ALEX DRAFTER SEES THE WORLD AROUND HIM IN A DIFFERENT WAY AND EXPRESSES THAT UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE THROUGH HIS LAYERED AND ARTICULATE PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS. HIS DEEP GENUINITY AND DRIVE TO CREATE MEANING FROM THE MANY FACETS OF MODERN LIFE ALLOW FOR HIS WORK TO TAKE ON A MASSIVE PRESENCE WHILE OFTEN BEING ONLY A SINGLE FOOT IN HEIGHT. WHEN WE FIRST ENCOUNTERED DRAFTER’S WORK WE WERE COMPELLED TO REVISIT IT OVER AND OVER THROUGHOUT THE SHOW, TAKING AWAY SOMETHING NEW AFTER EACH VIEWING. ALTHOUGH DRAFTER IS A NEW JERSEY NATIVE, HE IS A REGULAR PRESENCE IN THE PHILADELPHIA ART-SHOW SCENE. STUDYING GRAPHIC DESIGN AT THE PHILADELPHIA ART INSTITUTE, HAS ALLOWED HIM TO CONSISTENTLY HAVE A PRESENCE AT THE PHILLY ART COLLECTIVE SHOWCASES AND OTHER EVENTS. WE SAT DOWN WITH DRAFTER IN RITTENHOUSE SQUARE TO TALK ABOUT LIFE AS AN ARTIST, THE CREATIVE EXPERIENCE, INSPIRATION, AND THE PHILADELPHIA ART COMMUNITY.
How did you start drawing?
For a lot of my stuff I will just be bored as fuck and I’ll start looking through Instagram and see a picture that I think is interested and take that picture and put my own twist on it.
What part of Philadelphia are you from?
I’m actually from Jersey. It’s so terrible in Jersey, it’s boring as fuck. I’m from Lawnside, South Jersey. It’s weird because I never really fit in there. It’s a small, black town, it’s literally a mile and a half long. There is nothing going on there other than drug dealers and ‘wanna be gangsters’.
What is the significance of your name?
My artist name was Alex the Designer, I changed it to Alex Drafter because it made more sense with what I was doing because I wasn’t really designing and I didn’t want people asking me to make them some clothes. So I changed it to Drafter because a drafter is just someone who draws the original [design]. That’s what the term is called in Graphic Design, which is what I’m majoring in. I don’t really like it though, it’s boring. Unless you get the chance to do an album cover or the cover of a magazine, then it pops, but just basic logo stuff, that shit is boring.
A lot of your stuff is surrealistic, outside of the ordinary. How would you describe your art?
Pretty much what you just said. I like to look at things in a different way. I’m really fascinated with the pop art movement, like Warhol, and I like art nouveau, going back to older artistic styles. I don’t really see a lot of art nouveau around in new stuff. People seem to be going more towards modern and pop art. But my stuff is kind of a mix of all of that, I haven’t made a genre for it yet, but it’s all that stuff: pop art, art nouveau, some modern, colors that pop. I also try to get a little bit of culture in there, my dad is from Jamaica and Jamaica is the shit. The girls there are beautiful as hell, the island is beautiful, the water is so clear that you can see right through to the bottom. So I do a lot of color related to Rastafarian because my brother passed away and he was a Rastafari so I do a lot of red, yellow, and green.
When we first saw your work at the Philly Art Showcase at Indigo Bleu and we had to keep coming back to it because we couldn’t take it all in at once, it was dope.
That’s the goal, that’s what I’m trying to do. I like to make art that makes people kind of think about it and create their own opinions about it. I have my own opinions on the stuff I do. Mostly, if I’m feeling some type of way I have to draw it so that’s what most of my pieces are. People get different takes on it, so maybe I was feeling depressed about something but I try to hide it with a lot of colorful stuff and someone else will think that it’s the happiest painting ever.
It really seems like you really have a clear thought process when you are creating a piece. Can you speak on the experience of creating a piece from a blank page?
Sometimes I have a blank piece of paper and I can already see the images on there. I just try to put it on there and it doesn’t always turn out like it is in my head but I always see it in my head before I put it on paper. I try to take some inspiration from the city and put that in there too.
Speaking on inspiration from Philadelphia, do you have any collaborations with other artists in the works?
At a show I met this guy who is a street artist around Philly and he said he liked my work and it was crazy because I used to walk around here and look at his stuff and want to do something like that. So he came to my show and said he wanted to collab so we are actually doing this mural [pulls out sketch]. This is fire, I call it “The Struggle”. So it includes his tag but then I put my part in there. I do a lot of stuff with females and goddesses and stuff because I think that they are like… There is something about the female body and art, it’s just so much better, especially when you are doing curves and you throw in different abstract shapes in there.
What do the vines in that piece represent?
The vines pretty much put her into a situation where she is stuck and she is breaking free from her. So I thought it was cool because if you can break through all of these thorny things you can get to the beauty. That’s all I’m trying to do with my life, to break free from the struggle.
Is there something specific about the Philadelphia art scene that inspires you or drives you?
Its not as big as cities around us like New York, but it’s definitely getting up there. For me, just going to shows, I’ve seen a lot of dope artists that are participating. That is kind of grabbing me to come to Philly more often and do more work here because I don’t feel alone, instead I feel like there are a lot of people who I can relate to and who understand the art. It’s really lit out here because of the art world and I really love Philly because of that.
With your paintings, are you trying to more tell a story or just express the emotion that you are feeling when you do that painting?
It’s a little bit of both. If you look on my Instagram page, I did a large piece called Assata the Panther and I was really feeling emotional with all of the stuff going on with the kids being killed and police violence to the black community and I was really emotional about that, but at the same time I wanted to tell a story that people could really understand and relate to. The whole story behind that is Assata left here because of all of the stuff that was going on, she still made an impact with her activism and if she would have come back she would have come back unarmed, bare, riding the Black Panther to restore all of the peace and harmony.
You seem like you really immerse yourself in your art, you seem to really live and breathe it. Does that extend into other aspects of your life?
Really, it’s that all I know how to do is art. Once you find something that you are good at, you want to keep at it. People that are good with math and numbers, they will stay with accounting, there are people that are good at music so they’ll stay with music. I have just always been good with art. From the point that I was in kindergarten I was able to see the details that nobody else could. Everyone else was drawing stick figures and I was drawing cars, because I was into cars. I could draw circles, not perfectly, but they were still circles. I would draw the handles on the cars and all of these details that, at that time, other kids really didn’t understand. From that point on, my mom saw that I had a gift and really encouraged it. So you could say that I live and breathe art, this is all I know how to do. Especially coming from where I come from, where it’s really boring, all I really had was art.
In high school what was your experience in relation to art?
So high school is kind of the time with you try to fit in with your peers so I drew every once in awhile, but I wasn’t as good as I am now, I didn’t really practice. Art was my favorite subject, I would even go to my art teacher’s room during lunch to just draw. I always got along with the art teachers, I never really got along with the english teachers or the math teachers but I always fucked heavy with the art teachers.
What from your childhood do you draw inspiration from?
Corny shit. Whatever I would see I would just copy it. My dad had a painting in his house of a cheetah that was just sitting in a temple and I just drew it in pencil. I would just copy what I had seen. It wasn’t anything extravagant but it gave me a foundation to go off and do something better now. When I was younger I didn’t even use color. I was honestly too scared to color my pieces, I was afraid that I was going to mess them up. I started coloring by using color pastel, which is like a chalk, it’s really messy but you can blend a lot of dope colors in there. My friend told me about a guy on Instagram named Markus Prime and he does a lot of marker art. So from that point on I was doing a lot of marker work and trying to work out different ways of doing that. It was kind of hard at first but I eventually got the hang of it after seeing a lot of his stuff and studying it. Then I just put my own crazy mind to it and started creating some shit.
Do you do custom work for people?
Yeah, I do custom work for people if they ask me. Around my way, I chill with a lot of drug dealers and dope boys and they always want tattoos. So I’ll design tattoos for them. I don’t do the tattoos themselves, I’m not into putting ink into people’s skin, I don’t even have tattoos myself so I don’t do that. I just draw them. I’m also doing a pair of K-Swiss sneakers for my friend who’s a DJ. One of the pieces at my last show was a commissioned painting too.
How does that collaboration between you and the client work, do you try to still keep your own style in the work?
Yeah, I definitely keep my own style in there. It’s just more of the story-line that I put into the painting that comes from the client.
Advice for the kids?