We had the good fortune of connecting with WAX (Jessi Harris) and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi WAX, what principle do you value most?
Transparency and integrity. As an artist who likes to consider myself a conscious designer, the ability to be transparent and honest about myself, my business, and my interaction with clients and peers is so imperative. Although I’m not yet able to create 100% sustainably, that is one of my goals – and I’ve always had a knack for transforming one man’s trash into another artist’s treasure. I bring this concept into my art by upcycling and giving vintage finds a new life, as well as redesigning single use plastics into installations, paintings, and accessories. But transparency is more than just business – it’s personal.
I’ve noticed that the majority of people I’ve interacted with carry a certain level of shame and disdain for themselves, and whether it be due to childhood traumas, shame culture, or constant comparison to their peers, it’s a sure way to get stuck. I was one of those people for a long time, struggling with severe depression, ADD, and anxiety for as long as I can remember, and those struggles have impacted most of my work. One of the most useful tools for coping and succeeding in a culture aimed towards uniformity has been being transparent and honest with my followers, fans, and peers. Not only is this helpful to my mental health, but it also allows the onlookers to relate and trust in my experience. And no one wants to be friends with someone they can’t trust, let alone invest in them or buy their products.
A lot of my work is also inspired by my background with philosophy, psychology, and the symbiotic impact of our environment and technology on us as humans. Each painting, upcycled design piece, or hand-molded accessory is an extension of myself and my world view. Change is imminent – painful, raw, real – and necessary for success and the betterment of the individual AND the whole. The way I create art is not just therapeutic for me – it’s an intentional self-expression that screams, “Look at me! I have problems too! I’m super weird but proud of it!” This is not to be confused with being prideful of my problems, but more so the ability to maintain a positive outlook and a sense of hope and introspection throughout my growth as a person and artist. The ability to express myself opens doors for others to do the same! By maintaining that level of transparency with my viewers (and most importantly, myself), I allow these individuals to enter into my life, to see the world as I see it – like one massive trippy interactive art installation. We are all works of art, being sculpted, hung on display, painted, painted over, chiseled down to the bare grain, whatever it is that we’re experiencing in the moment. Every time we are honest and introspective with ourselves and where we are in our journey, another ladder rung appears. Self-improvement, self-expression, and the capacity to grow are essential to adapting as individuals and a culture. This idea is what I hoped to capture by doing my infiniti faces (a seemingly never ending line that forms countless abstract, loopy faces). These faces represent how many people I have been on my journey to finding out who I truly am. We are all connected, not by being the same, but by our individuality – by being ourselves.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am an abstract painter and conscious designer. Although I’ve always been a creative, I picked up painting seriously about 3 years ago. Since then, I was blessed enough to showcase in 2 separate Art Basel Shows (2018,2019), as well as some local galleries, an online gallery in NYC, and other art events. The most challenging parts of being an artist were (and still can be) finding faith in myself and my vision, battling my mental illness, and battling financial difficulties. Over these last years as an artist, I’ve experience much abuse, toxic relationships, homelessness, and some problems with drugs and alcohol as I learned to cope with these things. Introspection and learning to have patience with myself, as well as learning to rely on my friends for support, have been the biggest game changers.
Currently, I’m mostly known for my larger than life, boldly colored abstract paintings. However, I’ve been in the process of branching out into fashion design, and now have a steadily growing collection of hand made earrings. Each pair is truly one of a kind, hand molded, chiseled, painted, and assembled by your’s truly. These accessories stand out because they are massive statements, and each pair is like wearing one of my abstract paintings on your ears. These little (big) guys really stand out because they’re in my same eccentric, brightly colored and blocky shaped style. I also hand paint custom vintage leather, denim and plastic outerwear and shoes. You can see some of the first designs on my website and instagram, but I have a ton more on the way! Like I said before – these pieces are not for the shy. These are for the weirdoes out there who own their individuality and love to make a pop with the things they wear – they’re also great additions for the minimal outfit – since each piece has a life of it’s own! The one truest lesson I’ve learned along the way is to be true to myself; whether it’s self-expression through my paintings and designs, having faith in my vision, or trusting my intuition (relationally AND relating to business). This is why I find it so necessary to promote self-awareness, introspection, and self-expression. I truly believe that understanding who we are, what we are passionate about, and where we came from – as well as owning those aspects of ourselves – is the key towards building a solid foundation on which to build, both as individuals and a society.
Another lesson I’ve learned is to stay humble – but not too humble ;). As a giver with natural caretaker tendencies, it’s been very easy for me to lose myself in trying to help others. But this has turned out in tragedy a lot more than positivity. The ability to maintain my sense of self while also remaining humble and willing to learn from each person and every outcome has been so essential towards developing my world view and personal artistic style.
And lastly (but really, in no order), perseverance. Every person has their own demons. Each individual fights a battle every day, no matter how big or how small. It’s not about the circumstances we face, but in how we REACT to those circumstances. I like to think of them as “circum – chances.” Life is a never ending cycle of opportunities. Which ones will we take? Which ones will we let go? How will we look back at the past? How will our current behaviors and thoughts impact our future? Nike said it best when they said, “Just do it!” That perseverant attitude of just putting our heads down and pushing through is so underrated. I wasted a lot of my life worrying about the “what ifs” instead of just moving forward. No matter how hard it is, anything is possible. And that’s a concept that I’m proud of, and want everyone to feel when they look at my work. And that’s why my name is Wax, and my brand is First Wax Tree. Individuality. Malleability. Personal Growth. Because we are all like wax – malleable, yet resilient. Life is honestly pretty hard – for all of us, and in different ways. Death is imminent, as is destruction. But instead of running from our past and hiding from our present, the slow steps towards the future are truly the ones that give us direction. I like to say this: “The future is right now, and right now, and right now.” All it takes to change to world is to pluck one blade of grass, make one person smile. We are all a part of this world, and therefore anything and everything we do has an impact on it – I think it’s time we start to act like it.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I am honestly quite a bit of a homebody. However, I did spend a lot of time bartending downtown in West Palm Beach. So I would definitely take them there to meet my bartender peers, and introduce them to my old lifestyle. Anywhere in nature as well, specifically the beach – which I’ve always considered to be extraordinarily therapeutic. Something about gazing out into that endless ocean of unknown creatures with the salt water lapping my ankles has always brought me peace. And likely some nature reserves, or Wynwood Walls in Miami – so they can get a glimpse of the culture.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are a lot of friends and artists that have inspired, motivated, and encouraged me along my journey. I wouldn’t say that any one person has had a larger impact than the rest. However, I’d really like to shout out my good friends Brianna Strobel, Dan Pitruzzella, Emmy Roberts, and Heather Roberts. All of these people have been the best of listeners, supporters, and inspirations to me when I was at my lowest, and each of them motivates me to push myself and grow.