Just after sundown on a Friday night, illustrator Van Jazmin stands in the middle of the Lab L.A.'s dirty off-white floor, which has been mottled from years of dancers grinding their shoes into the paint. He is intensely focused on the DJ, a Dutch producer named Oliver Heldens, whose dark, messy hair bounces around his face as he grooves to his loud house music mix.
Jazmin holds a large sketchbook with his left arm and braces it against his waist. He pulls a red marker from the breast pocket of his worn denim jacket — an heirloom from his hippie grandmother, decorated with an old “Steal Your Face” patchwork. Then he starts drawing, first framing the page an inch from the edge, as if preparing a comic book panel.
He looks back up at Heldens and feverishly begins to draw in the frame. Within minutes, a tricolored illustration of the DJ takes shape. Once he's done, he retreats into the crowd to find a new subject.
Thanks to Van Jazmin's nightlife illustrations, those debaucherous Hollywood nights that would mortify your mother have been immortalized in ink on paper. The artist takes an impressionist spin on capturing club culture by freeform drawing his way through the swirl of faces and bouncing shoes that make up the dance floor. His illustrations tell the sweat-soaked story of L.A.'s vibrant club scene, a late-night world that some might otherwise never see and others simply can't quite remember.
“When I'm going to these events and parties
Van was born Savana Jazmin to bohemian musicians in rural Pennsylvania. Although born female, he knew from an early age that he was miscategorized.
“I grew up without gender roles,” he says. “I also grew up barefoot. So having to wear shoes reminds me of having to stand in lines with girls [at school] and not being allowed to be a Boy Scout.”
Jazmin's predilection for artistic documentation began when he was a child growing up on a secluded Appalachian farm. His early childhood renderings depicted the family's livestock as erratic characters, whose identities his mother helped him define. “I would verbally tell the story, and my mom would write it. I would illustrate it, and she would do the wording.”
As his subject matter matured through adolescence, so did the complexities of fitting in. He was much larger than his peers, and his teachers labeled his illustrative endeavors a distraction. “[The school] put me in one of those isolation desks that they put people in to take tests, or at the back of the library. I did not have friends for a long time,” he says.
High school proved to be more tolerable, as Jazmin fell in with a group of misfit musicians who encouraged him to draw their jam sessions. But in class, his preferred form of expression still got him in trouble.
“I had this teacher that looked like a female David Letterman, and she confiscated one of my drawings,” Jazmin recalls. “She was taken aback because it had nudity in it. It was this weird David Bowie–inspired drawing of these two aliens. One had big tits, and the other one had this kind of phallic tail coming out of the back. In my head it was just science fiction.”
His teacher gave the drawing to the dean, who called the young artist into his office. “The dean gives me a slap on the wrist and hands [the drawing] back to me in an envelope. Later on, that dean bought one of my acrylic paintings.
“It was very validating,” Jazmin recalls. “Not only did he buy the painting but he had a place in his house to put it with lights on it. It was in a collection, almost. He told me right before I graduated high school that he kept a copy of the drawing that he confiscated from me. He had to do his job, but he lowkey liked my art.”
After high school, Jazmin attended Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, where he stumbled upon a monthly live-art exhibition that included musicians, writers, dancers and artists. The event was curated by John Lichtenstein, an artist and provocateur who would conduct chaotic live performances that Jazmin would document visually in front of the audience as they took place. It was here that Jazmin learned to capture a room quickly on paper.
Jazmin's art took a new direction when his college placed him as a live illustrator at corporate seminars that taught creativity in the workplace. He was tasked with graphically recording the lectures, and over time learned how to represent verbal communication visually.
After college, Jazmin decided to pick up everything and move to L.A., with the aspiration of working for oddball rapper Riff Raff, whom he'd met once in Florida and whose outlandish style personified the artist's struggle to fit in. Jazmin's fan art soon caught the eye of Riff Raff's merchandising team, and he was hired to design the artwork for Riff's Neon Icon album.
While hanging with Riff Raff at 2013's Mad Decent Block Party, Jazmin was placed in a familiar situation: socially adapting to his surroundings through his art.
“I was kinda nervous because I didn't really know anybody except for Riff's media people and a few people at Mad Decent,” he says. “I was just this weird person backstage, like, why am I here? So I just started drawing. I was drawing people like Djemba Djemba and Cashmere Cat, and people would walk up to me and start conversations.” He had found his calling.
Jazmin now immerses himself in the EDM and hip-hop industries, and dance culture's vernacular dominates his illustration portfolio. “When I'm going to these events and parties, I'm not just drawing what I see but I draw what I hear. I capture quotes, conversations and concepts,” he explains, while drawing a portrait of his L.A. Weekly interviewer.
A short photographer wearing glasses approaches and starts snapping pictures of the artist. Now Jazmin is working on a piece that captures all of the cameras in the room — a GoPro in the back streaming Heldens all over the Internet, numerous camera phones, the photographer's lens pointed at him.
The illustration comes together in colorful layers. He's drawing over his initial outlines in a neon teal, making the red indistinguishable. He interchanges his markers almost as if he's flipping through Photoshop overlays. It looks chaotic, but captures the sporadic motion of the room around him.
You can catch Van Jazmin at work at such local dance music events as Free Grilled Cheese, Space Yacht and that mansion party you weren’t invited to. You can also view more of his work on Tumblr and Cargo.