the most developed work I’ve ever shown. I’m at a peak.”
That’s a lot coming from an artist who’s consistently pushed himself and his artistic influence further and further throughout his career. But it’s also not surprising.
Draxler has an intentional dedication to the visual: what has been, what is now, and what will be. Over his career, he’s been particularly interested in producing art that is conscious of culture and also pushing it into unknown territories.
“I’m such a student of all of it myself. I’m a glutton through my eyes,” he says. “It’s a creative general consciousness to be aware of what’s going on in the visual lexicon in the moment and be able to predict what’s next.”
Why Draxler is such a dynamic artist and why The World is Mine & I’m Thinking About You is such a telling experience is because he is at peace with working in that liminal space of what’s next.
“I’m ferociously looking at all times for what’s next. What’s exciting to me is that I don’t know, and that’s why I’m always after it. Because the unknown is the most exciting thing to me, the only exciting thing,” he explains.
Even in the process of deciding what pieces to include in the book, Draxler thrives in the unknown. He has a strong aesthetic and a heavy portfolio, and that can make piecing together a book a daunting task.
“The sheer amount of work makes it a difficult process because what’s in the book is maybe only 25% of what it started as,” he says. “Going into it, I didn’t have any specific idea of what to include. Everything just emerged along the way.”
Not only is he comfortable feeling his way, like alchemy, when working on individual artworks, with The World is Mine & I’m Thinking About You, he’s done the same. Unsurprisingly, it’s worked yet again.
Draxler has created a book that acts as a roadmap to the journey his eye has been on, collecting visuals that ask what’s next. The World is Mine & I’m Thinking About You carries Draxler’s distinct, stark aesthetic that he’s formed through years of careful visual curation and discernment. Through striking contrasts of black and white and negative and positive space, he lets us into a world that’s so consistent yet questioning.
There’s a narrative element throughout the book with screenshots of Tweets, Instagram stories and other verbiage that makes you tune in to what he may have been contemplating in the process of making the book and each piece, but it’s loose in comparison to the tight imagery.
“Once I started including screenshots, that was a turning point,” he says. “I could lead the viewer through the practice without me having to say anything directly.”
He says specifically, “I was thinking a lot about the nature of desire. The idea was that I couldn’t imagine wanting anything else from life at that moment, and yet, I was sitting there in desire of something. That's the nature of desire and how insidious it can be.”
In the book is a sense of darkness that feels as though he’s still looking or longing for something unattainable. What that is, he’s never sure of until the process starts. But the darkness throughout speaks to how personal the work is and recalls his own journey with trauma, searching for answers in the dark.
“The self-excavation that I do while working, we don’t have the luxury of being able to both remember and feel emotions and experiences from the past without them affecting us,” he says.
Through the process of making these pieces and trying to make sense of what he’s experienced or felt at any given time, the darkness we see in The World is Mine & I’m Thinking About You is not meant to necessarily be unnerving, but instead demonstrate that during these times of self-excavation, it is the void and certainty of black ink that he can identify with.
When viewers arrive on opening night, Draxler is hoping that they are left with something even deeper than an impression of what he’s found through his own soul searching.
“More than just an impression, I hope they walk away feeling like they came in contact with something even if they’re unsure of what that thing is. Because I’m still unsure,” he says.
It’s fine to leave unsure, though, because Draxler plans to keep inviting us further into this world moving forward.
“I thought that this show to me was going to be some sort of crown or cap or something. But now, it’s turning into a launch pad,” he says. “Now this vision is about to be unleashed upon the world.” WM
To preorder The World is Mine & I’m Thinking About You, please visit here.
Victor Sledge is an Atlanta-based writer with experience in journalism, academic, creative, and business writing. He has a B.A. in English with a concentration in British/American Cultures and a minor in Journalism from Georgia State University. Victor was an Arts & Living reporter for Georgia State’s newspaper, The Signal, which is the largest university newspaper in Georgia. He spent a year abroad studying English at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, where he served as an editor for their creative magazine before returning to the U.S. as the Communications Ambassador for Georgia State’s African American Male Initiative. He is now a master’s student in Georgia State’s Africana Studies Program, and his research interest is Black representation in media, particularly for Black Americans and Britons. His undergraduate thesis, Black on Black Representation: How to Represent Black Characters in Media, explores the same topic.