Provocative NYC artist and musician Jeron Braxton has been pushing his culture-driven craft to the definable limit.
A self-taught animator, Braxton's work engages simplistic 3D forms in complex iterations as a method for quickly realizing his ideas.
With the recent premiere of his animation Glucose at SXSW, features on Adult Swim, and a collaboration with acclaimed contemporary artist Ron English, Braxton is igniting a cultural shift in the medium through both form and function.
Jeron, How did you get into 3D and animation?
I started doing 3D animation when I was 15. I downloaded Blender and did some tutorials on Youtube until I got a grasp on it. Then I started doing my own thing—just experimenting with it.
I did a lot of really simple things at first. I say that because I still use those simple tasks to this day. I try to be minimalistic in my design and how I build my models.
Now it's more or less a lot of simple things—a complex net of really simple tasks in Blender is how I achieve my work.
your animation Glucose premiered this year at SXSW. It'S so compelling, yet there is no identifiable narrative. What was your thinking behind that work?
I approached Glucose more as an art piece, more like a painting or a sculpture. I wanted to get a lot of conceptual ideas across and I chose animation to do that.
The main idea was obviously to reflect the human experience, my experience as a black man. And more than that, as a human using technology, being born in technology, and learning with it and expanding with it; helping technology grow.
Explicitly, I wanted it to be a reflection of the Internet. Each time we get [online] it's a journey that doesn't really have a narrative, but it's all connected because it's the same universe, or algorithm, tying everything together for you.
Your imagery really enforces that. I love that you are able to encapsulate, with these simple forms, a lot of highly specific ideas.
I think we've been spoon-fed an understanding of how a story or an animation should be consumed. When we watch TV there's years of social conditioning for how we should digest the show and I wanted to create something that was raw and organic and really pushed the craft to its limit. I wanted to push myself and do a lot of weird things.
One of the biggest things I try to have in the back of my mind with aesthetics is to design right at the edge of perception. If I add any less detail it would just be a total abstraction, but it's right there for me.
On a deep level it's really interesting to me to see how we can see shapes and derive understanding from that. Then there's a point when things become too nebulous and kind of get lost in visual noise. I am really into that.
I also chose a really low-quality 90's aesthetic because you know the 90's, early 2000's, those were my formative years that really shaped my understanding of reality. I just wanted to create something that was of its own category and something that pushes the craft forward, pushing the culture forward as a whole. So I'm doing it for the culture.
“I want my work to be something that deeply embeds itself in people's psyche. That they'll start to process while they’re dreaming, or as they go about their lives.”
So you’re also a musician. Is the music in your animations your own?
Yeah. A lot of the music is primarily me. I'd say like 80 percent is me and and the other 20 percent is my friend I've worked with a lot and my dad. He's a really good musician. In the 90’s he used to play piano at Bill Clinton's White House Christmas parties, and he has production credits on a K-Ci & JoJo album so we have this gold record in the house. So, I was like, yeah, I'm going to utilize this resource I have. He laid down some really rich piano.
Growing up, I listened to him play every day. He was a big part of my soundscape early on. Who better than him? He'd be practicing something and I would always hear him playing in the other room.
One of our first collaborations was when I was five. We recorded this one song. You know, "Who Can Take Tomorrow" from Willy Wonka? I love that song.
But that’s definitely the lighter side. There are a lot of dark things in Glucose. I chose the name Glucose because sugar is something that globalized the world. Every culture, for the most part, uses sugar and the Internet is globalizing in the world in the same way.
Sugar is this thing that's really sweet. It's white, it's bleached, but it has such a dark history of colonialism, transatlantic slave trade, and oppression. Such despicable atrocities against humanity. It's almost laughable that the product is so sweet.
Another subtle thing that I put in there was the hibiscus flower, which is the national flower of Haiti.
The Haitians were the first people to successfully create a slave revolt. They killed their masters, took over the industries, and it was because of that revolt that the Louisiana Purchase was so cheap. They needed money.
That's never anything anybody talks about because slaves rebelling from their masters is not the rhetoric that we want to preach in America. But it's definitely a part of the history.
The Internet is also this global thing that has a dark history, and a dark present, behind it. But on the surface it's very sparkly and shiny and everybody thinks it's this really pure thing.
In order for the Internet to exist, we have to go and mine for precious resources that are debilitating ecosystems and people's livelihood in the Congo and Africa.
All these rechargeable batteries and rechargeable whatever-the-f**ks that we present as if, “Oh, we're going green! This is the future.”
It's actually as barbaric as coal production. These startups that are booming in Silicon Valley, that money is as dirty to me as drug money, prostitution money, slave money, oil money. It's all dirty money.
There is so much thinking in your work. You could easily expand these images out and expand upon them, infinitely.
That’s my thinking. When I go on the Internet and see a GIF from a movie, but this GIF is so rich and says so much... out of context of the film, it becomes so much more. So I’m also thinking about that. On my Instagram I’ve been cutting pieces because I think I gave so [many animations] to people all at once that they didn't really see it, which is okay.
I want my work to be something that deeply embeds itself in people's psyche. That they'll start to process while they’re dreaming, or as they just go about their lives. I want people to really digest what they're looking at.
I've also been working on this 360 VR video with Julian Glander. He's in New York too and after we met at SXSW, immediately we wanted to collaborate in some way.
I was like, “What software do you use?” and he was like, “Blender.” I was like wow, this is a match made in heaven. That night he sent me a project file.
Then I came to New York and we were just hanging out and I was like, we need to make a 360 video of what we're working on now. So, that’s been cool. We’re gonna drop that this October in New York.
And honestly, Julian and I, I feel like we kinda got the cheat code. I'm not going to say what we do is easy, but it's easier than I think people perceive it. People think animation is a crazy thing, and it is a crazy thing, but if you have some patience and you work at it every day, you realize that you can grow really fast.
I think we found a cheat code that will start a new wave of indie animators. If I put some of my resources out there people would be like, “Oh, wow, you just have to do this to do that!”
I think that's important. Obviously, there's a lot of pretentious elements to the art world but at the end of the day you just want people to hear what you have to say.
Are there other artists you’d like to work with?
Marina Abramović, I’d like to work with her. I’d really like to work with Takashi Murakami. I’ve always wanted to work with Ron English, and I just finished a collaboration with him. I also really want to work with Kehinde Wiley.
There's actually a scene in Glucose where I'm paying homage to Kehinde Wiley. There’s a scene where the boxer gets shot and he has these flowers growing out of him. That was inspired by a Kehinde Wiley piece. Of course he has the flowers in the background, but the flowers in the foreground are supposed to represent gunshot wounds and I thought that was beautiful.
I‘ve been working with a lot of hip hop artists. I love hip hop. I think hip hop is definitely at the forefront of culture, whether people want to admit it or not. Black people have been influencing all modern music you listen to nowadays, like country. You listen to K-pop and it literally sounds just like R&B.
It’s a huge part of our culture as human beings and it does not get the recognition it deserves. If you’re a rapper, people laugh in your face. They love to laugh at black people enjoying their culture, but as soon as someone else does it it’s beautiful and edgy.
There is so much that I do that has no monetary value. Like, right now, I’m sleeping on my friend’s couch just to be a part of the culture, create for the culture, and you know... push culture forward. ✦