At Jeron Braxton’s solo art show “Ouroboros,” there’s a Virgen de Guadalupe figurine affixed to the top of a Roomba vacuum that meanders about the Beverly Hills gallery, spreading her blessings to every person and particle of dirt or dust she passes. It’s the 29-year-old artist’s take on a shrine, one where everything happens to look like digital assets torn out of a video game. A laser-cut pixelated tombstone’s epitaph reads “In Memory of Those Lost in Search of Bliss,” a message Braxton dedicates to the victims of the opioid crisis. A sculpture of a menacing rabbit-like creature with razor-sharp teeth, cartoonishly large pupils, and pills for ears is titled “Oxycotton Tail.” One of the pieces on display is Oxytocin, Braxton’s latest short film, a surreal exploration of poverty and exploitation, which also makes its online premiere Thursday on NYLON.
Braxton’s work is trippy, gripping, and triumphant. That’s been the case since 2018, when he won the Sundance Jury Animation Award for Best Animation for his debut short film, Glucose, at only 23 years old. He’d go on to show three more pieces of work at the festival — Octane, Daytime Noir, and Oxytocin, respectively — all of which continue his examination of addiction, Blackness, consumerism, police violence, the surveillance state, and the precarity of life in America.
“I really wanted to have this show right now because I feel like everything is kind of coming full circle,” he tells NYLON. Braxton, a rising figure in the underground animation scene thanks to his low poly animation style harkening back to lo-fi video game aesthetics, is making his biggest moves yet.
The artist is confident and loquacious, and it’s easy to see why. For starters, Braxton is completely self-taught. He quickly pivoted away from art school to pursue computer science, a move that’s paid off in spades; his animation style caught the attention of global superstars like Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, who recruited Braxton’s animation skills for the tech-dystopia video for his After Hours remix of his single “In Your Eyes” with Doja Cat.
“I feel like I blazed the trail for a lot of people. Obviously there were people doing it before me, like David O'Reilly, who was really cool and influential to me. I'm not saying I'm the one who started it all,” he laughs. “But I feel like I did that, it ran its course, and I'm just trying to take things to the next level now.”
Braxton’s future work made a sneaky debut at “Ouroboros;” attendees were able to play a prototype of a forthcoming video game he’s making, with a premise that only Braxton could pull off. The game follows an insurance claims agent who investigates a shipping company, only to discover that the company has a sordid, evil history: at one point, they were responsible for the transportation of slaves. As the insurance claims agent, the player’s objective is to explore a haunted port where a ship filled with slaves was once burned for insurance money, and eventually free their trapped souls.
Braxton’s initial idea was to subvert first-person shooter games like Call of Duty to create a cinematic, immersive, and what he hopes will be a genuinely frightening video game experience. “Call of Duty is like, ‘Okay, we're about to go and kill brown people. Mm-hmm!’ But make a game where you're trying to kill like the Americans who are coming to your country to destabilize your government and do their neo-colonialist song and dance, and you look like a bad guy,” he explains. “Make a game where you are killing Klansmen, even, and trying to disassemble the violent, systematic racism they empower themselves with, and you look like a bad guy.”
Braxton’s move from indie video games he’s uploaded online to more big league dealings is also reflected in another project: Slime, his forthcoming feature animation debut and his first foray into Crongenberg-adjacent body horror which follows a woman who undergoes a medical experiment and ends up mutating into slime monster. Slime also has Kid Cudi on board, with the rapper voicing a character and producing via his production company, Mad Solar. After his last stint at Sundance, Braxton knew it was time to shift away from short films and try his hand at directing and animating a feature. “Especially in my big, big age, I'm like, ‘It’s me again! Four times at Sundance,” he laughs. “It's time.”
Braxton’s come a long way from Glucose, and as his star rises, he knows his most important consumer and critic is still himself. “I make the art for myself, first and foremost. And I love it, you know? When you hear me say I think I'm the greatest artist to ever live or whatever the case may be, it's 'cause that's just how I feel. I'm making the art I want to see first, and I'm just happy that it feels like the world is becoming more receptive to what I have to put down.”
“Ouroboros” is on display at UTA Artist Space LA, 403 Foothill Rd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.