A Conversation with Artist Joseph “Joe Jellicle” White
Interview by Noor Hindi
This month’s cover art is by Joseph “Joe Jellicle” White, the artist who created the mural at A Walk in the Park Café in Firestone Park. We caught up with him to talk about his work.
Noor Hindi: Could you tell me about your latest projects?
Joseph White: Right now, I’m doing a compilation of chakra, new age, [and] esoteric inspired collection with my paintings. There’s a lot of avenues that I dabble in. I got a fashion line that I like to do [and] I’ve been releasing past collections because I hoarded a whole bunch and now I’m doing more. So, I have that avenue and that’s the latest in my fashion. And my latest inspiration in that genre is royalty with a mix of geometry, so everything is inspired by that over opulence with the natural geometry with nature and life. So that’s with the fashion, and back to the painting, a recent piece that I finished was the Tree of Thought which is the duality, the meditating and the balance of good and evil and what encompasses my take on that. My paintings tend to be very drawing. You’ll take away something different. And that’s what I like. I like abstract. I like Salvador Dali, that whole dream, escape, mysterious world type of feel. I got that going on and then I have my baby, it’s been like 10 years and I’m just now getting it to where it’s in the publishing part. I’ve got a story I’ve been working on called Godhood and that’s a graphic novel series that’s been spanning like 10 years. It’s off of me and my friends and our horoscopes and this whole astrological connection and the cosmos. I like to just bring all of those taboo elements and just mesh it. If I had to compare it to anything out there it would probably be Final Fantasy on steroids. Just dark. It’s definitely an interesting take and that’s probably going to be coming out towards the end of the year.
NH: Outside of your art, what do you do?
JW: I work for First Energy. I work for the electric company so I do the customer service. It’s all phone work. I’ve pretty much done customer service a great deal all my life. It’s kind of my niche. I’m pretty good on the phones. I love it. They let me do my own thing within the company. And so art still flourishes and my passion is still sparking so I like it. And they’re awesome, I’ve never had a job with so many benefits. I really, really like that job.
NH: So it doesn’t sap your energy?
JW: No. I’m always just finding the next best thing. I know that wherever you work, it’s going to drain you if you let it so I’m always looking for the next best way to preserve, whether that’s exercising or keeping up my meditation because I’m very spiritual. Just keeping my mind active when the body stays stagnant at the desk. Duality.
NH: How does meditation help your art?
JW: Sometimes it comes as inspiration. I’m very good with dream recall and I have a journal. In meditations, sometimes dreams I’ve forgotten come to me in little snippets and then from there I can get to the journal and I write the rest down. I do visual meditation, there’s so many different types of meditation. You do the kind where you want to just empty out your mind and let your thoughts come in without any kind of judgement, and then you have your visualization that’s kind of geared towards your chakras and just connecting your energy and grounding with the earth. Those types of visualizations help with anything from seeing auras to just like being more clairvoyant. Meditation is a very useful tool in guiding my creativity.
NH: Aside from your graphic novel, what are some other goals you have for your art?
JW: I want to push the boundaries. I very much consider myself a button pusher in every aspect. If it’s safe, it’s boring. And if it’s boring, then it’s just not me. I think my art is very stage left. I want it to make you think. I want it to provoke you. I want it to make you uncomfortable. I enjoy pushing you outside the box. I’m not here to ask for your permission. If you’re going to view my art then you’re going to be exposed to my world, like raw and unapologetic.
NH: What are some buttons you’ve pushed in the past with your art?
JW: Just me being a black, gay man. I like playing on that dynamic in my comics. I’ve always been about the boundaries and reflecting what’s actually out there. I like characters who show shades of grey. Where there’s not always a clear right and wrong. I like that gray area where good people are forced into bad situations and you see the realness of it all.
NH: How do you feel when you’re making art?
JW: When I do draw, I drift away. It is a natural high. Blending colors on a canvas is hypnotic and crazy. That Bob Ross guy is the truth. I swear. I love him. I aspire for his spirit. There is something so awesome in the whole aspect of painting. And it brings out a meditation. I didn’t even realize how whatever I’m thinking about, whatever I was processing that day, it goes away and you really are free to just vibe. It creates that world for you.
NH: What’s your favorite color?
JW: Blue. And not just blue, there’s so many different blues. It’s a combination. I like blue and then my second favorite color is green and then my third favorite color is purple. But then my favorite combination color is blue and yellow because it’s very royal and very majestic and very proud and strong. But definitely blue. Beautiful blue.
NH: You mentioned the theme of royalty in your fashion, and again now with your favorite colors. Why do you gravitate towards the majestic in your work so much?
JW: I don’t know, I think it’s in my nature. I don’t know if you’ve seen Cats, it’s a very old school musical, but they always refer to them as jellicle. And my last name is white. And I love this movie because it’s about these cats and they’re just so high and mighty and every night they get together and they have a ball and if you’re special enough you get reincarnated and they do all these dances. It just plays on the personality traits of all types of cats. So, I always loved it. And when I realized that the word jellicle . . . actually meant like opulence, also referred to as white. And so once I realized that I decided I wanted to change my last name from white to jellicle, like Joe Jellicle, That’s neat. Boom. That’s cosmic.
My shy has always been interpreted as bougie and so I’ve always been classed as not royal, but something. My mannerisms are different, I’m not like from here. And I’ve always, even with my vocabulary and just whatever, I always seek to better myself. I believe in the renaissance man. I believe in nurturing that. I believe if you’ve got a gift, do it. And from singing or art and however it manifests, I go for it. And I think that my friends would joke around, like ‘oh, not Mr. White, with his royal ass.’ It just kind of stuck. And when I look back in hindsight, I’ve always lived my life with a very, very strict moral code. I’ve never been afraid to go stage left and I’ve always been my own weird person. I celebrate weird. I claim it. And if I see it I nurture it. I love it. Just that whole aspect, and not giving a fuck and still coming to the finish line and being able to coexist with the people who want to follow the trends or whatever and still be my own person and maintain.
NH: Speaking of “nurturing weird,” who in your life has nurtured the weird inside of you?
JW: Oh my gosh, like all my best friends. I treasure them. Most of my friends, it’s been 15 plus years of knowing each other. Like, they know me. They celebrate my weird. We blended into each other. It’s a mutual weird. Like weird recognized weird. So, I think we were kind of this off clique that just kind of manifested. And we just supported each other. That’s the biggest thing. It’s a support system so you feel empowered.
NH: What were you like as a kid? How does your off-beat personality blend in with being a kid who’s trying to fit in?
JW: As a kid I had all this creativity and pizzazz but I was just awkward. I was still trying to find my feet. And I think my problem wasn’t trying to fit in, it was trying to dumb down. I was weird for being like, too fast in track. Like ‘omg are you from Africa?’ Or like doing something in art like being in art class like ‘why are you so good at this?’ It was almost a ridicule like ‘that’s freaky, why are you so apt at this?’ I kind of just nurtured my own little thing. I absorbed everything. I was weird, but I didn’t notice the affect that I was having on the world. I was content in my own little weird bubble with my art and stuff. I knew my craft’s true people, but I knew they didn’t understand me on a true nature like the friends I know now. So, I was finding my feet. I was definitely weird. Weird and artsy.
NH: Now that you’re more comfortable with yourself, how has your work changed?
JW: I think it’s gotten very flexible. I did have the awesome pleasure of going to The Art Institute of Dallas in 2011. And through that school, they blew my parameters. I thought I was a button pusher, but they pushed me into all types of crazy, artistically. I love being assigned assignments because it’s so third party. It’s something that I would never think to do and it really makes you come to that place and you dig out and discover something about yourself that you didn’t even know you were capable of. My art has gotten more flexible. I was very safe. I knew what I was good at in the art realm and I did that to the T. And it was always, for a lot of years, enough. But through that school, I really learned how to push myself. I’ve taken my weaknesses and made them my bitch. And that’s awesome. Life’s greatest experiences are on the other side of fear or uncertainty or doubt or pessimism. Once you get over to the other side, it’s golden. You just discover shit.
NH: What is the last good book that you read?
JW: Kindred [by Octavia E. Butler]. That is the last good book that I read. I freaking loved it from start to end. It was provocative because it was the interracial couple and it was in the 1970’s, but they were going back in time during slavery. Ugh, I don’t want to give it away but it was a very, very good book.
NH: What’s something that discourages you?
JW: I would probably have to say myself. It took me a while to not judge myself. It took me a while to get to the point of ‘hey, forgive yourself and move on. You leave that judgement crap to the man upstairs. Forgive yourself. Life goes on.’ I’ve always created issues that weren’t even there, just by me jumping the gun or reading in too far between the lines or just being extra, holding too much. I’m ultra-curious. It’s my gift and my curse. I’m a prober. And then I probe on myself. The outside world never hurt me because I was the worst to myself. I’m too critical. I was my biggest discourager looking back now.
I guess if I had to pick an external source though, it’s negative people. I’m a firm believer that you speak your reality into existence. I can’t stand negative people. I can’t stand people who can shoot down everything, but not offer solutions. I get very self-righteous about injustice. You will hear my mouth.
NH: Do you collect stuff?
JW: I’m an avid comic collector. And my guilty, guilty pleasure is SH Figuarts. I’m a big Sailor Moon fan. I freaking love her. And I have these little action figures and stuff.
NH: What are you ultimately trying to communicate through your art?
JW: To see the world fearlessly. To really be uninhibited. To release your shackles or whatever the heck it is and just embrace it. Just take it. Just take it all in. That’s what I want. I want to inspire people. It’s contagious. A world without art is nothing.
NH: What distinguishes you from other artists?
JW: I have a personal style. I do have a very confident aura to it, especially with the fashion. My fashion is very sexy, it’s a little promiscuous, some would say. But it’s diverse. I love pushing that. My art is just other worldly. I don’t like to put myself in the same bracket. I appreciate what’s out there but I know there’s beauty in the uniqueness of self. I think my art is just . . . Jellico. It’s just got its own little Jellico swag.
Check out Joseph’s work on Facebook @josephwhite84 or JoeJellicle.
(photos of Joseph by Ilenia Pezzaniti)