Esao Andrews makes art that feels like it resides in a type of middle earth, between the world we all live in and the darker half of our collective unconscious. He paints headless characters & dino-portraits, and focus’ on the emotion lingering in the air, as opposed to the graphically hyper-intensified gore of an explicit revelation.
Esao lives and works in NYC these days, a transplant from Arizona, who fills his work with the possibility of a lot more, just by leaving it up to our imagination. Facial features muddled, shapes and light blurred, and cleverly demarcated shadows all aid in the still ambiance of the scenes and fictional pastures he dreams up.
Esao added to his resume by handling Circa Survive’s latest album cover (as well as a few of their posters) and was mentioned by fellow New York artist, Tara McPherson (in her interview with IPMM) as someone people should be on the look out for. He definitely has the talent, but I’m not sure that’s what sets him apart from the rest. It’s the thought behind what he doesn’t include in his paintings that blows our mind, latent yet potent in its surreal and obstructed decor. As fans of his work for a while now, IPMM is thrilled to have been able to catch up with him. He allows the viewer become an integral part of the painting by leaving certain details unclear, and thus accepts the role of provocateur – and he does it extremely well.
Ahead, IPMM asks about continuity in the work, his use of oil-based paints, and the possibility of being creeped-out in a good way.
EL: Where are you from? How’d you get into art?
EA: I’m from East Mesa, Arizona. I’ve always been into making things since I can remember. I believe my creative roots stem from my dad being a school teacher which I had access to countless fairytale anthologies, picture encyclopedias, animal biology books, various craft curriculums, you name it…. also a shed full of craft supplies. My mom was obsessed with collecting cartoons and B horror movies. My older brother was into drawing animals when he was young, I looked up to that.
EL: Your work is dark and surreal, and has been described as such by many. Is there a narrative tied together throughout your work, or are these images islands unto themselves?
EA: For the most part I imagine the subjects and even the landscapes as being silent portraits. That quiet moodiness is in all of my work. I try to have a handful of approaches when interpreting how a figure, tree, or whatnot is drawn. So they are only loosely based in the same surreal world. ‘Islands’ is a good analogy.
EL: Is it possible to be creeped out in a good way?
EA: People enjoy the suspense of a scary movie or book, so definitely. To have something a bit unsettling but not full of shock and fright makes the viewer look inward about why they feel disturbed, making up their own form of mental suspense.
EL: What inspired you to move from the southwest to New York? How has that relocation process affected your art? Or has it affected it at all?
EA: A recruiter from the School of Visual Arts came to my high school and that’s how the idea came about. SVA was known for its illustration program. It was the only school I applied to. I had never been to the East Coast at the time and had no family or friends close by. Other students were in similar situations so the transition seemed natural. There was a comedy called “Dream On” in the 90’s on HBO and everyday I had that theme song stuck in my head while walking the streets my first year here. I love NYC. As for it affecting my artwork its hard to say since I was just 18, but looking at my high school work I think my spirit is still the same.
EL: I love your piece entitled “Ivan.” It has this vibe of a turn of the 19th century photograph, where the subject is almost glued in place to not disrupt the exposure. Except of of course, in this case, we’re dealing with a creature that, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t really exist….how do you describe that creature? Where’d he come from?
EA: When I was a kid I saw this sculptural rendition of a dino-humanoid, if dinosaurs didn’t go extinct, we’d basically look like beaky aliens according to that sculpture, also a drawing in a book of a baby hoatzin, a bird that has fingers on its wings used for climbing. They haunted me immensely and were the start of being fascinated with hybrids and cryptozoology. Other anecdotes would mention Gremlins, Labyrinth, the Dark Crystal, Beetlejuice, old drawing about the Black Plague, Al Columbia comics, and birds in general. I feel like birds are hard to relate to even if they are looking at you, their toothless-gaping expressions seem unnatural. Hairless animals are odd too of course. Ever see a skinny pig or baldwin? All of this melted together just makes sense.
EL: Are more prints of your oil-based stuff going to be made available? What’s your feeling on reproducing originals via limited edition prints?
EA: As long as the quality is good and something special is added, in this case a limited number made or whatever, it’s a way to have something affordable while buying more time to be able to work on your craft. I struggled with the idea of “limited” prints when I started out, but people kept asking me about it. Now that I’m all grown up, I appreciate that I can offer them. Just don’t want to over do it.
EL: I love your headless characters, such as “The Rider” and “Untitled (Thinker)”…what psychological dynamic/struggle are they born from?
EA: Since I’m all about mood I like to make associations vague enough for people to interpret different things out of it. Having a functioning-headless body is odd, but automatically has some connection with what might be floating near it. I think The Rider is represents vulnerability, content and trust.
EL: What are some of the pieces you’re most proud of? And why?
EA: There’s a piece titled Browngrass I did from 2003. It was a huge step for me in composition and technique and all around creepiness. I really like when I can pull off combining text, photoshop, and artwork in an image. Like Vertigo’s “House of Mystery” #22 cover or the Halloween posters I do for Dokebi Bar and Grill. Its challenging and makes me feel professional, you know?
EL: Name one artist/musician IPMM readers should check out…
EA: My neighbor from my old apt, Michael Levin.
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