Viral artist Jesse Willesee wants to legalize marijuana—and become the next Andy Warhol

Written for The Kernel (The Daily Dot’s Sunday magazine)
Published in The Fame Issue, October 18th, 2015

JW Kernel

Sitting on a vintage couch in his manager’s apartment in inner-city Sydney, Australia, Jesse Willesee is awkward and patently shy, a stark contrast to his carefully cultivated online persona. As he chops, rolls, and smokes, I’m hoping to avoid a contact high as the rosy-eyed pro-marijuana activist, viral artist, and all-around renegade eases into discussing how he uses online culture and social media to not only challenge the definition of art but to confront your inner prude—and his.

Willesee, a 28-year-old American-Australian, is best recognized for his arrest at Sydney’s Town Hall, in a marijuana legalization protest turned performance-art piece. Following a photo essay of him smoking weed outside five Australian police stations and the Parliament of New South Wales, he arrived at Sydney’s city center on April 20: 420, the counterculture holiday celebrating cannabis.

Plagued by heavy wind and incessant rain, the day was gray, wet, and cold: exactly what Willesee didn’t want. But as a small crowd built up on the steps of Town Hall, and 4:19pm clicked over to 4:20pm, Willesee swung onto the pillars, lit a joint, took a hit, and was promptly arrested. …

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Illustration by J. Longo