As an artist, Andre Woolery is interested in creating time capsules that can tell stories of what is current and contemporary. The specific lens is based on things that have heavily influenced the artist thus influencing what he create: the digital convergence in our world and black culture. Both of these areas have molded me Andre into what you see, so his creations are a direct manifestation of that influence. He aims to capture the truths that can become anthropology for both of these areas and hopefully reveal something about this current matrix we call society.
Stylistically, experimentation on a blank canvas drives Andre. He aims to test, try and reformat everything because the world is filled with possibilities and his role as an artist is to discover them. He wants each new collection or phase of his work to be part of a collective journey in pursuit of new territory or a new lens.
The end goal is to have each set of eyes that view his work to gain a brief or long lasting moment of awaking some form of consciousness. Whether it is consciousness in the form of inspiration to look at the world with a new set of possibilities, or understand the world with more clarity, or even take a step closer to a topic that is foreign to your existence. It is ultimately an exercise in his own responsible influence. We caught up with Andre before he left for his foreign exchange artist program in Jamaica.
Art Nouveau: How has the Harlem art scene inspired your work?
Andre Woolery: Harlem is truly where I got my exposure. Exposure to exhibit my work within the community, connect with collectors, and be alongside cool artists that live above Central Park. When I started painting I was alone with my thoughts of creating. Then I started meeting all these artists that were creating work out of vinyl, bronze, buttons, duck tape, cut up canvas, and it opened my mind further to all the possibilities of artistic expression. Beyond the diversity of mediums, the caliber of talent and charismatic personalities really pushed me to elevate my game to keep up with the momentum. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for all the doors Harlem opened for me; literally, figuratively and mentally.Harlem has a rich heritage as a cultural center for black creatives and that still remains true. We are in the midst of an emerging Renaissance so I encourage anyone interested in the arts to head uptown to see what Art in Flux, Souleo, Harlem Arts Alliance and other organizations/galleries are developing. I want and hope for art enthusiasts to really support the artists here through collecting, attending and advocating so it can flourish to its full potential. Its only the beginning…I also want to point out the square footage available in Harlem is empowering. The size of my apt enabled me to create massive pieces like “It’s All About the Benjamins” which is 9 ft x 4 ft. With the space, it was like, why the hell wouldn’t I try to make something big like I see in the museum? Every artist needs a bigger fishbowl.
AN: What do you think the youth in your area is being robbed of most? Was this the same situation you encountered as an adolescent?
AW: Productive ways to spend their time that exhibits their power. My mother always told me “the devil finds work for idle hands” and thankfully when I was younger I was always busy doing artful things to keep me from doing stupid things. The youth needs alternatives to see their power expressed and they are being robbed of those outlets. I see less after-school programs, art programming, community role models and all the things that help youth establish ways to express themselves, find out who they are, and recognize their power in being unique. They are vessels of unfulfilled potential waiting to be realized and sometimes it just takes a new experience to discover it.
AN: What inspired you to start your technique of creating works with push pins?AW: I get bored easily. I am constantly looking for something new. I think you have to “innovate or die” so my mind is always pushing to find new ways of thinking, expressing, and remixing. Working with pushpins was the result of a bored Saturday looking to do something other than oil paint. It ended up being the personal challenge that really propelled me to pursue art seriously. Now I love the creative challenge of using a limited color palette (11 colors of pushpins), the necessary math involved, and the handcrafted nature of it so I am constantly trying to push the medium. For example my first piece Jay-Z – The Tackover used colors of pushpins to dictate light. Now in the Grace Jones – Natural Glow piece, I used a single color but leveraged patterns of spacing to illustrate light. I got a lot of tricks up my sleeve that I’ll be dropping this year.
AN: Your work is very large-scale and your process is intense, How long does it take to finish a piece?
AW: Honestly it gets faster every time I create a piece. Depending on the size and detail required it can take 3-5 weeks to complete a piece . Usually I spend time mapping everything out in my head and then start tacking row by row until its complete. It has taught me so much about patience, faith, and persistence. Patience to take your time with every single placement of a pin, faith that the composition of the pushpins actually resembles the end goal, and persistence to keep going despite having a callous and bruised thumb.
AN: Who or what inspires you?
AW: Everything that crosses my path. My eyes are open and with a great visual memory, I’m like a sponge soaking it all up for future reference. I believe every potential creation already exists you just have to uncover it. We as artists have to continue to unveil what isn’t easily seen, excavate what isn’t easily accessible, show value in the overlooked and chart new territory. If art can create illusion, you have to see magic in everything so you can use it to create your own magic. There isn’t one inspiration, the world is all I need.
AN: If you were a cartoon character who would you be?
AW: (Laughs) Love this question. Afro Samurai. I love hip hop. I love samurais. I love Japanese culture. I love RZA. I love Samuel L Jackson. Put me in the middle of all that while seeking revenge with supreme confidence?…its almost too perfect.
AN: What’s your favorite quote from a song?
AW: That’s a tough one. There are so many and it all depends on the last song I heard or what state of mind I am in. For right now, I’ve had Major Lazer – Get Free on heavy rotation for the passed few months. It was like an anthem for me as I was approaching my departure from New York. It is simple and straight forward but it spoke to me:Look at me
I just can’t believe
What they’ve done to me
We could never get free
I just wanna be
I just wanna dream
I had a job outside of art and while I enjoyed what I was doing, art was like a the ray of light beaming into that small cell of corporate life. It was freedom and opportunity to dream my most vivid dreams. I just couldn’t wait to break free to be myself. Everyday not being able to due that felt like locking up my creative soul. I listened to this song and it fueled my urge to get free.
AN: Tell me about your invisible hieroglyphics series?
AW: That project was a collaboration between my good friend, Victor Abijaoudi, and myself. We noticed that the world was becoming increasingly digital, and the world of communication was losing its physicality. The one remaining human component of the digital experience is touch. Our hands have become the communication conduit through devices with a series of taps, swipes, and pushes. We extracted the finger smudges on my iPad after using specific apps and transformed them into vibrant, acrylic prints.It’s about communication and art of the digital age. Nothing was arbitrary or accidental. We took one of the most revolutionary companies, Apple, and used their revolutionary device as the canvas. Apple’s iPhone and iPad has transformed society’s interaction with devices but truly the art we uncovered was entrenched in user experience design.Each of the designers of the selected apps, created the blueprint for how your fingers would trace within the lines they created. As visual artists, we took the invisible and made it so you could see the art of the software and hardware working together. We wanted the art to encapsulate this moment in history. We pushed a contemporary reflection back to a world rapidly shifting from analog to digital. The only remaining traces were our fingerprints.It was everything I wanted out of a collaboration and a good bridge for me that is so entrenched in a digital world but also spending my time making things with my hands.
What’s the proudest moment of your career to date?
AN: My first show, Bruised Thumbs. I was fortunate enough to have solo art show entitled Bruised Thumbs. It didn’t feel like a show in the traditional sense (but maybe all first shows feel that way). I was proud because it fulfilled many of my hopes into one night. Through art I found the ability to develop a vision and bring it to life. The show was not about making sales but rather putting my work on a public stage. Up until that point no one had seen my work outside of the walls of my home so it was a major moment. It was the first opportunity my pieces had to be placed on a well lit, white wall where their true splendor could shine. It was a moment for the pieces themselves and the culmination of putting my visions on display. Things that hadn’t existed before had now occupied a space, a moment in time, and interest from viewers.I also got a resounding level of support from my network of friends and family. They contributed in countless ways; from film production, to cocktail recipes, to spreading the word, and so on. The opening night was a clear picture of what it looks like when people spread love to those striving to achieve. This type of support should be extended to all those doing creative things, if so, the world would be amazing.But, most importantly when I go to art events, there is typically a only a handful of non-white faces, if any at all. My show was the opposite. It was a sea of color where black was the majority among a sea of highly diverse, varying faces. So many people came up to me during, after, and in emails to tell me this was their first art show and they want to attend more. This was important for me because I know what art has done for me, and I want to extend that to the people in my life and the communities I belong to.There were also so many young teens that randomly showed up during the week just to check it out. I had really open sincere conversations with them and it felt great because I was able to lure in the audience I set out to reach. I believe they were able to see themselves in me and recognize more possibilities. I met one guy that had given up on being an aspiring actor in the theater but my art show made him want to get back into it. Months later I ran into him in Columbus Circle (I have good visual memory so I didn’t forget his face) and he told me he was in the middle of auditions and things were going well. We shook hands, wished each other good luck, and that was it. That small moment lasting a total of 2 minutes was one of the best moments that reminded me that I’m doing the right thing. That is ultimately what art means to me: an opportunity to give people another reason to take a bold step or new thought pattern.
AN: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
AW: A global artist creating work that impacts people. These upcoming years will be a litmus test for me to see what works and what doesn’t. I will then use all that experience and insight to push hard at the things that will drive real impact with youth and community. This upcoming year will be focused on using my art and creative talent to impact my community in Jamaica. It will drive civic pride, youth empowerment, grow family bounds, and potentially become a cultural destination.
But you can never really plan the future so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
AN: You’ve mastered bridging the gap between art and commerce. What advice would you give to young artists that want to make a business out of their art?
AW: Invest time in learning about technology, business, build your network, and create a vision. There are several directions you can go as an artist and the closer you are to acquiring the knowledge the closer you are to being independent. If you aren’t fluent in technology, you will not be able to utilize all the tools that available to our digitally empowered generation. If you ignore the business side of things, then someone else will be in charge of making your decisions and most likely to their benefit. You have to make connections to others that have skills you don’t because you run into mutually beneficial situations. Last and most important is to have a vision for your art to be your livelihood. Once you have that you will easily connect the dots of your skills, technology, business, and the network of people to help you achieve. Making a business out of your art can mean whatever you want, don’t think there is only one business model.
AN: What’s next for you?
AW: I’m in Jamaica right now so I’ll be doing several new projects. Some new work with the medium of pushpins, community based projects, new mediums related to being on this island, street art, oil painting…essentially I am going to be trying it all. I came for freedom so I will be completely open with the types of things I experiment with. The best way is to follow the journey is through Instagram or Facebook.
AN: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
AW: I am going to doing a foreign exchange of talent while in Jamaica, so if you have creative skills that you want to share with my community and can afford a flight to JA, come through. Let’s show the world how powerful artists can be when they put their skills together. Hit me up with any thoughts and we can work out a way for Jamaica to be a creative haven for artists.
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