In looking at Jesse Tise‘s artwork, these illustrations of aliens and plant life and space persons, you would assume that the artist behind them is some sort of mad scientist. He’d have a huge head of white, untamed hair. He’d have giant, almost absurdist glasses which have extra magnifying lenses on arms to aid his sight when dissecting various creatures. He’d walk with a little hunch and speak in a nasally monotone drone that’d be both pretentious and creepy: he’d be a new incarnation of Doctor Frankenstein.
But, Jesse is the near opposite of that. He’s a tall, lanky fellow with an almost permanent-semi-smile and tightly coiled black curls. He does wear glasses but they are not mischievous or aiding in anything else but sight. He speaks with a kind, confident, and relaxed cadence, often punctuating sentences and thoughts with a little laugh. He’s a young artist who creates science fiction illustrations and drawings and zines that all hint at something bigger: Jesse is an emerging talent full of ideas.
Jesse currently works Downtown, in a little building called ECF Downtown Art Center, a non-profit arts organization that works with special needs persons, using art as an outlet for expression. He works here full time and it’s his first job since finishing college last Winter. “It’s kind of like a resort here,” he says about the job and organization, as we sit in his work area, art from his current and previous students drying on racks, on the walls, and decorating the space. “It’s awesome. The people who run this place sell all the work produced and they really want us to have the best equipment and good supplies. It’s just really great.”
Jesse was born in London and moved to Southern California when he was six. “I grew up in South Pasadena pretty much my entire life,” he explains. “I always loved to draw and I took art classes in middle school and high school, which is when I heard about Art Center, the college Art Center, that is. They’d always send outreach people to all the high schools to say, ‘Hey! Come to Art Center! Take classes!! Give us money!!’”
He laughs, his relationship with the school–who shares the name with his current work place–being something that has been a part of his life for practically his entire life. “I was really into the idea of coming to Art Center,” he said. “But, when it actually came time for school, I was between Art Center and other schools and I ended up going to Parsons because I wanted to get out of the small town and to the big city.”
Pasadena and Los Angeles obviously are not small towns. Though, to Jesse, they were where he grew up and a place so common yet undiscovered to him that it was boring: he wanted a change. “I had no idea that there were cool places in LA,” he said. “I visited New York one time and thought that I wanted to live there. So, I went to New York and it was cool. I was there for two years and I actually got kind of homesick. And, it wasn’t challenging enough for me. I could feel the West coast and Art Center pulling me back. I was glad I went to New York, though: I felt like I needed to go there in order to appreciate LA more, mainly because of the differences between the two coasts.”
“Art Center ended up being super great,” he said, starting on this school, these words that have almost defined his recent history in Los Angeles. “It was a huge difference, not only in the difficulty but the teachers were really good. They come from a lot of different backgrounds, which is cool. Like the Clayton Brothers: they started off in illustration and, now, they’re more into the fine art/gallery scene. They mostly now do collaborative paintings and drawings and installations together. It was cool to have teachers like that, who really encouraged us to think about other projects, asking us if we thought certain things would be better as a sculpture instead of a drawing, etc. I got to actually build stuff. That was the one thing I never, never did before college.”
The school ended up defining his current practice, their pedagogical approach aligning with his perspective of art making and art consuming, pushing them to always keep working and to question what they believe to be “good art.” “They’re really good at encouraging us to try other things, the idea of doing self-authored projects being big, to not wait around for someone to give you a job and to think about something fun to keep doing, like zines. Find something to do like that and keep doing it, making those public and mailing them out to generate interest.”
His work and practice, which is a mix of Art Center’s influence and his own doggedness, point to this new Angeleno who lives to express and share work: they’re relaxed hustlers. This new Angeleno type is growing and becoming more successful as a result of the city acclimating to them. Jesse, although a native, only really discovered the city and worked with it and in it upon returning from New York.
“When I was younger, I only thought of LA as here, as Downtown,” he says. “That was my perception of LA. I had no idea there were other districts or places like Silver Lake with cool boutique shops and all the galleries in Chinatown and Silver Lake. I started to see more of that when I came back from New York through friends I made at Art Center. Most of the time at Art Center, you are doing your work; but, one of the thing people who go to school there do is go to shows, which takes them to other parts of LA.”
This idea of exploration has made Jesse an explorer in his own city, a person who is constantly seeking new outlets and venues–and non-conventional ones, too. He mentions Chinatown’s Flock Shop as an example, a little store he discovered and ended up pitching his zines to. “I always try to check out new places and, if it feels like a good fit, I’ll drop that I’m an illustrator and show them some stuff. If I really like the store or venue, I try to at least get them something.” This searching for venues has led to a lot of success for him, his zines being sold from plant stores–who carry his zine on alien plants–to Flock Shop.
Los Angeles certainly changed his practice but also how he defined himself artistically. “My style radically changed when I came to Art Center, moving back to the West coast. I thought I was going to be this photo-realistic painter before I came back and I didn’t even work graphically,” he says. “When I returned, I started to really appreciate using color more. I’m one of those artists who doesn’t really copy things straight as a reference. If I see like a cool power line making a shape, things like that will fire off some synapse that will inspire some weird alien. I see stuff walking around and think, ‘Oh, that’s a cool color!’ There’s definitely a lot more color here than on the East coast.”
He laughs, hinting at a truth in our landscape that brings out a creativity most other cities do not have. And, it all comes from nature. “I think nature is a big part of it since there’s a lot more greenery. People in LA just like to decorate more. Even if it’s just someone whose airbrushed their van, something dumb like that: that’s still a thing. That’s someone trying to ornament some part of their life, even if it’s a wizard on a side of their van. There’s a lot of that. I feel like I see people painting weird murals on their house or their car or sidewalk, a weird graffiti tag or here or there. And, signs! All the hand lettering: it’s not done by a graphic designer and you see them everywhere, on any little store.”
Jesse, who now could be defined as an illustrator, sees all these graphic influences in the city now. He cites Gary Baseman and Tim Biskup as huge influences on him, artists who were doing cool things but whose work he could not define: illustration was a discovery for him. “‘So this is what illustration is?’” he said to himself, “‘I guess I’ll do that too.’” He laughs. “I didn’t totally know what it was; but, I knew all of those guys were cool and that I wanted to be like them. That was my motivation for pursuing illustration.”
The art form is a challenge, a unique interdisciplinary activity that seeks to explain through visuals. “In illustration, you have to problem solve. It’s fun doing personal work but it’s a unique challenge to work with someone else’s piece: how do you interpret and then present that?” he asks, pointing to just how complicated this world can be.
He gives an example of this: “I was doing a freelance editorial piece for Plansponsor, a business magazine. The art director who runs it is really cool and they don’t want anything with people in suits or dollar signs. A lot of publications like them are looking for more progressive, weirder illustrations and that are more creative. The one I was doing was for an article about ‘how to learn from others’ experiences in order to de-risk your investment.’”
He laughs. “It’s something so super abstract and a businessy: how do you interpret that in a way that anyone who looks at it gets it? I was brainstorming and thinking of moths because they have eyespots and try to look like some sort of predatory creature to avoid being eaten, which is like de-risking something. I did a larger moth with little ones, who were looking to the bigger one for guidance. I’m really into abstract assignments like that.”
Looking into the future, Jesse doesn’t see himself going anywhere. He does hope to expand his illustration work into something bigger. “I like to think that I’ve gotten a pretty solid identity built into my work,” he says. “The way I design my books and zines and things is kind of like a brand.”
“Doing a show or a children’s book would be awesome, too,” he says, an obvious wink at two of his idols, Baseman and Biskup, not to mention the hard work in zines and prints he’s already done. “It’s all getting back to the self-authored projects, not just settling for one area of illustration–I want to try other things and branch out into other worlds. If I can do that, then I’ll be happy.”