Jesse Diaz, aka Kodone, has many different identities: He’s a famous illustrator on Instagram, a cover artist who has collaborated with the likes of Playboi Carti and, most fundamentally, a talented 22-year-old with an iPad. Diaz, an Oklahoma native, didn’t always have dreams of artistic internet stardom. In high school, after saving up money from a minimum wage job at a comic book store, Diaz bought the piece of technology that changed his life forever. In an interview with The Fader, Diaz explained, “I’ve been drawing my whole life, but it was really back in high school when I got this iPad Mini that came out at the time [that I was able to] take pictures of like what I was drawing and I’d scan it to my iPad and just go from there.”
For many young artists like Diaz, the price of paints, canvases and other materials often hinders the amount of art they can create, and graphic design technology provides a much more accessible and affordable alternative. Diaz passionately promoted the iPad in his Fader interview, stating: “The reason I think the iPad is so revolutionary and I really feel like it’s gonna be the future and more accepted in the art community, is that I feel like it really speeds up the process. I can throw everything down immediately, you know? When I get an idea, I can go to my iPad and I have all the tools ready to go. I have all the colors, multiple types of brushes. It’s so portable.”
Despite Diaz’s roots in the internet age, his artistic inspirations range from Picasso’s Blue Period to figurative painter Francis Bacon, highlighting his strong connection to the fine arts. As Diaz described in a DJ Booth interview, there was a time earlier in his career when he really struggled with the duality between his identities as an internet illustrator and a classical painter. Diaz reflected, “I felt like I was stuck in the SoundCloud cover art phase forever, but I recently have been more on the fine art side of things and I see people appreciating it. Obviously, I paint for myself, but it’s also a money situation. If I would only focus on fine art, that means I’m not doing any cover art and cover art was my main source of money.”
As much as the Kodonism brand is moving past its cover art origins, Diaz still fondly reminisces on his introduction to the art form through music. In a short documentary on the Kodonism YouTube channel, Diaz describes how the lack of cover art on LimeWire inspired him to start creating his own covers. “I would get on GIMP [a free, open-source version of Adobe Photoshop] and just start downloading random ass pictures, stock photos, pictures of the artist, and I’d just start mashing s— up. And to take it a step further, at the time I was really into those fan-made remixes [that] would mash up different artists — you know, I’m talking about like Tupac and let’s say Biggie on just some random beat they never rapped so I would just, you know, do like get a picture of Biggie, get a picture of Tupac, throw them together and just start going crazy on that and I would do that for every single song, like, 10 covers a day.”
The 10-covers-a-day work ethic is a huge part of what makes Kodone so special. Because of the consistency of his content, not only does his website Kodonism drop new clothes, posters and tattoo art on a regular basis, Diaz posts new content on the Kodone Instagram page weekly. Diaz is a self-proclaimed perfectionist, but admits that long-term, more serious art pieces never really give him the satisfaction of the sketches he posts on Instagram.
Diaz explained in his documentary that “Comparing the pieces I spent two months on and the pieces I would spend two hours on, I would always pick the pieces I spent two hours on because they’re more raw, more real.” Luckily for his social media followers, this means there is never a shortage of Kodone content, as he is constantly creating new and exciting illustrations.
Diaz is quite conscious about his decision to share many small sketches on a weekly basis as opposed to waiting months before posting elaborate designs. When describing the appeal of the Kodone accounts, Diaz emphasizes, “It’s cute and it’s funny. I try to carry them off as like collectible baseball cards, you know, my little doodles. If you were to look at my Instagram feed, they’d look like collectibles. You could put ’em on keychains and collect them.”
Unlike baseball cards though, Diaz offers his content for free and with a consistency that satisfies the minuscule attention span of the modern internet user. While Kodonism offers plenty of merchandise and Diaz himself sells art and album covers for a living, the Kodone Instagram account is essentially a gift to the internet. A live exhibition that is always growing, Diaz’s oeuvre proves that he is a true pioneer of the internet art world, thanks to both his talent and recognition from the pop culture figures that he depicts in such a unique way.
When asked who he is, Diaz responded: “I just feel like I’m a pop culture archivist. I’m capturing all these moments as they’re coming in. I’m just putting it in a way you wouldn’t expect it.” The future is bright for Diaz and every recent Kodonism drop has sold out in minutes, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to create art for its own sake. The thing that makes Diaz special is that his art is spontaneous and responsive to the world around him. Whether that be rapper antics, anime characters, or simply scenarios inspired by everyday life, Diaz will always have content to create. Diaz may have started Kodone in response to blank LimeWire covers, but today it is so much more. It is a brand, it’s a gallery and it’s a documentary of this generation’s culture.