Expat

Monday, May 16, 2016

From Street to Studio


“My four days in county jail were horrible,
but disappointing my parents was a million times worse.”
Andrew Hem

For the figurative artist and illustrator Andrew Hem doing jail time for his graffiti exploits was the turning point in life that saw him change from illicit street art to fine art.

As he told the Erratic Phenomena Blog’s Amanda Erlanson “I think that a majority of graffiti artists pursue the life of an artist or graphic designer after their graffiti career is over – mainly because there aren’t that many jobs available for felons. When they turn graffiti into a felony, you kind of have to be self-employed after you get caught. A few of my friend can’t find any jobs because of this, and turned to a life of drug dealing.”

The son of Cambodian refugees who ended up in Los Angeles after fleeing the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, Hem found his first friends as a teenager with the clandestine outsiders of the street art world.

As he has said “It was hard for me to make friends, but when I started graffiti, I was finally labeled into a group, and that’s when I started having friends.”

But Hem’s brush with the law saw him change tack and in 2006 he graduated from the Art Center College of Art and Design with a BFA in illustration. From collaborating with brands like Adidas, Lucky Brand Jeans and Sony Pictures Hem’s career has evolved into shows in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, New York, London and Zurich.

Drawing on the urban sensibilities of Los Angeles which he combines with the rural animistic society of his Khmer heritage, Hem produces dreamlike memories inspired by personal experiences that vary from back packing in Europe to returning to his roots in Asia.

As he told the Huffington Post’s John Seed “I’ve been fortunate to travel to some amazing places. And from that I’ve met some amazing people and experiences. Life experiences turns to stories which then turns into paintings.

About which he has elaborated, telling Hi-Fructose magazine “I love creating worlds that do not exist. A world where people don’t care about others’ appearance, and nobody has to worry about fitting in or being an outcast. Where everyone is accepted. No necks, long arms, no nose, blue faces are all normal. This is a world that doesn’t exist, and that’s why I love creating it. I’ve experienced and witnessed too many times where people are disgusted with what is different.”


Hem’s first solo New York exhibition Mountain Full is on show at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery until the 11th of June.


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