Influenced by homoerotic artist Belasco, Blake Gildaphish, and Alessandro Flores, Jason Watler (@artofjae_ on Instagram) hopes to become a household name. The self-taught artist started at an early age when his brother and cousin refused to teach him how to draw. His mediums consist of traditional markers, pens, ink, and pencil.
Below, Jason ruminates on how he got started, how he uses art to express himself, and what’s next.
PrideIndex (PI): Welcome, Jason. How are you today? Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.
Jason Watler (JW): Thank you so much for having me today.
PI: Tell us a bit more about yourself. Where are you from, and where can your art be found?
JW: Okay, so, the where I’m from question can be a little tricky because I’ve lived many places. My dad was in the military, but long story short, I’m from outside Atlanta, Georgia. My family resides in Northern Virginia and the DMV area. I claim that area, but I currently live in Richmond, Virginia. You can find my art on Instagram @artofjae_ and my pronouns are He/Him/They/Them.
PI: Are you also on Facebook or any other social media?
JW: I do not have a page on Facebook, just my Instagram, and I will re-release my shirt site soon. I hope to have a grand opening of that sometime soon.
PI: I love your art. I was looking at some of your posts on Instagram. I love art where a person draws freehand. When did you first discover that you wanted to be an artist, and when did you start drawing? When did you fall in love with art?
JW: How did I fall in love with art? Well, I picked up a pen, a crayon, a pencil and just stretched my imagination and fell in love with the things I created and saw. I have a very overactive imagination and I was always encouraged to draw what I saw and illustrate how I felt. My mom and dad supplied me with art materials and always encouraged me to follow my dreams.
PI: Are you an artist by profession?
JW: Professionally, I work in public health, but I’m an artist by trade and passion. I would love to be an artist by profession. I have many creative outlets, so my art is very much there. I’m creative by heart and by trade as well. I enjoy traditional artwork, digital art, and just art as a medium.
PI: What is your earliest memory of being an artist?
JW: I remember coloring with my brother and cousin. We would make up comic-book worlds and everything. I remember asking them how to draw because I thought they drew better than me at the time. I believe we were like nine, ten, eleven, or twelve around those formative years. They were like, “Nah, we’re not going to teach you,” and I was like, “Okay, all right. I will take it into my own hands and learn on my own.” And that’s what I did. I asked my mom for art books and things I was interested in, like Anime, Manga, and East Asian culture, which still influence my art style. I just hit the ground running and never looked back.
PI: What medium do you use for your drawings and paintings? I couldn’t tell if they were acrylic paint, oil, chalk.
JW: My medium mainly consists of traditional stuff like markers, pens, ink, and pencil. I also get into watercolor and gauche. Gauche is like the lovechild between acrylic and watercolor. It’s very versatile. Mostly watercolor. I also use acrylic. I have made some abstract pieces. I also have done Copic marker and inks primarily. Those are my more comfortable mediums. I’m also trying to get back into digital art, but it’s so frustrating. I know how to use Photoshop, and I get frustrated.
PI: You shouldn’t feel frustrated when I look at some of the things you’ve done on Instagram. Using Photoshop is considered cheating, if you ask me, because you’re taking a photo that exists and marking it up if you will. That’s not traditional art. I’m trying to compliment you and say don’t feel frustrated.
JW: I wouldn’t necessarily call it cheating. Unless you’re straight-up copying someone else’s works, I consider that cheating. Still, if you’re using influence, that is not like a direct copy because I use influences from everywhere, from artists I look up to, people, music. I draw on many influences when it comes to digital art. I try not to throw shade at other people because they do digital art.
I’ve also made digital art in the past. I’m just not consistent in digital art. I do have a style I want to develop in digital art. Because with digital art, you’re able to mass-produce shirts and other items and be able to share your art and reach a broader range of spaces and places. Not saying you can’t do the same with traditional art, but I think it’s good to have both skills. Photoshop, Paint, InDesign, Illustrator are ways to be able to, you know, gain some more digital design skills and make t-shirts. Not just make T-shirts, but I can use both to curate and edit my art. There’s nothing wrong with knowing both. It’s just for me; I want to be both an excellent digital artist and the best traditional artist. I like the best of both worlds.
PI: Speaking of influences, name three people who have most impacted your work or style.
JW: Hmm. Got to limit it to three. I like everything and everybody. I would say a lot for myself. It’s mostly; nowadays, many black homoerotic artists influence my style. The first one will be Belasco; he is the Godfather of Black Homo-erotica. I probably had no business even looking at Belasco’s art at a young age. How he draws black men, queer men, and erotica have always influenced my work. The second artist would have to be Blake Gildaphish. He’s another Black homoerotic artist, and I love how he uses his colors. I also love how he uses traditional mediums such as watercolor, and I believe he also uses gauche. His work is very reminiscent of a lot of retro feels. When I see his work, I feel like I’m looking at an older illustration book from the 70s and 80s. It has that retro feel. It’s also mixed with homo-erotica and has a sort of erotic nature.
As to what I get from his art, I feel like if you look at old Bible illustrations, especially like the children’s Bible illustrations, it gives me obvious influences from that era with Gildaphish’s spin on it. The third artist I get inspiration from is Alessandro Flores. He is also a Black homoerotic artist. He lives in Brazil. I love the way he uses colors, and watercolor influences me and his traditional mediums as well influence me. The great thing about the artists that I’ve named, is I know them. They know me too, so I feel seen or validated, especially when they share my works and I share there’s. It’s a mutual exchange of energy. I go to them for advice and stuff like that.
PI: Were you formally trained as an artist? If so, when and where?
JW: Aside from being self-taught, I learned and picked up some stuff in high school and college. I have entered an art program and won a scholarship when I was living in Colorado Springs. One of my art teachers from middle school once entered one of my pieces to a City Arts show. I won a scholarship and took two art classes. That was such a long time ago. I can’t even remember the name of the program that I attended. My friend and I went and participated in those classes and had a great time.
PI: Looking at some of Alessandro Flores’ work, it is very homoerotic. You mentioned him as an influence on your work. Does that mean you like art that touches eroticism and sexuality?
JW: It took me a while to express myself through my art and sexuality. Once I’d merged all those worlds, I was like, okay, I can draw what I want. With Blake Gildaphish and his work, I can see the inspirations from artists like Thomas of Finland, who is known as the Gay Godfather of Homoerotic Art. Those are the artists that have inspired and influenced my work.
PI: Do you have plans to put together a book of your illustrations or artwork?
JW: Oh, a book? I would say down the line, I would like to. Maybe I will put an anthology together. I’m working on being more consistent. The thing is I work a full-time job. I feel like I would have to be everywhere. So, for me to be centered, I really have to work on that to be more consistent and putting things out. I also want to make sure that it’s still fun for me. I sketch here and there, and I do have things I finished working on. But I would like to put out a book down the line at some point. I was invited to an art showcasing at last fall around September into October. It was a lot of fun. I was able to showcase my artwork. I had a great time, and I was able to sell some things.
PI: As a matter of fact, I think what you referred to was the virtual viewing of Souls of Black Pebble by Anthony Green?
JW: Yes, Anthony Green’s Souls of Black Pebbles.
PI: Where can I find your art, t-shirts, and other stuff, other than just on Instagram?
JW: I had a soft opening for my t-shirts, but my website is not up at the moment. I had a soft opening in December but there were bugs and a lot of issues. I had to close it down. I only have one design out right now, but I’m working on a couple of other styles. We’ll come back, bigger, better, and stronger than ever. I am working on a few other things. Then I also want to make sure that the shirts come in various and bigger sizes. I don’t want people to feel that they can’t wear my stuff because it comes in limited sizes. I want to be size-inclusive and everything. I want to make sure everybody can get a shirt and wear a shirt.
I’m currently looking for quality. I want this shirt to last a long time. I’m now using the American Apparel brand, but they only go up to 2X’s. So, I need to find something that goes up to at least 4 or 5X’s. I can find a new t-shirt through my distributor. So, I’m going to do more of that. I don’t mind moving my design to another t-shirt; I want to make sure that it’s a shirt that will last a long time and be available in different colors. The method I have on the shirt now, I like it in white because I’m just sold that it’s the best color. But I will have other designs in different colors as well.
PI: What does Jason like to do for fun and relaxation?
JW: I love hanging out with my friends/chosen family, and my family. I’m very big on the community, showing love and supporting my friends. I love to go out to eat at different restaurants. My favorite foods are Eastern Asian foods. I also love Ethiopian cuisines and my people’s food. I am Black/Afro Latino, and I have those influences. But Goya and Adobo and Old Bay on a lot of stuff. I’m an all-around creative. I love to dance, and sing. I need to get better at singing. My brother is a rapper. I’ve rapped on a few tracks of his in the past. I’m the youngest of three, and all my siblings are creatives, very talented and gifted individuals.
PI: Your art is male-centric/perfect body boy-centric. What do you have to say about that?
JW: Well, I have been challenging myself to learn to break out of that. I guess because I’m inspired by homo-erotica and inspired by things that turned me on. I see beauty in everything and want to incorporate more size-inclusive art pieces to broaden my art more. I draw what I see, and I draw what I like. I also like more things than what is shown on Instagram. I’ve been holding out on art pieces and stuff like that. I’m not going to lie, I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my shit. But if I draw something or someone, I want to make sure I do it justice. I do draw female figures, trans bodies, and all sorts. I want to make sure I do justice when delivering that because it is essential. I believe representation is very, very, very, very important. So, I want to make sure I do it properly. I want to make sure they feel represented when people see my stuff.
PI: Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your work?
JW: There is more to consume. I am currently showcasing my artwork through the end of February at the Pencil on Paper Gallery curated by my friend, Nicholas Gaines. I have submitted a few things for that. I just to put myself out there, and there will be more to come soon. And I will share artwork from the past and my growth and try to share more of myself and not be afraid.
Follow me on Instagram @artofjae_