We were warned by Andrew’s wife and fellow artist Hilary Pecis, that his Mission District studio was in a state of disorder and it definitely lived up to the hype, but as Klea always says, “mess is photogenic.” An incidental side effect of making work, messes are often as telling and interesting as the end product itself. In many ways, there’s more story in the mess left behind; beginnings are laid bare, shifting and unfolding ideas can be tracked, and the push towards completion takes on a very real and tangible form. I think Andrew’s messes speak not only to the textured nature of his current work, which often features layer upon layer of varied materials, but also to the way in which he absorbs information, appropriates it, and then reconstructs and presents it. The course of political history and the themes that play out over and over again are of particular interest to Andrew. He keenly reads about, listens to, and observes a great deal about our historical and present-day developments, particularly around social, environmental, and economic issues, yet in his work he doesn’t depict or reference anything too closely to the facts. Instead he takes possession of information and personalizes it with his own visual language to get at the heart of a feeling, rather than clear-cut particulars or opinions. The imagery in Andrew’s work, the recurrent motifs and references, express a state where past and present continually converge, and where the future is not a new and distinct period up ahead, but rather just a reiteration of what came before.
When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I usually try to avoid the answer but most of the time, I just say I’m an artist. Which is usually followed by the question, “what type of art do you make?” Which is then followed by, “what does it look like?” I have a hard time answering these questions and usually feel uncomfortable trying to do so.
Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
No day job. I’ve been a full time artist for over ten years now, which sounds crazy to me. There have been crazy ups and crazy downs, and lots of middle ground. The trick was getting used to this fact. I really cannot imagine doing anything else. I have a running joke with my wife, Hilary Pecis, that when my art career fails I can always go work at an art supply store or deliver pizza. But seriously, after you work for yourself for so many years, doing what you love all day, every day, your art practice starts to depend on this dedication and thrive off of it. For me, it seems like it would be really hard to maintain my practice if I was not doing it full time. In actuality, I’d say I work a lot more than full time. Sometimes I work up to 80 hours a week. On my recent trip to Miami, I did a giant public wall project in the Wynwood Arts District, which was set up by Marx & Zavattero and The Fountainhead Residency. It measured 35 feet by 300 feet. I worked around 11-15 hours a day for 20 days straight and completed a super intricate piece in that time.
What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject mat
I work with many mediums: large scale mixed media paper works, mixed media paintings and drawings, collage, printmaking, large scale installations that usually involve large scale sculpture and wall paintings, and more recently I have been doing a lot of things with gold leaf. I would describe my subject matter as being loosely based on German map-making from the 14th century and Persian and Indian miniatures from around that same time period that are sort of put in a contemporary context, and of course personalized. I was particularly inspired by the book, The Nuremberg Chronicles, 1493 which depicts some of the first-ever illustrations of cities and countries. It showcases the beginning stages of map-making, which at the time was a new and untrained approach to something that’s actually incredibly technical. The rules of drawing were thrown out— scale, proportion, and perspective were way off and everything was flattened out, with maybe just one aspect in perfect proportion. I liked the interaction of that contrast, and I was interested in the fact that map-making was (and still is) a tool for strategic warfare. I’d say that my work has a lot to do with history and how it repeats itself over and over again. I’d also say that there’s definitely been an influence of under ground comics as well as graffiti, which may or may not be obvious at this point in time. Occurring themes in my work are: war, globalization, environmental issues, such as global warming and natural disaster, and also more recently the global economic crisis.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I have been reading a book about world religions, a lot of economic and business magazines, and always looking at many different artists’ monographs. I’ve been slowly reading the Koran on and off over the past year, and also very slowly reading, In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen. It’s a very interesting book about the American ambassador to Germany in the time leading up to World War II. I was a huge NPR junkie for many years, but basically took a break from it earlier this year after seven solid years of listening. It’s great listening but I started to feel the need to turn it off for a while. Listening to all the political bantering on Capitol Hill over the past few years is frustrating to say the least and was literally starting make me angry in my studio. It just really seems like nothing has been accomplished in the last two years. In terms of music, I’ve been racking up the numbers on itunes for bands like— WU LYF, No Age, Wilderness, Adebisi Shank, and Mastodon.
What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
The biggest challenge is to keep challenging myself. I try my best to keep moving forward and progressing in my work, both conceptually and aesthetically. I’m always trying to think of new directions to go in and attempting to create new experiences for viewers. Navigation of the art world is tricky. To put it simply, I guess I’d say if I get to do exactly what I want 50% of the time I feel like I am doing pretty good. I know that’s a pretty objective and vague answer but it’s really the truth for me. I just try and make mature and appropriate decisions around opportunities offered to me. There are real-world things to consider regarding the market and selling work, and at the end of the day that’s okay. There are things to be learned within limitations. As a whole I think the art world is a pretty brutal place to exist. It’s very trying on the soul and definitely takes some really thick skin to deal with a lot of it. Staying humble, being persistent, consistent, and working hard, are very valuable attributes.
What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Having a studio is very important. It’s great to have a space to make huge messes in and then get to leave it all behind at the end of the day. My studio is a big crazy mess right now because I’ve been insanely busy this past year and have not had spare time to clean it. There are lots of bi-products from my process: large amounts of scraps from collage, palettes, paint line tester sheets, masking tape, gold leaf scraps, scrap wood, newspapers, magazines, old brushes, dried up pens, etc. I always have a hard time getting rid of this stuff. I feel like I’ll find a perfect use for all of it some day in the future and I’d regret it if I were to throw all of it away. I try my best to make my space work for me and use it to its most maximum potential. Some day I hope to have a much larger space to work in but for now I push this one to its limits. It’s very hard to find good studio space in San Francisco, as real estate is expensive and hard to come by. My studio now may not be the biggest but it feels really good to me. I love my tall walls, angled glass ceiling, and all the natural light I get. I always feel good in my studio. That’s very valuable to me and a hard thing to give up. If your studio doesn’t feel good and you don’t love being there, I suggest moving to a different one.
Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now?
Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
I wouldn’t say there’s been a shift or change in my life that’s led to what I’m making now and I wouldn’t really say my work is autobiographical. I’d describe my work as art that’s attempting to create experiences and visuals that in some way record contemporary history. Listening to my father, who was never terribly political, passionately talk a few years ago about the new age of Chinese dominance in global economics as well as politics affected me profoundly in many ways. It lead me to research it deeply and also lead to my habit of reading economic and business magazines. It’s also had a lot to do with some of the subject matter and commentary that’s been prevalent in my work for the past year.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I just completed several projects for Miami Art Basel, one of which I mentioned earlier. That felt really great to conclude several projects at the same time there, and they were all widely successful. I have several exciting large projects in the works right now, most of which I am reluctant to talk about until they are under way or open. When I say large I mean large. I’ll be showing a very big, epic painting that measures 17.5 feet by 8 feet at Art Los Angeles Contemporary in January with Jerome Zodo Contemporary. It’s the largest work on canvas I’ve ever made.
What are you most proud of?
That is a hard question for me to answer. I don’t generally describe myself as being proud of anything really. I’m proud to be married to a wonderful lady who loves me and I’m proud to come from great parents whose support and love has really made me the person I am.
What do you want your work to do?
I want my work to have impact and perhaps inspire someone to think differently about something they already feel pretty certain about. I’m trying to reach out to people about ideas and realities that are relevant to all of us, and I like my work to be subtle and subversive so that a broader scope of people can interact with it on many levels. On a simpler level, if my work inspired someone who doesn’t make things to start making things, that would be an incredible success in my mind.
Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
Art Los Angeles Contemporary: January 19th-22nd 2012. Los Angeles. I also have a two-person show in Copenhagen at V1 Gallery with Richard Colman opening March 17th through April 28th 2012. And I’m very excited about my show with Mark Moore Gallery in LA opening in October.
He also just had a new monograph come out on Paper Museum Press titled “Up in the Air”, which was produced and co-sponsored by Marx & Zavattero, Morgan Lehman, and Park Life. It’s available at all three venues and Marx & Zavattero will have copies signed by Andrew.