Working through hundreds of X-Acto blades, Jesse Draxler reimagines the brand’s new collection in his haunting, surrealistic visual language
McQ – sister brand to Alexander McQueen – has a longstanding rep for teaming up with outsider creators. In the last year alone, photographic legend Nan Goldin has shot a series for them featuring British club kids, while Belgian-Ethiopian artist Ermias Kifleyesus was tapped to deface Harley Weir’s AW15 campaign. Their latest creative partnership comes via American collage artist Jesse Draxler, who collaborated with photographer J Whitaker and set designer Kelly Fondry to create imagery which he transformed into series of dark artworks. “I cut up this photo set on a pretty regular basis for about a month and a half straight – going through hundreds of X-Acto blades,” he recalls. “I then treated the pieces like an abstract puzzle and played until things start to click.”
It’s all to mark their new Swallow capsule collection, which repurposes an archive McQueen motif into a series of provocative new pieces – set to launch next week in London with a party starring Dazed cover girl Kelela. On the heels of last night’s launch in LA, Draxler discusses his collages and the unexpected kinship he’s found with the late designer’s work.
How much do you know about Alexander McQueen and McQ?
Jesse Draxler: I knew Alexander McQueen as an iconic fashion house, but other than that I didn't know much. Upon reading Savage Beauty, I immediately found that we had a lot in common, a creative kinship. I directly relate to the way he spoke about cutting the forms in relation to the body and creating shapes and augmented silhouettes. "It was an art thing, to change the way women looked, just by cut," "I want to be the purveyor of a certain silhouette or a way of cutting..." – he spoke about his cuts and intentions the same way I talk of mine. "I like to think of myself as a plastic surgeon with a knife" is also something he said that struck me because I have said the same thing, only I consider myself more performing autopsies than plastic surgery.
Do you think you share a certain darkness?
Jesse Draxler: Yes, a certain darkness is always present – I believe he used the word sinister – he states, "There has to be a sinister aspect, whether it's melancholy or sadomasochist." – I definitely feel that. As well as "People find my things sometimes aggressive, but I don't see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic, dealing with the dark side of personality." I wasn't as familiar with McQ before this project, but it was a fitting marriage – and I am a fan of this Swallow collection for sure.
Are you personally interested in fashion, and do you see it as an artform?
Jesse Draxler: The way Alexander McQueen did fashion – I definitely see that as an art. He was an artist, no doubt. I don't see all fashion as art, though, and all fashion designers definitely are not artists. Same as how not everyone who paints, or draws, is an artist either. My interest in fashion is based in my interest in the human condition, the human form, and augmenting that form. Whereas a lot of people get hung up on labels and names – I couldn't care less.
What inspired your first forays into collage?
Jesse Draxler: I started fucking with collage when I was in college – and started to fully realise it as one of my main means of creation sometime shortly after I graduated. One of the key elements of my senior thesis dissertation was the aesthetic of punk, the inception of the punk aesthetic - which was mainly created in the format of collage. That stuck with me. I saw it as a brilliant medium in so many ways – I wanted to push it and see what I could evolve it into because at that point is still seemed a very raw medium, unrefined, looked down upon as outsider art or ignorant art. Collage is typically seen as a lesser art form, and the way a lot of people do it, it is a lesser art form. But that is also part of the appeal, the idea that I could try to elevate the medium and turn it into something with just as much vision, precision in process, elegance, and emotive resonance as any other fine art medium.
What led you to consistently work with J Whitaker and Kelly Fondry on creating the source imagery for many of your collages?
Jesse Draxler: I first started working with them a few years ago now. J and I initially met online due to being featured on the same blog days apart, but it was immediately apparent that we were creating on the same plane, both conceptually and aesthetically. Once we all started working together in person and on set during shoots it was even more apparent. Everything flows in a very natural progression from inception of a project all the way through to final executions – it’s a very easy-going process creatively because we all trust one another to do the best at what they do best. In my opinion, J and Kelly are each at the top of their respected fields as well as multi-talented, stretching far beyond typical definitions of what a photographer or set designer is – between the three of us we almost have every base covered.
“The way Alexander McQueen did fashion – I definitely see that as an art” – Jesse Draxler
Why do you work only in black and white?
Jesse Draxler: When I ditched colour all together it felt like a natural step in an organic evolution of my practice, so much so that I almost didn't notice that it happened initially. I was working to strip away all the excess, getting to the essence of what I was trying to portray. I realised everything I want to say I can say in greyscale, and this pushes the elements of a piece that I have always found most interesting – shape, form, line, composition, tension. I don't see greyscale as a lack of colour, conversely, I felt like I had gained something once I realised I had fully eliminated colour from my palette.
And full disclosure, I am also colour deficient, or what is commonly known as colourblind. So colour has always been an issue being that much of the time I am seeing something different from what most people are. That in itself is not an issue, but it is when you are meaning to convey something and are unable to correctly speak the language so that they properly understand. So it also made logical sense to nix it.
What are the influences that shaped this project?
Jesse Draxler: Our initial concept boards for this project featured a lot of action shots – hardcore vocalists, skateboarders, rioters. One of the first things we all seemed to notice about the clothing was that it reminded us of mid-late 90s skate and BMX gear. The Swallow hoodie in particular reminded me of an old Shorty's hoodie I had when I was younger (the one with the S's on each sleeve), and the Swallow logo itself is reminiscent of logos from that era. Since all three of us kind of grew up surrounded, or intrigued by, that culture it seemed appropriate that we run with it.