Esao Andrews’ “Satellite”
Michael Pearce interviewed Esao Andrews about his painting “Satellite.”
Michael Pearce: Tell me about the circumstances in which you were living when you painted “Satellite.” What was going on? What was the background to making it? Where were you?
Esao Andrews: I was in Los Angeles sharing a painting studio in Koreatown with a few friends. Like most of my work, the subject matter is usually whimsical or has a romantic loneliness to it. It has always been an escape for me and not overtly connected to my personal life.
MP: What brought you to create the painting?
EA: “Satellite” started out as a drawing of a woman sitting side-saddle on a horse. It’s so dangerous, feminine, strong and modest. I wanted this idea to be part of a diptych, a male and female relationship. A wanderer and someone who’s waiting. The more masculine side, titled “World Traveller,” was that of a soldier on a horse. I wanted the pieces to compliment each other, but also to be opposites. So I had the soldier in the desert on a cracked and dry riverbed. The sky full of stars and a planet floating where his head should be. The feminine side in a winter town on a cobblestone street. The air with falling snow. I decided to replace the girl with just a single balloon. It felt like it was a placeholder, an idea that the girl might be there waiting or maybe not. I like how celestial bodies are connected by gravity and whatever spiritual metaphor you want to think up. The balloon lifting up the skirt/blanket made me think of saddle + light = satellite.
MP: How did you come to live in Koreatown?
EA: The last several years living in New York City were dominated with moving into smaller and more expensive apartments. I just couldn’t grow anymore. A lot of my childhood and college-era friends had already moved to the West coast and I have family in Arizona. It was time. My old friend/artist from New York, Ali Gallagher, had a studio she shared with artists Hannah Stouffer and Johnny Vampotna. It was a great few years, but a little hard to divide between the four of us. Now I have a studio in downtown Los Angeles with artists buddies Liz McGrath, Dan Quintana, and Karen Hsiao.
MP: The painting evolved as you were painting it. Does this happen in a lot of your work?
EA: Yes, it happens a lot. Sometimes I’ll come up with an image that I think has symbolism or captures a sense of unclear nostalgia. Then on another layer is how I decide to use color and contrast to make it more interesting. There’s a little bit of evolution that happens there. If I go in with just a color composition as a starting point that’s when the work changes a lot. Lately, if I have a half-cooked idea but I’m excited to get to work, I’ll dive in and just keep re-working it. I’ll take a photo of the work in progress and draw on top of it using a crude app on my phone. It’s funny how my phone has become part of the sketching process.
MP: Is there a consciousness behind yours – guiding your hand? Or is this transformation random?
There’s definitely some kind of visual vocabulary that I’ve developed that is my guiding hand. All of these years I’ve been approaching my idea-making in pretty much the same way. In the smaller picture, I love randomness in the paint application and will scribble out areas. I purposefully screw up parts of the painting, the act of “correcting” it gives subtle transitions in color that I find interesting.
MP: Are you interested in spirituality of some kind? How does it influence your work?
EA: A handful of years ago I would have said, “No, not at all.” Today I say that I believe there is something that connects us to our environment and each other that isn’t explained by science, but someday could be. Something is present. If I’m looking at empathy and being able to share emotions through my art as being spiritual, then I am influenced by that connectedness.
MP: For you, painting is an escape. Is it an escape for the viewer, too?
EA: Yes, I gravitate toward metaphors and fiction. The Surreal bucolic life. Its important for the viewer to be able to step back from their real life and reflect a little or just be entertained. But I think escapism is just as important as historical subject matter, portraits, and other art inspired by real-life/events. It’s like poetic journalism.
MP: What’s the relationship between your work and science fiction and fantasy?
EA: My parents were obsessed with recording movies from the television. We had a full library of thousands of movies. Above all of that, my dad was an elementary school teacher, so we had a library of picture encyclopedia and other children’s fairytale compilations. Without those outliers, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now, I don’t think.
MP: Are there any artists you particularly love? Why do you love their work?
EA: Cartoonist Al Columbia and Canadian artist Ambera Wellmann. Both are so different from each other, but I’m envious that every little or big thing they put out into the world is just soaked with inspiration. Always excited to see anything new from them.
MP: Please, will you describe your studio?
EA: My workplace is weirdly utilitarian. I have a giant oak flat file that matches a heavy wooden desk that has a little cabinet and a shelf on top of it. I feel like I’m in a captains nook. There is nothing but white walls unless I have work hanging up. No bookshelves either; that stuff is all at home. There are a few easels that are on a green shag carpet. I probably should get some real plants in here. I am above the Regent Theatre so a few moments ago I was hearing some seriously loud bass coming up from the floor. The sound usually isn’t a big deal though.
MP: What paint, substrates and brushes do you use? Can you share some of your technical tricks? How do you persuade the paint to do what you want it to do?