Profile: Adrian Esparza
by Richard Baron
Posted on January 3, 2005
Adrian Esparza says he’s always been influenced by dreams and happenstance. Even before he graduated El Paso High in ‘88 and was designing the sets for school plays like ‘South Pacific,’ he was into surrealism. “Now that I look back on it,” he supposes, “they were kind of like installations.”
He got a job selling babies’ clothes at Mervyn’s and enrolled in the UTEP art department, but he was initially a rather lethargic and superficial student. At his first year evaluation, some teachers suggested he reconsider his major in art, but he stuck with it and was inspired by his challenging classmates. In ’92, a painting instructor nominated him for a summer program at Yale where he met students of art from all over the country, and he was introduced to and stimulated by New York City. He returned to El Paso re-energized but almost quit art when rejected by the Yale graduate program. “Since I had already been there, I thought I wouldn’t have any trouble getting in, but sure enough, I got the little envelope.”
He spent a year substitute teaching, and then enrolled at Cal Arts, where some friends attended. “The first year was hard, just adjusting to the California scene, and it was so conceptually based that they called me on a lot of things because I’m kind of a reactive artist who really just likes to create. I started to combine my paintings with installations, and that got a better response, so when I came back the following year, I was in a different position and I had fun; it wasn’t so serious. There were lots of parties and late night goings to the beach in the company of other artists. It was nice because you could be foolish but the subject of art was always there.
“I returned to El Paso but I missed California, so after a year I went back and lived in a 2-bedroom apartment in Studio City just outside Hollywood with six other ex-Cal Art students. I didn’t have any space to create my work, so I went from large paintings and installations to small drawings, and I incorporated pillows into the process, and every now and then I’d get lucky and sell them to the fashion stores, but it wasn’t dependable. It was great to be able to go to Bergamont Station or MoCA whenever I wanted, but I didn’t have much luck finding a job, and after about a year the situation kind of dissolved because people were moving on, so when UTEP called and asked if I wanted to teach, I figured I’d had enough and decided to come back to El Paso again.
“I returned in 2000 and I taught for four years at both UTEP and the Community College. The first year was a learning experience, and in the second year I found my flow, but then I stopped growing. I kind of settled into that position of rehashing acquired knowledge, and I decided to take a break and get some perspective, so last January I quit UTEP and just this past fall semester I quit Community. I’m thinking of substitute teaching if I need money, or if I took 18 hours of education courses I could teach junior high or high school. Maybe teaching college would be better, but I’m more concerned with just making work.
“My family has always been supportive of my art; my mom has always been open to it, and we have kind of an agreement: My family’s getting older, illness has come up on them, and I’ve taken on certain responsibilities dealing with medical issues, so they kind of allow me to create. I can spend eight hours a day doing household stuff for other family members and I’m still able to concentrate on my art.
“For a while I was still trying to recapture California nightlife here in El Paso because it used to help my work in a strange kind of way. It was dangerous going to downtown L.A. and walking the streets; there was an openness doing that, and no matter how messed up I got, the purpose of it was always for the work. I’ve realized that it’s futile to look for that kind of nightlife in El Paso, and I’m not sure I want my energy going in that direction anymore anyway.
“I want my work to be about the acceptance of situations, whether it’s about family or death, or about thinking about who I am.
“It’s like when I go someplace, returning is the best part. It’s having an experience and putting it in relationship to myself. When I go to L.A. or New York, I feel like I’ve experienced something, but when I come back to El Paso, I accept the situation because I have the confidence to accept it.
“It’s like taking Ecstasy – there’s that frantic, free-floating going up time, that enlightenment when there isn’t a right or wrong, but where I really find relevance, where I really find the sublime, is in coming down, and in finding the ability to come to terms with the transition, to get control of it and understand the return to reality.
“A lot of my work tries to recapture the isolated experience of how I interpreted doing different chemicals – I did E, coke, crack, heroin – but now that I’ve experienced it, I can just recall those experiences, I don’t feel the need to return to that frame of mind. It takes too much energy.
“I don’t work high because you can think but you can’t isolate a thought or isolate the brush stroke, or a movement, or even hold a conversation, so now the work is what I’m concentrating on, and it’s memories that I’m dealing with.
“It’s when you stop doing something that you can feel its repercussions and understand it. By the time you know something, it’s already happened.
“I’m more into just concentrating on the work, on my ability to wake up and produce something and go to bed and be excited while falling asleep, thinking about what I’m going to do the following day.
“Making art is not really about aspirations, it’s more about having an alternative. A lot of people have criticized my work for being too pretty, but that’s inherent in it, it comes naturally. I started using found objects, so I wasn’t the only person creating the work, and then reconfiguring it, mixing and matching things, adding things to it or taking things away, and later I’d justify it in order to make a statement, some social commentary, but lately I find myself returning to the craftsmanship because when I’m doing it, I just enjoy the process, I just enjoy making it; it’s instinctual, and it’s reactive.
“The reactive nature of art-making is letting the work talk to you while you’re creating it. While it’s happening, from moment to moment, it’s chaotic and energetic, and I like to hone in on that, the isolated experience, the happenstance.
“I’ve always been influenced by happenstance and dreams.”
– 30 –
Richard Baron (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and photographer living in El Paso.
Most Viewed Stories
- Police Blotter 2.12.09: Bank robber nabbed; FBI says powder sent to offices not harmful; first homicide arrest; top collision intersections; 17-year-old shot self
- Sex clubs and swingers in El Paso
- Reyes after Obama meeting: Calls immigration reform a national security issue, disputes White House COS Emanuel's vote count
- El Paso Job Register: Where Military Spouses Get Jobs
- In the News: Elections and Halloween
- Biz Briefs 6.8-12.09: Small business summit; Department of Labor forum
- VG 11.08: 8th Court of Appeals, Judge Place 3
- Parra Pleads Guilty to One Charge Porn, One Charge Corruption
- TribBlog: Sun Bowl to Oklahoman: Drop Dead
- Outbound Brains