‘It’s the Snake Eating Its Own Tail’: Artist Jesse Draxler on His New Solo Show That Feeds Off His Dark and Enigmatic Inner World
'U&I' encompasses Draxler's transformation from Tumblr star to cult fave.
To stage his latest exhibition at Naked Eye Studio in Los Angeles, artist Jesse Draxler has gone all-out.
Running through June 7, “U&I” doesn’t just display his newest works from painted panels to conceptual sculptures to digital media—all of it housed in an environment specially masterminded and designed by the artist. Opening night saw live performances by the likes of industrial noise musician God Is War alongside projections of long-running videos that track Draxler’s own creative process—as well as servings of pizza.
“It has been an exercise in building a world for my work to live within,” the artist told Artnet News about conceptualizing and installing the show. “I feel my works have never been shown properly, or within a place that was designed for it, or in its true breadth so that you can see it all at one time.”
According to Draxler, “U&I” was a year in the making, emerging from his desire to flesh out his “inner world” and to do so independently, not through any gallery. The result has been touted as the artist’s most important solo exhibition to date, wherein his singular aesthetic is given room to roam.
Draxler’s hallmarks are well-rooted: his paintings, photographs, and collages, often featuring surprising manipulations of the human face or other visual distortions, arrive in stark black-and-white, creating an atmospheric tension as much as existential dread. It’s work, Draxler said, that channels his ongoing explorations into transformation—”transformation through identity, identity through transformation.”
“I’m very interested in relationships, but mostly relationships between a person and themselves, a person and their various cells, a person and their subconscious, a person and their environment,” he added, “how these relationships inform our perceptions and creates each of our own unique realities that we each live in.”
Describing his oeuvre as dark or nihilist, though, might be as surface level as saying he employs the shades of black and white because he is color-blind. “Absurdism makes more sense to me,” he said, pointing out that color does occasionally pop up in his art, mostly in metallic or flesh tones.
Also present in his work? The internet. Flipping through the monograph that accompanies Draxler’s show, titled The World Is Mine & I’m Thinking About You, is to encounter narrative screenshots of tweets, Twitter polls, and text messages. They speak to a life led online, while adding that touch of, yes, absurdism to the proceedings.
Which is fitting for an artist who first found recognition on the microblogging site Tumblr around 2007. It was a point in time Draxler that described as “a big moment that stuck with me. It seems pure in some way.” So much so that his practice continues to be shaped by the community he found on the platform.
“Now, my entire practice has focused on making the digital image look the best,” he said. “Since most people are going to see my work online, I’m going to make my work for that audience.”
But as an artist borne out of the early days of social media, Draxler admitted to encountering no small amount of pushback from the fine art world. “Don’t do that. Tumblr isn’t serious,” he said he was told.
Not that it has stopped him from exhibiting since 2016 (his digital work was most recently shown at 2023’s Art Dubai), and receiving commissions from musicians like Nine Inch Nails and Zola Jesus, as well as brands including Alexander McQueen. “I feel like I’ve been validated to some extent,” he added.
“U&I,” then, could be viewed as a culmination of his practice thus far, though Draxler prefers another term: “It has a very cyclical nature to it.”
He points to a particular sculpture in the exhibition: an IV bottle filled with X-Acto blades, hundreds upon hundreds of them. Far from a plain edgy statement, they represent the countless blades that Draxler has used (and saved) to cut and lay out his collage pieces, which so happen to be hung on the gallery’s wall.
“Everything feeds into everything else,” he said. “I’m basically bringing my art studio there. It’s the full picture; it’s the snake eating its own tail. It’s a world in itself.”
“U&I” is on view at Naked Eye Studio, 1443 W Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles, through June 7. The accompanying hardcover book, The World Is Mine & I’m Thinking About You, can be pre-ordered here.
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