Andrew Cortes grew up in East Los Angeles and completed his undergraduate degree at California State University Long Beach. He received a Bachelor's degree in Fine Art with a major in Drawing and Painting and a minor in Comparative World Literature. Shortly after graduation he moved to New York City to pursue creative projects and expand on his practice by collaborating with others in music, video, projection, set design, and woodworking. After three years he moved back to Los Angeles where he works at his studio in Skid Row, and is preparing a body of work for graduate school. He is currently organizing events and exhibitions at a new artist-run gallery in Echo Park.
I am first and foremost a painter. I developed my own artistic language early on based on patterns and repetition, always adhering to the conception of each composition as a visualization of the complexities of life and a search for the sublime. My investigations are derived from the basic foundation of scientific theories that have not yet been proven, as they involve the subatomic universe—in other words, everything that is beyond our visual and sometimes psychological grasp. My aim is to visually depict what we can’t see, and not to abstract what we can see. Implementing variations in patterns while using a fixed foundation of squares mimics what we think we know about the universe: All things are created from the same essence, and while it may seem like chaos, there is an order and equation for all things.
Interview with Andrew Cortes
Tell us more about your time in New York City after undergrad? What was it like working in NYC after being on the West Coast, and what brought you back to CA?
New York was really a place of exploration for me, where I did a lot of thinking and studying and the least amount of painting. I had a studio in Brooklyn for a while where I painted, and I shared the space with several carpenters who taught me even more about woodworking. I delved into other mediums like video and music/sound projects as well. However, I had some misconceptions about what it would be like to live and work there as an artist and maybe I even romanticized it a little bit. After a while I missed the space, optimism, and possibility of the West Coast, on top of the fact that so many developments in the arts were starting to really take shape there, making it even more appealing. Without a doubt though, my experiences on the east coast gave me a new perspective that I've carried with me to Los Angeles.
Can you describe your working routine? Do you have a daily studio practice? What is the most important part of maintaining a successful studio practice?
Success in the studio… it varies from artist to artist, and at least for me what is working one day or for one piece may not continue to work for everything thereafter. I actually try to keep away from routines because the work I make is essentially based on repetition. Instead I opt for constant change. Tweaking aspects of my environment whether it be the time of day/night I work, music I listen to, projecting video over the piece I am working on, hanging out with my cats (Mosh and Peatree), moving things around in the studio, reading etc... This sort of variety in an otherwise consistent discipline is something I consider to be a small part of a successful studio practice.
Can you give us some insight into your process? How do you begin? Do you keep a sketchbook/does drawing play a part in your work?
I take pride in going to the lumber yard, picking the wood, measuring, sawing, aligning, building, sanding, and priming all my own canvases and panels. This process is very important to me...It creates a real relationship with the physical foundation for all my work. With painting, there are times where I'll work instinctively off of a specific idea, for example the big bang, and other times I'll work on the surface level with only certain colors and patterns. In the same piece, even. I never want that choice to be evident in the work as a whole.
Do you ever experience the equivalent to “writers block” for artists? If so, how do you get in the creative mindset and flow?
I certainly run into blockage, especially when introducing new ideas into core concepts I've developed in my work. Growing pains I guess... that awkward in between phase. My number one go to when I am creatively high or unfortunately low has been talking things out with my girlfriend Anne Marie. We are very close, and more times than not, she tells me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. I am lucky though that my girlfriend is creatively minded in nearly every aspect of her life, so it's kind of easy for me when she has a much better understanding of certain things when we discuss them. However, art background or not, having people in your life to share ideas, critique work, or have a glass of wine with is important for anyone, I feel. Aside from that, when I prefer figuring things out on my own, I enjoy surfing on a pretty regular basis, going to museums and galleries, jogging, gardening, woodwork, and going on little weekend trips.
How does your artist statement function for you? Do you think it is an important element in the practice of being an artist?
I think it depends on your practice. My work is visually abstract and so I think a written reference point helps other people to see where I’m coming from and allows them to assess it on their own terms. I'm constantly exploring and experimenting in my practice and my artist statement acts as an anchor for my core ideas.
Are there a few artists that you are looking at currently?
Has your work been influenced by other disciplines that aren’t rooted in the visual arts
Physics...specifically theoretical sub-atomic concepts and ideas about multiple dimensions. It has played a major role in my work because I’m able to explore these very complex and unfathomable concepts through painting. I don’t ever claim to be an expert at any of these things, far from it, but I think that’s the great thing about being an artist is that you are involved with science and humanity by default and can offer a perspective on all things.
What do you listen to while you work? Is boredom something you have to contend with in the studio
Drawing that many squares can become overly repetitious. I like a lot of variation in what I listen to, which can be anything from Jay Z, The Black Angels, Radiohead. . . or if I’m feeling really heady and delving deep I’ll listen to Boards of Canada, John Cage, Jazz, Bjork, the Intersteller soundtrack, NPR and I’ll watch lots of documentaries. It all depends on what layer I’m exploring that day.
Do you have any shows coming up? Anything else you would like to share?
I actually just closed a show at a small artist run gallery in downtown LA, and now I’m just focusing on making work and finishing up commissions. There are some collaborative projects and group exhibitions in the works, but those are still in the development phases.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your work and talk with us!
To find out more about Andrew and his work, check out his website.