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Contrast Magazine
Esao Andrews

esao andrews

Words / Mark Kushimi

Esao Andrews grew up in East Mesa, Arizona. As a kid, his neighborhood was at the edge of the desert so he spent a huge chunk of his childhood riding a bike exploring it. He’d collect toads, lizards, scorpions, and find nudie magazines and other typical desert litter. When they started paving the streets Esao got a skateboard. That was his life for a while, skating, doing homework and drawing late at night. During his senior year in high school he received a scholarship to The School of Visual Arts in New York. He got a summer job working the graveyard shift, six days a week at a chemical plant to save money for expenses, then moved to NYC during the fall of 1996 to complete a BFA in illustration. After graduating in 2000, Andrews wore a few hats working as a designer (both web and graphic), illustrator, and of course a painter, exhibiting his work at countless gallery shows. Esao currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

Mark: How do you choose your subject matter?
Esao Andrews: I’ll take imagery that is familiar and substitute or change an element within so it takes on a new meaning. At the same time I try to leave it ambiguous enough for a couple of interpretations. My goal is to depict a sentimental kind of solitude, usually. I want the viewer to look at the image and feel like they can relate to something in it.

Why do you choose to work primarily with oil on wood?
I was doing a bit of figurative oil painting while in school. I used acrylics for my illustrations at the time and there was a real separation between the way I approached the two. With illustrations I‘d do a cartoony drawing and loosely fill it in with acrylic color. The oil paintings were about measuring and sculpting a live model with subtle color, tones, etc. Every one with the same goal. People like James Jean, Nicolas Uribe and Dorian Vallejo would be working there next to you and it would just create this drive to keep wanting to get better. It was only after graduating that I started using oils outside of life studies. It started with painting cartoony portraits of neighborhood crushes that I‘d render using what I learned. As for working on wood, I paint thin and like the smoothness and being able to push the paint around to get happy accidents. The slow drying of oils, the smell, being able to blend multiple colors in a swipe are all nice. I can’t stand that gridded canvas texture.

What was life like after you graduated college?
In 2003, I was taking occasional illustration work and showing my paintings in bars and cafés and selling them for a few hundred dollars. The opportunity came up for me to do live painting at a gallery/bar at night so I was working full-time and painting at till 3AM every night. I quickly got burnt out and made the tough decision to quit the job. Soon after that I got Soybean to seal the deal to work at home. There has been lots of ups and downs, but I’ve been freelancing ever since.

What do you attribute your success to? Hard work? Luck?
Yes, definitely both. When you work hard and put yourself out there, more opportunities just present themselves and sometimes that can be viewed as luck. I can pinpoint so many moments where life-changing serendipity came into play. One example, I lived in New Jersey for a short time and was on my way to the Path train. I accidentally went one block too far and ran into an old friend that I used to work at Utrecht with. She needed a roommate fast in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She moved away shortly after and I just took over the whole apartment as my live-in studio. Lived there for 12 years during that booming art/music scene and my formative years were set. One block… Even if I walked down that wrong street two minutes late, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like. I met so many wonderful people during my time in Williamsburg.

What was the hardest obstacle to overcome in your career?
The nature of being a freelance worker is that you get paid months later (or not at all sometimes) and in the end you have to have enough set aside for taxes and all other expenses. So early on I ended up spreading myself thin with any art related projects I could do like skateboard designs, comic book covers, album artwork, selling prints, commissions, gallery shows and other random illustration work and even some web design. I think it’s important to have some variety in ones output as an artist in general.

esao andrews

I know that you have recently started to take your work from wood panels to walls. What has that transition been like for you?
Each new wall—there has been three now—has been a new learning process. Controlling spray paint is difficult, but it’s also pretty forgiving. You can immediately spray over it to make corrections. I like the ‘mist’ that cans do. I paint pretty splotchy with texture so the transition has been worked out. Tristan Eaton helped me out a lot with tricks and pointers. I’ve known him for ages. I’m about to do an indoor mural that will mostly be brushwork. I’ve never worked this large in acrylic so this will be a new list of problems to solve to get the work to look similar to my paintings.

Who are a couple of artists you like and what is it about their work?
I like Aron Wiesenfeld, Christian Rex VanMinen, Aryz, James Jean, Andrew Hem… All of them are technically amazing and each new thing they do is continually evolving, progressing. I think everyone is always excited to see what they are working on. I do like a good narrative in a piece of artwork so that’s why these folks stand out. VanMinen’s work is more like “still-life as portrait/portrait as still-life.” His evolution potential is limitless. Anything in his life that has influenced him along the way, whether it’s made him sick or awe inspired, any joke or cultural reference, ancient or new can all be incorporated so naturally into his Dutchmaster painter style. Love it. He also teaches and shares his knowledge in painting workshops, what a guy.

This feature can be found printed over 16 pages in Contrast 15
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