New York City artist Jdel blends cartoons and cannabis to seek refuge from his childhood

Jdel (l) and his piece “1997 Johnny Bravo” (r)
Photos: cool.hands

A New York City-based artist is reclaiming his childhood and infusing it with cannabis culture in his art.

Jdel was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness household during the height of New York City’s crack epidemic. As a kid, there was so much that he was allowed to do or places that he wasn’t allowed to go to, but he found comfort in cartoons and drawing.

“I think a lot of the gravitation towards art came from just being bored,” said Jdel. “I grew up inside of a Jehovah’s Witness household. Around that time, the 80s and 90s, crack was running rampant around us and there was a lot of excitement when we left the house.”

As a kid, Jdel found himself drawing inside textbooks at school and on pieces of literature that the Jehovah’s Witnesses would hand out. He would often redraw faces that were in these books and turn them into the cartoons he watched on TV.

As he got older, Jdel began to hone his craft more to the point where he was able to go to school for art, which is not something he thought was really attainable as a Jehovah’s Witness.

“When I first started to do art, it just became kind of funny to deface things and destroy things. Then, I was able to make things for people like pop-up cards and handkerchiefs and portraits for people and got a little bit better at it, then I ended up going to school for it,” said Jdel. “For me, it was very embarrassing, it’s something I would hide because you weren’t really allowed to associate with people who weren’t Jehovah’s Witness. So being able to draw was always something that would connect me with people. But if you grow up in a Jehovah’s Witness house drawing, the only thing they would tell you that you can do is to be an artist for Vessel — they used to draw realistic versions of Jesus Christ, really vivid drawings. I didn’t want to do that because I couldn’t really do those. It just seemed unrealistic to do art as a Jehovah’s Witness growing up.”

As his art started to evolve, Jdel found inspiration in graffiti artists such as Jersey Joe, Rhyme and MSK. He was drawn to the bold colors that they would put on walls throughout the city. 

For his own work, Jdel drew cartoon characters and started to infuse cannabis culture into his art. He particularly likes to draw Ren and Stimpy and Itchy and Scratchy, as well as stuff from MTV’s Liquid Television, citing that the blood in these cartoons really set them apart from other stuff he’s seen in the past.

“‘[The Itchy & Scratchy Show] was the first cartoon where I saw blood in it, they were chopping off each other’s heads, the mouse would always kill the cat and blow his head off or something. that was around the time when I think video games started introducing blood too, it was the ‘Mortal Kombat’ era,” said Jdel. “It was blood inside of cartoons that were the craziest thing. You’re growing up with Disney and everything, so the allure to blood does something to somebody. You’re seeing it, but there’s a reality to it and you’re trying to make something more of it and make it also look good and universal at the same time.”

“1991” The Ren & Stimpy Show by JdelPhoto credit: Chris Carr

These days, Jdel describes his art as “a better version of an NFT” that incorporates the three things he could do as a teenager: smoke, watch cartoons, and draw.”

“It’s something you can put on your wall, like a physical NFT, and involved cartoon culture that raised children from the 80s-90s with cannabis culture involved inside of it,” said Jdel. “I think that weed was very good for me bc just like the artwork I was doing, it was helping me escape, it was helping me feel like i was doing something that was cool. A lot of my friends, they were allowed to be in the streets, they were allowed to go to places I wasn’t allowed to. But I was allowed to smoke, I was allowed to draw, I was allowed to watch cartoons. Cartoons and smoking became a big part of my life even after I was a teen, it became like a therapy with the weed and drawing together.”

Fast forward to now, Jdel created his own company that aims to give people the same refuge that he wanted for himself as a kid. Called “MindBodyPockets,” the company celebrates music, art, cartoons, and cannabis.

Jdel says that the name comes from a name that his friends knocked around for their group years ago.

“Some of my friends from Manhattan and brook were trying to wrap our heads around it. I would be the artist in the group, one of them was the manager, one was the music guy. We always tried to make a name for it,” recalled Jdel. “We went through a few names, but MindBodyPockets was everything that you would put into the business. your mind, your body, you try to use your funds to motivate the project and it would be an investment. All of them ended up doing business on a different level, but that really stuck with me. I wanted to turn that into the company name.”

Jdel is hosting his first solo show on Jan. 15. Called “Grown Children Smoke,” the show is meant to represent people like Jdel who felt like there was no place for them and need a place to seek refuge or want to see what marijuana can do to help.

“Grown children kind of represents people who grew up in an era where there was nothing for them. It was just kind of a situation where you were traumatized still as an adult, even still you’re a grown child, a man child, you’re still holding on to these images,” said Jdel. “These images are attached to certain memories and certain years, like some of the paintings they are a direct memory and they are named after the years that they came out and what happened to me during those years. The main people that it’s for is for people like that and people who are interested in the positive aspects of what marijuana can do for them and art as well.”

In the future, Jdel would love to host more collaborative shows as well as solo shows, but ideally, he would like to make more smoke-friendly art shows.

“I would love to have more solo shows and ones that are incorporated with smoking too,” said Jdel. “I’d like to have smoking shows where you can comfortably smoke and enjoy it because that’s how it’s meant to be.”

For more information about Jdel and his work, visit jdelmbp.com or follow him on Instagram @jdelcastles.