12oz Feature Interview: Jesse Edwards
Meet Jesse Edwards. Better known to the 12oz community as a founding member of the Seattle bred, omnipresent BTM crew (along with his brother, TredOne, infamous northwest writer); Jesse’s recent endeavors in fine art have both the graffiti and gallery worlds talking. In anticipation of his latest show “Dialogue of the Streets” (at the Klughaus Gallery) the 12oz team caught up with Jesse to talk about his 20+ years in graffiti, the start of BTM, the dichotomies between Oil paint / Graff, and his feverish persistence to create.
12ozProphet: How long have you lived in NY?
Jesse: 3 or 4 weeks (laughs). I’ve come and gone 4 times over the last 3 years. My first visit was in 09, and I stayed down on 10th and 8th street for a couple months; and I’ve been back or forth (from Seattle) since then. I did my first art show that November, a few things since then.
12ozProphet: What appealed to you about graffiti at such a young age?
Jesse: It’s exciting. Fun. Its just beautiful you know? At a very young age my mom really impressed me with her drawings, so I already had an appreciation for art even then. Graffiti was just a whole other world. I got off the bus one day coming back from the city (In Seattle), and I saw these dudes painting in a garage; it was incredibly cool. Beautiful. You know, a lot of skateboarding kids in the city were into it also, and we were cool with alot of them. There was this crew called 2ZC, which was like the top crew back then, they caught my attention. It was just so bright and powerful, there is a lot of self empowerment that goes along with writing your name on the wall.
12ozProphet: How did you get down with BTM?
Jesse: My brother started painting with a guy named “Sent”. We got down with him because he skated at Westlake (local spot), and was really good. He wrote Sent at the time, but got word that there was another Sent, so he changed that to “Sect”. That guy started BTM back in like 91 maybe? I started getting into it around 92′. When I started painting I was mad toy, dudes didn’t want me around and hated or whatever; but I kept painting.
12ozProphet: Who were your major influences.
Jesse: Sect, from San Francisco, he’s probably my primary influence. 2ZC crew, DVS crew. All those guys were highly influenced by a lot of New York writers.
12ozProphet: Your show is called “Dialogue of the Streets”, whats the meaning behind the title?
Jesse: I don’t even remember how it came up. I was talking with a a friend and it was one of those things where two people just stumble on a mutual idea at once. A lot of the time I’ll just title my shows whatever I think sounds cool, I titled another one “Thug Passion” (laughs). But I thought “Dialogue of the Streets” sounded like it fit the show. All these people in the streets protesting and stuff, there is definitely an affiliation with that, even though all my work doesn’t fall into that sort of genre. It just sounded good to me.
12ozProphet: How big an influence has the Occupy movement had on your artwork?
Jesse: Well, a lot of times I try to paint things that are relevant to society, or my life. As far as influential? It’s had an influence on a number of pieces, definitely. The anonymous idea behind the (Guy Fawkes) mask was interesting. While I painting it I started really thinking about what this type of image is representative of, the 99% and all. I feel it. I’m sympathetic to a lot of their ideology, as far as sharing the wealth. But I’m an American, and I believe that with handwork you can achieve a lot of things by yourself. The mask is just an image of the movement, and I don’t necessarily share the same values. You know, I’m a poor person, but I don’t want to live in a communist state.
12ozProphet: How difficult has the transition been from graffiti to fine art?
Jesse: You know a lot of times I’m faced with people saying “you shouldn’t be affiliated with spray can art”, and that I should keep my fine art separate. People always tell you to go this way or that way, but I’m just who I am. I’m not ashamed of where I come from, and I’m really unable to separate my mindset like that. I’m just a painter, you know? I make pictures with whatever medium that’s there, I work with what I have. That’s the way it goes. That’s the job of an artist, taking whats available and making the most of it. Sometimes i only have cans of spray paint , sometimes I have tubes of oil paint. I’m not really able to say I’m this to these people, and to these people I’m that. I’m not willing to create an image to cater to what people think I should be, I’m just me. I love art and have different facets to my body of work. A lot of people have a hard time with the idea that I’m not focused on just one medium. That keeps thing interesting to me. Don’t paint for other people, do what makes you happy.
12ozProphet: Do you have a favorite medium to work in?
Jesse: Oil Paint. I love graffiti, but now it feels more like calligraphy or something to me. Once you have the shapes and movements down you pretty much know what your doing. Graff has a different edge that isn’t comparable at all, its gorilla. Oil painting is more about form. I have a far greater sense of accomplishment. When I can create a portrait, or any image from life, it’s has a lot more of an impact to me. Its harder to do, and if it comes off right its that much more impressive. Its enlightening. I’ll paint something like a house of cards because it’s meaningful to me. I could be going through something in my life, gambling or whatever. A lot of people might now know the story, that’s fine, but they can see how much feeling went into it. It’s just like graffiti in the sense that its a language, you learn the different layers as you go along.
12ozProphet: What’s next?
Jesse: I’d like to find a kiln that works (laughs). I have a show at the Museum of Sex on February 12th. I’m trying to put everything I’m doing on my site (http://jesseedwards.net). It’s like Field of Dreams, you know? “If you build it, they will come.” I just try to keep busy every day. The bottom line is having work ethic. I grind every single day, and I’ve been doing this for a long time. Its how my wheels turn.
Make sure to check out Jesse Edwards “Dialogue of the Streets” at the Klughaus Gallery (47 Monroe Street, New York, NY 10002) this Friday, January 13th 2011 from 6-10pm.
Text and Photo: Kenny Beats