John John Jesse's Punk Rock, New York Narrative

John John Jesse is a celebrated, controversial Catholic schoolboy-cum-punk rocker-cum-gonzo pop artist who came up in the dirty streets of NYC’s Lower East Side in the 80s and 90s. Luscious, filthy, fantastical, Jesse’s illustrative paintings are imbued with a lifelong appreciation for the fierce and rebellious girls he grew up with, and convey a deep understanding of the psychosexual underpinnings to work by a wide variety of fellow artists– from Gustav Klimt and Béla Iványi-Grünwald to Jamie Reid and Caravaggio. Most of the people featured in Jesse’s work are friends of his; many others are recognizable figures from sub/pop/countercultural spheres. A couple years back, Jesse moved from the big city into more pastoral climes, but his passionate love affair with the imagery and narrative of Punk Rawk New Yawk continues. Today on Coilhouse: a recent interview with JJJ conducted by Coilhouse contributor Sarah Hassan. ~Mer


L.I.E. ’88 by John John Jesse

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As the quintessential ‘punk rock painter’ from the Lower East Side, a neighborhood now known more for it’s expensive rent and boutiques than heroin addicts and street gangs, how did your move from the city affect your work, if all? Is New York City still what inspires you, or is there something to be said for the quiet of small-town living?
I left New York City because it no longer is what it was. It has turned into an extremely over-crowded college dorm. I mean, now you actually have to wait in line to cross the street and some intersections. That’s fucked! But moving didn’t affect my work at all, it just removed the distractions. You can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy, as they say. My life story is what inspires me and most of that took place in New York City, so being here – the country – just gave me the clarity to get my point across in my works.

New York can be rather distracting for an artist, there is a simplicity to living outside it that seems to enhance ones creative output. Your work appears and is often credited to be extremely autobiographical; the music, the drugs, the girls, the heartache. As you’ve developed as an artist, have your inspirations changed in anyway, or do the same themes resonate with you even more than ever?
It’s a lot of the same; I am just discovering new ways to tell my story. After time, your craft always becomes more refined and that gets me pretty eager to keep painting. And as it – my work – is autobiographical, my life continues, so therefore my story does too.


The 3-Headed, Tattooed Waif by John John Jesse

The ever-evolving body of work; it’s inspiring. The exuberance and anxiety of youth is a major theme with your paintings, which music has always been successful in addressing. How has your experience as a musician affected your fine art?
I’m now retired from touring and playing in punk bands, I don’t have the time they need to commit. Better to give a one-hundred percent to one thing than spread myself thin and do both crappy. I had been on tour or recording most of my life, so it had a huge impact on my art. I mean, we weren’t the Jonas Brothers, but you can imagine what we were like on tour. It’s pretty much a free pass to do whatever the fuck you want.

Fashioning the Sublime: Alexander McQueen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

CONTRIBUTOR’S NOTE: This week marks the final chance to see Savage Beauty before it closes on Sunday, August 7th. Due to the exhibit’s overwhelming popularity, the Metropolitan Museum has scheduled special viewing times for the upcoming weekend. Do not miss the opportunity to witness this one-of-a-kind show honoring one of the most spectacular talents to ever grace the fashion world.


Alexander McQueen’s “The Horn of Plenty”,  autumn/winter 2009-10. Black duck feathers. (via)

“When I am dead and gone, people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen.” -Alexander McQueen (1969-2010)

The death of the Scottish designer Lee Alexander McQueen in February of 2010 sent shockwaves throughout the fashion industry that rippled steadily outward, pervading the worlds of fine art, music, theatre and design. Suddenly, one of the bravest, boldest and incredibly imaginative forces in fashion was gone. McQueen’s suicide took place just a week after his beloved mother, Joyce, died from cancer, and with little more than a month to go before he was to debut a new collection in Paris. The international outpouring of grief was palpable, as everyone, from socialites, celebrities and fashion students from countless walks of life remembered the designer in extensive magazine features, blog posts, Twitter updates, and Tumblr tributes. McQueen’s strong features and piercing stare appeared on the cover of most major newspapers.


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McQueen’s influence was undeniable; he had unleashed, with collection after collection, a romantic assault on the senses and invited his viewers to look with their minds, not merely their bodies, when deciding what to wear and how to wear it.

Never had a designer injected so much personal anguish and cerebral delight in his creations, and the materials he used, from pony skin, ostrich feathers, medical slides, hammered silver, balsa wood and tulle, became fashioning for the soul. For the past several months, devotees have streamed through the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to personally experience many of his most iconic creations up close, presented in the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty retrospective. Curated by Andrew Bolton of The Costume Institute, the exhibit shows more than one hundred designs in tailor-made galleries befitting each of McQueen’s influences.

Houdini: Art & Magic – The Wonders Never Cease


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Yet another Doomsday has mercifully passed us by. Meanwhile, the horrors taking place around the globe stay their course. Corruption, scandal, and greed continue to rocket to the front pages of our newspapers.

Has there ever been a more dire need for magic?

In the shimmering hills that surround Los Angeles, art, wonder and the hope that only a spectacle can birth are being celebrated. The hard-working ghost of Harry Houdini is traveling the country via Houdini: Art & Magic, a comprehensive retrospective chronicling the life of an immigrant Rabbi’s son turned bonafide American showman. On a recent drive back from Malibu, the first stop on my long-overdue west coast vacation, street markers with stiff black flags trumpeting the arrival of Art & Magic at the Skirball Cultural Center had me jumping out of my passenger’s seat.


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I had first seen the exhibit at the Jewish Museum in March before it closed at the end of the month. That same week, Houdini’s last living assistant, Dorothy Young, died in a retirement community in New Jersey at the age of 103, three days before what would’ve marked Houdini’s 137th birthday. The stars were aligning rapidly before me, and I, a sucker for synchronicity, could not churn out the review I wanted in time for the exhibit to end. I sat among pages of obsessive notes describing what I had seen at the museum, from Houdini’s diaries, to photographs of him with his beloved mother, and his performance trunk curling with worn and cracked brown leather. I swooned over the thin, almost romantic curl to his handwriting, lamented his untimely death, and dug up details from the obituaries of Dorothy, a woman who, at the age of 17, had been selected by the magician from a crowd at Coney Island, and kept her stalwart promise never to reveal his secrets.

Arturo Herrera Revisits “Les Noces”


A still from the 1923 Ballet Russes’ production of Les Noces.

Les Noces, known as Svadebka in Russian, was a production ten years in the making. Originally commissioning the score from Igor Stravinsky in 1913, Sergei Diaghilev, creator and leader of the Ballets Russes, intended the ballet to be choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. The task was later handed to his capable and innovative sister, Bronislava, who was inspired by Cubism, Constructivists, and the relationship between body and machine as exemplified in the emerging Soviet Russia. More concerned with the dynamic quality of movement rather than the traditional posturing and composition of ballet, Nijinska’s choreography was novel and intensely physical.

With its premiere in 1923, Les Noces acted as a sacred drama that created a liturgy out of a wedding while exploring brutal peasant values through a modernist lens. The dancers, in their somber, simple costumes designed by Natalia Goncharova, were to resemble Byzantine saints leaving little room for expression or romance as they stabbed and spliced the air and stage with their rigid hands and feet. The result was one of the most enduring and influential ballets of the 20th century, still performed today.

Conductor Leonard Bernstein spoke of Stravinsky’s opening “cruel chord, made crueler with the lack of preparation,” and the unsettling score stays with you long after the final note has been sung. Influenced by the ‘folk orchestras’ of peasant weddings, Stravinsky employed only four pianos and soloist singers for his musical score, a far cry from the sweeping ensembles found in his compositions The Firebird, Petroushka and Le sacre du printemps. Now, New Yorkers and visitors to the famously noisy metropolis can get lost in the soundscape of Stravinsky as appropriated by the artist, Arturo Herrera.

On view at the Americas Society until April 30th, Herrera’s Les Noces (The Wedding) is an abstract homage to the classic ballet in the form of jumpy film projections, collage and sculpture. Take the time to visit the modest exhibit if only to experience the rattling pianos and piercing operatic vocals of the Stravinsky recording, haunting as any eulogy, juxtaposed against Herrera’s film of a world as bleak as Nijinska’s peasant girls all too aware of their fates.

The gallery at the Americas Society is located at 680 Park Avenue, NYC and is open Wednesday through Saturday, 12-6 p.m.

Click here for more information on the exhibit. For further reading on Les Noces, visit Ballet UK.

Diaghilev Gets His Due: The Golden Age of the Ballets Russes at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Coilhouse is delighted to welcome writer and dancer Sarah Hassan into the Coilhouse family. Her premiere piece for us is a 3000 word feature about Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. This is definitely one of the most informative, inspiring, infectious posts you’ll read here this month, so settle in, and enjoy! ~Mer


Dancers in the original Le sacre du printemps production.

The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris seems an unlikely venue for a riot. Yet almost one hundred years ago, on May 29th, 1913, fist-fights broke out in an audience made up of socialites, musicians, and artists. The institution in question was one that by today’s standards seems chaste and predictable: the ballet.

The premiere of Le sacre du printemps by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes has become the stuff of legend. Against Nicholas Roerich’s backdrop of a primitive Russia, the radical score by Igor Stravinsky came alive to the choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky, the danseur noble darling – and object of Diaghilev’s affection – whose unsurpassed defiance of gravity on Europe’s great stages had been leaving balletomane’s breathless. Now, the dancer whose roles included a lovesick puppet, a sprightly rose, and a predatory golden slave presented a complicated tableau of sacred ritual. With balled-up fists and downward glances, his dancers jumped and stomped their pigeon-toed feet in time with the violins as if trying to conjure up the ghosts of pagan tribesmen. The heavy woolen dresses painted with folk patterns on the peasant girls were in place of the frothy tulle skirts of nighttime sylphs and bejeweled torsos of slinking odalisques expected from a program a’la Russes.


Nicholas Roerich’s Costumes for Le Sacre Du Printemps.

The production, presenting a ‘new type of savagery,’ caused a literal aesthetic outrage among the haute Parisian audience. Backstage, as the birth of modern dance unfolded, Nijinsky screamed the tempo counts in Russian to dancers who couldn’t hear over the booing, while Stravinsky held him by his coattails lest the crazed choreographer topple into the orchestra. Diaghilev attempted to placate the uproar by turning the house lights on and off. Yet despite its unsuccessful reception, Le sacre du printemps was performed six times, and Diaghilev declared the opening night scandal to be ‘exactly what he wanted.’ It was clear that the ballet was no longer safe.

Thirty-two years after Le sacre’s premiere, Nijinsky, having succumbed to insanity, leapt for a photographer’s camera in a Swiss asylum. The image captured the aging dancer smartly dressed in a suit suspended in the air, proof of his once otherworldly powers. Yet, one can only wonder if the height Nijinsky was attempting to recapture was not his own, but that of the sacrificial virgin he created, dying from her own mad dance in a flash of beastly glory.


The banner at the Victoria & Albert Museum for Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes.

All the hoopla generated by Darren Aronofsky’s psycho-sexual melodrama Black Swan made it easy to believe that ballet had been once again recovered from the ashes of its own antiquity. With Jennifer Homan’s attempt to condense 400 years of history with her book, Apollo’s Angels, the ballet’s ability to survive in an age where anything goes and everything changes came into question – the blood-stained tutu of Natalie Portman’s Nina Sawyer notwithstanding. Madness is, by Aronofsky’s account, the cost of greatness. This idea is artistic old-hat, retold through ballet by Moira Shearer’s exceptional Victoria Page in The Red Shoes – a movie loosely based on Diaghilev and his company – and all the gory details of Swan, from broken toes, bone-thin frames, and endless retching struck a resonant, less glamorous chord. The curtain was pulled back to reveal an art that demands perfection as you claw your way to the top while clawing yourself apart. Ballet, according to Black Swan, is more an arena for the cruel and calculated and less the foundation for beauty, innovation and fantasy.

Oh, how the days of Diaghilev would beg to differ.