The Miles Davis Online Interview: Jesse Watson

(Artist Series, Volume 17)

Stumbling across the Internet and discovering a talented artist and author like Jesse Watson really makes my day. Sure, he features outstanding Miles Davis paintings, which is what led me to his official website in the first place, but all of his artwork – which includes wonderful collections like Jazz & Blues, Jamaica, Faces of Reggae and NW Surf Art – should definitely definitely definitely be enjoyed.

I see a painting of Miles Davis dressed in a spacesuit, I am immediatley going to need to know what all that’s about. So I dropped Jesse a line and he was kind enough to chat with me about what Miles is doing in space and other creative matters.

Miles Davis Online: Is there anything specific that sparked your interest to paint Miles?
Jesse Watson: I’ve been mystified by Miles’ music for a long time. The power and gentleness, clarity and chaos. There is no more confusing and intriguing a subject as he. In all these portraits of musicians, it is my goal to represent not only their likeness but the vibes of the music they share with us. So for my portraits of Miles, I set out to show different sides of the man and his music.

Miles Davis Online: I can’t believe I waited until the second question to ask, but let’s talk about the painting Miles Away. Miles Davis dressed like an astronaut is equally terrific and curious. Where did you get the idea to paint Miles in space?
Jesse Watson: Miles Away. How could Miles not be from outer space, or from the future, or from another dimension? He seemed so distant and unique and I couldn’t help but picture him showing up for a gig and then as soon as it was over, hopping back into his space shuttle and leaving Earth again.

It was as if he had a very clear view of humanity from his perch seven thousand miles up, and when he visited us with his music he gave us exactly what we needed. But he was not at home here. He was just visiting.

Miles Davis Online: Would you say there is something inherently unique about jazz musicians that make them such compelling subjects to paint?
Jesse Watson: Absolutely! All of these players that I painted had the ability to transcend time and space with their improvisation and problem solving. They left indelible marks on our culture with their recordings but it was not the notes, it was the interaction, the timing, the nuance, the magic. And that magic can’t be canned or called on by anybody who wants to record an album.

I intended my process in painting these images to mirror the sessions these guys had. I laid down an unrestricted ink line, doing my best to capture the likeness but also let my body respond to the music I was listening to while I inked. Then with acrylic paint, I would paint into the ink and define the rest of the painting in an improvisation right then and there. The days or weeks following when I would “finish up” would be a task of further building up the oddities of that initial improv of ink and paint.

And so the problem solving that happens right on the spot can take closer to my finished piece or create a host of problems I will need to solve before getting there. I have to make a decision, good or bad, and then turn that decision into something that works with the whole painting. Like an ensemble, each player must both bravely step out into the silence, and conform their own utterances to the benefit of the song itself.

Miles Davis Online: Who are some of the past or contemporary artists who influence you?
Jesse Watson: Matisse, Coltrane, Pissarro, Van Gogh, Sargent, Miles, N.C. Wyeth, Marley, Tosh, De La, Rakim, Hockney, my dad – and the list goes on.

Miles Davis Online: Are you working on anything special at the moment?
Jesse Watson: I am always working on concepts for fine art exhibits. I tend to work in big bodies of work with common themes. I have an idea for a show dealing with punk rock that I might get to someday. Not sure about that one. Hmm.

I am also working on children’s books, which is the other half of my work. Always writing and sketching for the next possible project. So, just like the soloist on stage, I have to make a sound and go with it.

Miles Davis Online: Favorite Miles Davis album?
Jesse Watson: It feels so standard to say, but Kind of Blue really does get so much play that I have had to replace the CD more than a few times in my life, but I also love In a Silent Way an awful lot, too.

* You can see more of Jesse Watson’s artwork at his official website.

Artwork is © Jesse Watson


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