Interview with Esao Andrews

esao 6

The artist, Esao Andrews, hard at work

Esao Andrews has been called a Gothic grotesque painter, dark erotic painter, pop surrealist and so much more.  As much as people love to pigeon-hole artists and stick them in a nicely labeled box, Andrews somehow continues to defy categorization as his work moves from light to dark, playful to serious, sexy to sick…sometimes all within one body of paintings.  He has also shown his love of variety through his toy designs, incredible illustrations for music bands, comic book work and so much work.  It is this dedication to difference that sets his work apart from many of the New Contemporary painters who choose to create the same character and/or scenarios in each painting.  Andrews has also proven himself a survivor who is seriously dedicated to his craft having slowly and steadily established himself over the last 10 years as one of the most consistent and unique painters working today.  On the brink of his upcoming solo exhibition at Thinkspace Gallery, Andrews took a break from his hectic schedule to answer a few questions about yesterday, today and tomorrow…

AMF: Since I opened with a statement of how people like to label your work I figure I should give the artist a chance to talk about this.  What kind of paintings are you trying to make and why?

ESAO: When I started painting, a lot of it was weird for weird’s sake and silly as a crutch from criticism.  The past few years have gotten moody and still in the hopes that the viewer can look and make up their own story of what is going on.



AMF: I am sure you have a lot of inspiration for your work.  Whether it be a long lost friend or a famous artist you admire, who or what are your muses, informers and unwilling collaborators in the paintings you create?

ESAO: Yes I do have a lot of sources of inspiration and the means have changed often.  I rarely have romantic muses anymore, but that was a major driving force throughout growing up. When I’m working on something, I think if my friend Tom Herpich would be impressed. He’s a tough one to impress and I admire his drawing and storytelling ability.

detail of painting from upcoming solo show
AMF: You are involved in an artist collective called Meathaus that was formed while you were in school at SVA (School of Visual Arts), which continues to produce artwork and publications to this day.  What effect did this collective have on the artist you have become today?

ESAO: Being friends with that crowd was incredibly huge on molding my current output. To be surrounded by such talent, I think I tried to make work that they’d like as a way to fit in.  I never really thought of myself as a painter and I’m definitely not a comic person, but that career path had doors open and people responded to my paintings. I kept at it and am fortunate to still be doing it.
AMF: Speaking of things effecting you, you are originally from Arizona but have spent well over a decade living in Brooklyn, NY.  How important has your past life in Arizona and your current life in Brooklyn been to your growth and development as an artist?  Feel free to talk about your family back home and the friends you have made since arriving in the Big Apple.

ESAO: I’ve moved around a couple times in Manhattan and Jersey City, but have been in Williamsburg Brooklyn, in the same little apartment for 10 of those years.  My entire career has been made in that apartment.  I’m writing to you from my new apartment in Greenpoint which I moved into 2 days ago.  Its only about 30 minutes from my old place, but its different enough and am curious how its going to change my work.  When I was in Arizona, I was just a high school kid, and my motivation and interest in everything art related continued until my 3rd year at SVA when illustration, cartooning became dominant.  Art making was only about pushing my creative limits and impressing friends or girls.  Now its only sometimes I feel that way since it also doubles as a job. Can’t complain about that though, only irritated that I haven’t accomplished more experimental work.  My parents have never seen my paintings.

detail of painting from upcoming solo show

AMF: Getting back to the work itself…I mentioned in my opening statement that you do not paint the same characters and/or situation over and over in your paintings.  You seem to like to create a unique set of imagery for every painting you create, like each painting is it’s own visual short story or novel.  Why is this so important to you and do you see this trend continuing in your future work?

ESAO: The story telling aspect has been the main focus and approach to all of my image making.  I still like the idea that the viewer is important in filling in the gaps.  I want to take that idea and put it towards sculptures and other nonpainted work.  But also I realized recently that its ok to start doing variations of the same idea. The reality is that people like certain images and its not really fair if I only make one painting of the Hangover (for example), when many people enjoy that one.

AMF: Even though I don’t think it’s in any way fair to label you as a Gothic or dark painter, there does seem to be times when gloom and doom (along with humor of course) seem to play a strong role in your works.  What is it about this type of subject matter that excites you and causes you to continuing exploring it after all these years?

ESAO: Along with humor, I think that Gothic and Victorian fashion can also be a crutch, its easy to have a sense of eeriness or tragic romance and longing. With the gloom and doom vibe in general, I’m not really sure why I keep coming back to it.


detail of painting from upcoming solo show

AMF: You seem to enjoy taking creatures we might recognize and changing them just enough so we are not sure what animal we are looking at.  You do this twisting or morphing of people sometimes as well.  I have always been curious what this imagery, that seems to falls just outside of our reality, symbolizes for you?

ESAO: Sometimes I use reference when I’m working, but most of the time its out of my head.  I don’t like having my paintings look as if they were referenced from a photo, it gets in the way of the open-ended narrative.  Its good to have an animal be nonspecific.  For instance, I love my dog more than anything, but I don’t have Boston Terriers in any of my work, because it’d be a painting of a Boston Terrier and not a “dog”.  They are very specific looking.  Movies like From Beyond and the Basket Case series were hits when I was a kid and I watched Alien Nation all the time. If you watch any of them, you’ll see the influence.

photo of Soybean, Esao’s Boston Terrier, by Tom Prior
AMF: I always ask this.  Have you created a painting yet that you feel is one of the most important paintings you will ever make…or means more to you than the rest?  Or is your current work always the most important thing?

ESAO: I definitely get excited while working on certain pieces and there’s a couple that I miss, particularly the Bluegrass painting from 2003, but I feel like I’m getting better as I keep working and for the most part embarrassed about my older work.


AMF: With a steady line up of group shows, a successful 2 person show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery last year, a very anticipated west coast solo show at Thinkspace about to hit in less than a week and your first solo at Jonathan LeVine Gallery slated for next year, things are looking pretty good.  What else do you have up your sleeve, be it paintings, comics or anything else you would like to divulge about your future plans?

ESAO: I’ve been thinking of bringing some humor back.  I also have a ton of projects rusting under my sleeve and none of them are paintings.  I’m hoping that this coming year I’ll have the means to make and show at least some of those off.  Looking at my current work, it seem like all old work now. Time to collect them in a book.


detail of painting from upcoming solo show

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