Ever the astute aesthete, Esao Andrews (previously covered in HF Vol. 8 and online) brings a renewed sense of clarity and purpose to his latest body of work. His new paintings will be featured at NYC’s Jonathan LeVine Gallery from October 11 through November 8 for Andrews’s upcoming solo show, “Epilogues.” For this series, the artist embraced some of his signature motifs, bringing them back into the studio and furthering their growth. The ongoing narrative in his work, as Andrews tells us, needed a conclusion, a way to say farewell and move forward with his pursuits. This exhibition of painting provides him with just that: closure. In “Epilogues,” we are treated to a visual feast of some of Andrews’s most well-known images as they would appear as aged, matured and weathered in his trademark tonality, creating transcendent moments of haunted familiarity.
Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to talk to us, Esao. Let’s get right to the good stuff, your show is called “Epilogues.” That sounds like a statement of some finality. What is the concept for this new body of work?
For the most part of my career, I’ve compartmentalized my output. Even though my work is all pretty moody and surreal, I like to bounce around with my subject matter and style — both to keep myself and my audience excited. Because of this, any group of work I’ve come up with tends to be a bunch of stand-alone pieces and not really a cohesive body. “Epilogues” is an attempt to bridge that diversity in imagery with a narrowed theme. That being: journeys coming to an end and homecomings.
Is this new work based on a decision to put a series of popular works to bed, to walk away and consider this a final moment?
The paintings titled “The Thinker”, “On Letting Go” and “Monsoon” are some of my best known pieces. The last two have had a life of their own being album art for Circa Survive, circulating the internet and as tattoos. All these years I was afraid of returning to and embracing them because I felt they weren’t really my paintings. So this is not necessarily a finale for them, but a reason to be okay with bringing them full circle.
I suppose this leads to a fairly obvious question but let’s go with this – do you begin your works with the thought that there is a narrative or timeline going on in the world of the paintings?
Yes, I definitely do and I like the idea of that world aging.
When we spoke earlier you mentioned that these works were a way to have some closure with certain popular works mentioned above. How did it feel to have this realization that you needed to show the final chapter of these ideas or characters? Did you feel relieved or was there any anxiety?
I feel relief. The idea of taking a look at older paintings and continuing the narrative is a new way of creating ideas for me. This whole time I’ve been relying on the viewer to come up with the story of what’s happening based on just a single scene. Now that I feel like I have a big enough world laid-out, I can start connecting dots and actually writing complete stories. There’s anxiety to that side of it (nervous laughter).
What was your schedule like for making these works? Did you plan this out for a while or did the ideas all kind of fall on you and demand to be painted?
The initial idea for these paintings centered on resurrecting subject matter from a few older paintings as if a lot of time passed. The word “epilogue” came to mind, then on a few sheets of paper I brain-stormed some scenes and visual puns that represent that theme.
Are you open to having any of these characters appear in other works in the future? Do you truly feel that they are over and done and that their drama is completely resolved?
Yes, I think I will bring certain ones back up in the future, or some evolved variation of them. I like to approach them as if they are in some parallel-dreamlike existence. I’m growing and evolving just as the narratives in them are. I’m not sure if there will ever be a complete ending to anything. I’m starting to look at every image as a starting point for a continued story and that image can have different possible paths.
I know you’re just on the eve of having your works finished and about to have the grand public unveiling. But have you begun to have new ideas arrive since these paintings are complete and farewells have been said?
Yes! I’m extremely excited about the new work I have planned. I got challenged to be in a show of large scale paintings for a museum show that’s coming up in October. That’s at LBMA (Long Beach Museum of Art), and it really challenged the scale of my work. Since it’s called “Masterworks” I figured I needed to make something really big, to go bigger than I’d ever gone before. And that show is also about the artist looking back at the last decade of their work. So with that I got sentimental and figured that it was just time to resolve some things and get closure from some of those lingering ideas, hence “Epilogues.” Because of this show and the LBMA show, I look forward to working on a larger scale and planning out my narrative on a collective scale too.