Two canvases, meant to portray a child’s imagination, hang above Jesse Wheaton’s bed. Yet the psychedelic patterns, brocaded fabrics and jumbled colors are more reminiscent of an acid trip, highlighting a prominent theme featured in Wheaton’s artwork.
Wheaton, a Gallatin sophomore, is an idiosyncratic artist in that, until recently, he has never created a series. But, upon reflection of his art, Wheaton said most of it is laced with aesthetic expressions of sexual desire and depression. His work also explores the destruction of childhood imagination and how it compels people to experiment with drugs like LSD.
In continuing with this theme of mystique, Wheaton is currently working on a series that explores the human relationship with the cosmos and the thoughts and desires that connect people. Wheaton hopes to show how taboo topics compose our human existence.
“[Lust and feelings of depression] are universal,” Wheaton said. “I am trying to tie that into the visual idea that our separate individual manifestations of atoms are also connected by this theory of the violent destruction of a star.”
The series has been in the works for over nine months and is, in part, featured in Wheaton’s published book “Open Me,” a collection of his favorite pieces from 2002 to 2013, which serves as his portfolio.
“Open Me” was conceived after Wheaton became frustrated that his work was scattered all over because of his frequent travels, from Asia to his hometown of Oakland, Calif.
Wheaton recently returned from abroad, visiting Thailand, Japan and Vietnam, which adds to the impressive list of places he has traveled to seek inspiration. Other locations include Costa Rica and Tanzania, and he plans to visit Berlin next semester.
“The experiences that I have and the crazy adventures I go on definitely inspire my art, so I’m sure traveling is somehow related to that,” Wheaton said.
Just by glancing at the cover — a self-portrait decorated with cosmic bursts of color — one can easily tell that Wheaton likes to venture out of the realm of normalcy for his work. Wheaton’s ice-blue eyes lure readers into his mind and work, literally asking them to “Open Me.”
“I came up with the idea of creating an actual physical, printed portfolio,” Wheaton said. “I started creating it and then it eventually became a bigger project of actually producing a book.”
Although similar topics are explored in each work, creating a book forced Wheaton to consider which pieces worked well together when placed side by side on a spread.
“I wanted the book to tell a story,” Wheaton said. “I want the reader to kind of get a grasp of the perspective I was trying to portray with my paintings. My art is not just a personal pursuit. My pieces try to affect the viewer in more than just an aesthetic [way] by actually making you think what it means and show my perception of the world.”
Creating visually pleasing art may come easily to some, but Wheaton aims to weave in intellectual and philosophical ideas to bring dimension and meaning to the work — something that forces him to painstakingly obsess over every detail.
That attention to detail and refusal to produce anything but his best work manifests itself in other areas of Wheaton’s life. Wheaton runs Wheaton Design and Media, a graphic design company that creates apps, T-shirts, websites and logos.
Tracy Lemmon, who Wheaton helped to create a logo for her company Digital Dreamcatcher, said Wheaton’s skills go beyond the typical art student.
“He has drive and good business practices, executed in a casual but directed way,” Lemmon said. “He is mindful of logos, brands [and] direct marketing uses that infuse his work.”
Wheaton also dedicates his passion to another form of art — music. He currently serves as the West Coast coordinator for Elektro Magazine and dabbles in music production.
Wheaton’s interest in music pervades the atmosphere he cannonballs into when creating his art. Sonically, his environment consists of electronic music, hip-hop and old-school rock — fitting music to keep him company during the dark, early hours of the morning, when he prefers to work.
“My taste in music probably influences what I’m painting,” Wheaton said. “I listen to loud fucking music when I paint.”
A mind as active as Wheaton’s sometimes needs to find peace away from the pulsating music and trippy thoughts that consume most of his days. Wheaton relaxes in Central Park near 73rd Street, where he finds himself at ease.
“If you get off the pathway, hop over a fence and go to this tiny peninsula in the lake, you are sitting among these trees, this kind of beautiful forest area and you’re looking over this gorgeous lake,” Wheaton said. “There are these ducks on the side and the iconic gothic structure of the Manhattan skyline is splayed out above the trees.”
Wheaton also likes to escape to New York City rooftops. He plans to take his canvas to the roof of his Williamsburg apartment and use the Manhattan skyline as inspiration, restoring his vitality and pushing forward until the next pulse.
— Kavish Harjai