Jesse Krimes is a multimedia artist based in Philadelphia. His interest in the arts materialized in prison, which he found himself in after being caught with 140 grams of cocaine in 2008. His refusal to implicate drove his sentence to be extended from 30 months to 6 years. In addition, they transferred him to a 23-hour lockdown violent offender unit.  

Instead of focusing on bonding with his inmates as a self-preservation tool, Jesse took a more introspective approach and turned to art to cope with the challenging circumstances and environment. Using prison contraband like bed sheets, hair-gel, spoons, and newspapers he began to actualize the philosophical paradoxes that became apparent in the prison system. One of his first works was produced by transferring the images of cut out newspaper mugshots to prison soap. His inmates began taking note of his work and would bring mugshots that they found in their papers to him. He also produced a 39 bed sheet installation called “Apokaluptein:16389067” (stemming from the Greek word for “apocalypse” and his Bureau of Prisons ID number) which was smuggled out of prison piece by piece.  

Jesse’s work is self described as “complicating vision.” From his TedTalk earlier this year, he shared: “It’s important to see in complexity so that we can see past surface representations and understand our preconceived notions and how they influence our ability to affect change.”  

We had the pleasure of catching up with this game-changing creator and asked him to share the seven things he’s vibing on at the moment. This is what he said:

1 | Freedom– After serving a 70-month federal prison sentence for a non-violent drug crime, I’m really digging my autonomy. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the intensity and pace of our contemporary society, especially when you’re trying to rebuild a stable existence from scratch. However, there are always subtle moments that remind me of where I’ve been and what is truly important in life.

2 | Prison Reform– The criminal justice system is profoundly broken on all sides. With over 2.2 million people in prison– more than 95 percent of whom will be returning home– it is important to focus on our shared humanity and experience as the foundation upon which we will build a more just society. As a society, we should be concerned about having the highest rate of incarceration in the world and what that says about us as a nation. If we actually want safer communities it’s imperative that we build a system focused on rehabilitation and not retribution.

3 | Burning in Water Art Gallery– I recently met Barry Malin, who is the owner and director of the gallery in Chelsea, New York. After our meeting, he offered me a solo-exhibition showcasing the works I created while in prison. The exhibition, Marking Time in America: The Prison Works (2009-2013) was open through September 24th. A portion of the proceeds went to support JustLeadershipUSA, a non-profit working to reduce the prison population. I appreciate the gallery’s commitment to purpose-driven contemporary art and its mission to collaborate with nonprofit and community-based organizations.

4 | Philosophy– While studying contemporary artists and their work is relevant to my practice, I am even more deeply influenced by the theoretical texts surrounding artworks. I find engaging with this line of inquiry to be more productive and ambiguous, leaving room for subjective interpretations and unique aesthetic translations. Over the duration of making my work I select various texts that I study in correlation with my material exploration. Currently, I am working through Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.

5 | Search Engines– The work I created while incarcerated used the prison itself as a new kind of media to be manipulated; one characterized by sparseness and limitations. Today, I am immersed in a media-saturated world. My current body of work investigates new media technologies and the formation of networks and value judgements. I have been searching the internet and using specific criteria to collect information and imagery related to various algorithms. At this early stage in the process, I am still unsure how this project will grow over time.

6 | Living in Simplicity– I maintain a fairly basic existence. With my intense work schedule, it is important for me to streamline my daily life. For the most part, I eat the same things every week, wear a small selection of clothing, exercise regularly, and follow a basic structure to the best of my ability. This allows me to focus my time, energy, and creative thought process on the things that need my attention.

7 | Seeing in Complexity– While I seek to live in simplicity, I also strive to push myself outside of my comfort zone. As a general rule, I seek out experiences and information that contrast with my traditional understandings. For me, it is important to be equally self-reflexive and critical regarding the things I like and the things that make me uncomfortable. I’ve learned just as much from my “failures” as I have from my successes.

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