Mark-making: From Underpasses to MatchboxesRising painter Andrew Hem compares graffiti to painting, explains why he covered his new shoes with mud as a kid, and talks about bite-sized art.
By Elise Ure
August 24, 2007 | A window opens into the air of a long-gone day and a Radiohead record turns faithfully on the player as Andrew Hem preps for another studio session. It’s a fine night to implement change with a paintbrush.
Hem’s paintings tilt your perspective until the world can only safely be viewed against a patchwork sky. Delightfully sullen brushstrokes recreate scenes from his life, which are stitched together with threads of urban culture even though the suckling of graffiti’s teat has lessened some. Still, Andrew indulges in hip-hop and the occasional windmill.
Finding that happy medium between the too cool and the uncool is never easy. But the likes of Adidas, the LA Times, and Lucky Brand Jeans attest to Hem’s success so far. And there’s more to come, says this recent graduate from LA’s Art Centre College of Design.
So, out of college and officially part of the freelancing scene -- how's this going for you?
Now that I'm out of school, I'm not stressed at all, but I think I've been lucky so far.
I've been contacted to do two freelance jobs that were due on the day of my graduation. I was excited to be working, so like an idiot I accepted the jobs without thinking about the work that needed to be done for my graduation wall. On the days where everyone else was relaxing and celebrating, I was already stressed out on deadlines.
I've also had a few offers from entertainment companies, but I'm so sick of the 9-5 schedule that I never called any of them back. Plus, I feel that coloring someone else’s drawings and being forced out of your own voice gets to be a bit like labor. So I guess it's going all right. Just got to tap on wood and hope for the best.
What’s it like now, compared to when public property was your canvas?
It’s different in many ways. One, the street is never booked for the whole year. It's always accepting submissions and showing to the public. That can be a bad thing a majority of times because kids who are just starting will paint on anything, anywhere.
More people will see your work on the streets, but you're only capturing the interest of other graffiti artists. Gallery work on the other hand captures the interest of many people, including those who don't do art.
It's a totally different feeling once you see a piece on a canvas. When I'm painting on a canvas, I have a strong light source so I can get great details. When I'm on the streets, I use bright colors because there’s no light source at all. Graffiti is basically a game of design. You're constantly thinking about the composition and placement of your letters. Each letter should be consistent with the other and should flow. When I'm painting on canvas I think about the same thing, but instead of using letters I use figures. Each figure is like a letter to me, so I’m always thinking of the best way to arrange the figures so they connect. Color, composition and value are strongly emphasized for both lifestyles. However, on canvas I also think about focal point and texture.
Graffiti’s also affected my painting hours. I think because I spent the majority of my time going out at night to paint, I can't start painting on a canvas till 11pm.
So what's a day in the life of Andrew Hem like?
Well, I usually wake up around 1 p.m. I get up, shower and leave my apartment around 3 p.m. Then I ride my bike around Culver City. Don't know where I'm going, but it really doesn't matter as long as I have my sketchbook. Every twenty minutes I take a break and draw from nature. I get home around 6 o'clock and call my best friend: my sister.Hanging out with the guys too much left me feeling guilty because I wasn’t doing anything productive, so time with them is down to about once a week. When it hits 12 a.m., I begin the painting process. It doesn't matter what I paint as long as I paint something; that way I won't feel guilty.