Aug. 16, 2019

This summer, recent graduate John Dessereau Illustration MFA ’19 sold two paintings from his thesis to legendary film director Spike Lee. Dessereau sent in the following account of how the sale took place. He now works as a freelance illustrator, artist, and DJ. See more of his work on Instagram

My visual thesis for my MFA in Illustration consisted of a series of six paintings titled “Tall Tales of Tumultuous Times.” The paintings are laser-cut wood panels creating a layered scene that illustrate a fanciful scenario that relates to our modern reality.

The idea came after our chairperson, Brendan Leach, challenged me. He pushed me to blend all of my skills to create my best work. My advisor, Rudy Gutierrez, doubled down on the challenge by expecting me to tell stories in the paintings that could best be said by me. Luckily, the thesis class was led by illustration legends Anelle Miller and Dennis Dittrich, who shared ideas and inspiration throughout the semester.

I can’t stress enough how vital these professors were. They inspired me to paint these images hours upon hours every day for more than a year. I often turned my phone off and broke night while I chipped away at the images. My girlfriend says she watched my hair grow in some painting sessions. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anyway, I created four scenic paintings, one of which is the “Above the Law” piece that Spike Lee later purchased, and I was feeling a bit stale with the process. I wanted to switch it up. Rudy thought it would be a good idea for me to add portraits into the series. My artwork is very New York City–based so I decided to include Spike Lee and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I grew up on Spike Lee’s films and admired his point of view. AOC represents the Bronx district where my family lives. I think she is a great role model for my two Latina nieces.

Once the show went up, the painting of Spike Lee circulated on Instagram and my friends repeatedly tagged him in the comments. He eventually liked and commented on the image. I was stoked. About two weeks later, Spike was at the artist reception for Beyond the Streets, a prominent exhibition of work inspired by graffiti and street art in Brooklyn. I saw him standing in an adjacent room and went up to him with my phone and said: “I made this painting of you.” He said, “Oh word? It’s dope! How did you make it?” I told him a bit about the process, and he expressed that he was interested in owning it and wanted to see some more of my work. I asked if he would be willing to trade the art in exchange for tickets to a Knicks game in his seats. He laughed and told me that he would instead give me money.

Dessereau and Lee at the Beyond the Streets exhibition.

He gave me a contact, and over the next few weeks we worked out a deal for the two pieces. The icing on the cake was that I got a personal tour of his extensive art collection by his executive assistant. His collection is breathtaking, and to have two of my pieces as part of it is a real dream come true.

Featured Photo: Dessereau delivering his work to Lee’s offices.