Esao Andrews on Vitality and Verve

In celebration of all things POW! WOW! Long Beach, from the outdoor muralists (to start painting murals throughout the city starting June 21) to the artists currently installing their work inside the Long Beach Museum of Art’s (LBMA) upcoming exhibit Vitality and Verve: Transforming the Urban Landscape, the Post reached out to several of the world-class creatives that are gearing up to change and inspire the landscape of Long Beach’s art scene as a whole, indoors and out.

Today we feature Esao Andrews, an Arizona desert native who moved to New York in 1996 to earn his BFA in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts. He now lives and works in central Los Angeles. His work is often a blend of surrealist imagery, fantastical themes and the grotesque, enough to send the viewer into a dreamy and even nightmarish world of his or her own.

As far as Long Beach is concerned, Andrews was a part of LBMA’s exhibit Masterworks: Defining a New Narrative, which closed in February 2015 and featured paintings from contemporary artists that are considered pivotal career works.

Andrews just recently completed his installation at the LBMA. The Post sent him a few questions to answer before he began his mural and was able to catch him working on it to take a few photos, thanks to the museum. To see the finished piece, Vitality and Verve opens on Friday, June 26 in conjunction with the museum’s famed After Dark event from 7:00PM to 10:00PM.

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Detail of “Imago” by Esao Andrews at the Long Beach Museum of Art in 2015. Photo by Asia Morris.

Post: Have you ever painted a piece as large as what you’re planning for Vitality and Verve?
Andrews: Yes. Earlier this year I did a few murals using spray paint that were quite larger than this.

Regarding LBMA’s Masterworks, I read in a Hi-Fructose interview that you wanted to make something really big, bigger than you’ve ever gone before. Will you be going even bigger for this exhibit?

Maybe I was referring to the Masterworks painting in that interview. The Masterworks painting was the biggest I’d ever painted at the time and it was also the most detailed. I used the same sized brushes I usually work on for an 8″ x 10″ and this one was 78″ x 93″. It was basically like a dozen paintings all in one.

This new piece is more like a big image of a single subject. It’ll be more detailed than my previous murals and my largest solo mural. With those other murals this year I have been going up in scale tremendously, but they were also collaborations with other artists so there was help designing and filling space.

What concepts will you be approaching and/or developing for this installation?

The painting I’m currently planning out is a decaying butterfly hanging under a leaf. A lot of my work is about travels coming to an end and solitude.

On this scale, I wanted to do something that looked bold from afar (wing colors), but something I could also have fun focusing on the details in the insect’s body and plant matter, without getting too overwhelmed. It directly relates to some of my recent paintings I’ll have up in September at Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City with fellow Vitality and Verve artist Aaron Horkey and Brazilian artist Joao Ruas. That show will be titled The Gilded Age.

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Detail of “Imago” by Esao Andrews at the Long Beach Museum of Art in 2015. Photo by Asia Morris.

I see that your specialty seems to be oil on wood and as I understand it, the exhibition is featuring indoor mural art. Is it difficult to transition from using oils to a medium better suited for a larger format?

For this mural I’ll be working with acrylic using brushes. I haven’t painted this large with brushes and acrylic doesn’t blend like oils, so I’ll have to get back to you on its difficulty. The other murals I did earlier this year were spray painted and filled with a lot of problem-solving and learning on the spot. I had never used spray paint to actually paint and draw before. Its difficult to control, but spray paint is also forgiving and you can correct your mistakes pretty easily. I paint with a blotchy texture so the mist of a spray can was a pretty smooth transition for me.

How do you think the exhibit, as well as POW! WOW! as a whole, will affect Long Beach’s street art and art scene in general as you know it?

I think it’s awesome that LBMA brought in POW! WOW! and Thinkspace to collaborate on this event with. POW! WOW! has been doing a great job at bringing together all forms of street art and are ever expanding. The outdoor roster Pow! Wow! has lined up is diverse as it can get with a lot of youthful aesthetic. This can be said about us that are doing Vitality and Verve at the museum, too. People today use social media to share art, and events like this put cultural awareness, locations, artists on a map. I think it’s going to be great for the city.

Are there any artists whose work you admire that will be working alongside you during the Vitality and Verve installation?

Yes, some of these other artists I’ve been friends with for years or we’ve been at least acquaintances. It’s great to be put in this kind of environment when you know that you are going to be sharing a space with folks you admire. It makes everyone want to push themselves even harder in addition to the extra social media attention.

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Detail of “Imago” by Esao Andrews at the Long Beach Museum of Art in 2015. Photo by Asia Morris.

What especially excites you about this upcoming show? Since you’ve shown at LBMA in the past, what are you looking forward to regarding this exhibit?

Painting is a solitary profession. Working out in public is new to me and I really have been enjoying the casual interactions with passersby the past few murals I have done.

Even though I live in central Los Angeles, Long Beach is a different city. I like feeling like a tourist and the museum is the most beautiful place to have an opening reception at. Like with the Masterworks show, there will be overlapping circles of artists and friends which makes it a celebration of art and community all the more.

To learn more about the artist, visit his official website here and follow him on Instagram @esao.

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