“Analog girl in digital world,” sang Neo-Soul songtress Erykah Badu on her 2000 song “…& On”. At that time the transformation to a computerized society was still in its infancy. Thirteen years later, whether it’s the pc/phone/camera in our pockets or the advancement of nanotechnology in the medical field, almost every part of our lives is now attached to computers. So it’s no surprise that high tech machines are playing a role in our art as well, and one rising visual artist has not only utilized new technology in his work, but he is breaking new ground with his extraordinary experimentation of combining the new world with the old.
Andre Woolery took a temporary break from his career in advertising to pursue his interest in artistic mediums, and four years later he has become one of the brightest new stars in contemporary art. His innovative 2011 pushpin portraits led him to be featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and Forbes. Now the New York City-based artisan is making headway again with his new collection Invisible Hieroglyphics- a series of abstract artworks created from finger swipes on an iPad screen.
Woolery mastered handcrafted art with his thumbtacks portraits, and with Invisible Hieroglyphics, he is on the path to conquering digital art as well. Get more familiar with this creative craftsman before he takes over the entire art world in this exclusive interview with DZI: The Voice.
Yohance Kyles: When did you discover your voice as an artist?
Andre Woolery: I’m discovering my voice everyday. In the beginning I was very conscience of calling myself an artist, because I was so new to the game of visual creation. At the time it was simply a hobby that I loved, and my passion grew stronger. Now I feel more confident in expressing my voice no matter what it looks like at any given time. It will always be an extension of me, so the more I create and mature, the clearer that voice will become.
YK: How have you been able to maintain you career in advertising with your current pursuit of creating art?
AW: Prioritization and focus. I’ve had to really compartmentalize moments in my life in order to force laser focus on what I need to accomplish. At the beginning of each day I know what I have to complete in both worlds and by the end of the day and once the clock starts in either world… I’m just grinding. I love this project because it has become that bridge between my two worlds; a digital media world and artistic expression. Currently, there is a very symbiotic relationship between the two sides of my life that creates a great balance in learning and growth.
As an artist you have a vision and you work tirelessly to find a way to bring it into physical reality so others can experience it.
YK: Your first solo show Bruised Thumbs garnered you major media attention. At what point did you realize that your work was starting to make you a serious rising star in the art world?
AW: 2012 was the big year for me, but 2011 was the year that it all happened in the background. The beginning of 2011 was the moment that I begun to take myself seriously and push the boundaries of what I was creating. I felt confident with my hand skills, and I was beginning to sharpen my mental approach to creating as well as my work ethic.
I uncovered a style with pushpins that people really gravitated towards and from that point creating a dream became an internal decision. As an artist you have a vision and you work tirelessly to find a way to bring it into physical reality so others can experience it. That mentality quickly translated into bringing a vision for myself to life as well, and the universe thankfully began to work in my favor. Everyday has been a blessing.
YK: You’ve done pushpin portraits of Jay-Z, Kanye West, President Obama, Jimi Hendrix, and others. Why did you choose the particular individuals you selected for Bruised Thumbs?
AW: There are certain characteristics that I have always gravitated towards that these men all possess. They have unabashedly been their truest selves and as a result having confidently transcended the roles that were assigned to them. They represent a mindset that is filled with artistic expression, the unrelenting search for new territory to explore, and a standard for excellence. Beyond that I was always interested in the view of the black man in society throughout the course of history, and I wanted to paint a picture of the world where the black man was the popular icon. This current generation is seeing and experiencing that on a scale never before witnessed.
YK: What inspired you to create your latest collection Invisible Hieroglyphics?
AW: I think it naturally came as an expression of who I currently am. When I started painting a few years ago, I was conscious that the world was becoming more and more digital. As a result the media we consume was going to continue to evolve towards a more digital aesthetic. I wanted to explore making things that were ultimately handmade but still fit the changing world. With that consciousness, I think my mind easily slipped into evaluating the effects on society, and one day it was simply looking at my iPad and the finger paintings were right there in front of me. That’s where it all began.
YK: Can you just talk bout how you and Victor Abijaoudi were able to convert the fingerprints on an iPad to full size works of art?
AW: It took a lot of experimenting to figure it out, but we got it to our desired output. A magician never reveals his secrets. 🙂
YK: This is your second art collection that involves “thumbs/fingers”. Is this a running theme you’re exploring or just a coincidence?
AW: Ha, it may be a bit of both! I always want to create with my hands, because there is something really powerful about having a vision in your mind and physically creating with only your hands. I could never get away with a crime because my thumbprints are everywhere.
YK: You recently debuted some of your Invisible Hieroglyphics pieces at the South By Southwest Festival. What was the response for the collection?
AW: It was a big deal for us. As we were working on the project, my wife mentioned that SXSW would be the perfect place to showcase art that involved technology so we scrambled, and it came down to the wire. We were at the printer the night before watching everything go down as a Hail Mary attempt for everything to come out perfect. Thankfully, it did.It was a really an exciting moment for us to watch everything come to life before our eyes.
Then we approached a SXSW crowd as a testing ground to see if the art could hold its own without any story behind it. I just stood back and watched people approach it in admiration and then I swooped in to tell the inspiration/concept. The responses all were along the lines, “holy sh*t! thats so crazy! How the hell did you think of that?!” It was a great feeling to know that people respected the work visually on its own, and then the concept took it to the next level. It was like having a focus group before really putting it out there for the world.
[Invisible Hieroglyphics] tackles the convergence of a physical world and the digital world. Physical touch through digital devices is how we live so it will inevitably effect how we create.
YK: Some art purists are reluctant to embrace digital art. Where do you see the medium going forward as it relates to its acceptance as high art? Do you think that’s even important?
AW: I do respect things created by hand because its ultimately more challenging. However the technical skills required to create some of the digital work out there, is just as challenging. I think any reluctance to accept anything in this world whether it’s art, religion, politics, or whatever is always a matter of perspective and seeing the things on both sides.
Prior to the “technology” of brushes and paints, would what the classic painters used be considered taboo? Sometimes it comes down to historical context. This particular project is a mix of both hand drawn and digital. If you are discussing contemporary art, it involves the contemporary tools that we have access to. All the creative fields from film to music are having this discourse.
The world is becoming digital so eventually this conversation will become less relevant. We are in that convergent point which is something Invisible Hieroglyphics nails right on the head. It tackles the convergence of a physical world and the digital world. Physical touch through digital devices is how we live so it will inevitably effect how we create. In the end, I believe what the artwork says itself will always matter more than the technique.
YK: You mentioned in an earlier interview that you haven’t spent any money on paid media. In today’s world do you think an artist’s ability to reach a large audience through social media makes the old approach of promotion unnecessary?
AW: I don’t think it makes it unnecessary, but I think it allows emerging artists to emerge much quicker. In this world, the fans can propel you sometimes as fast as, or even faster, than any dollars. For me, it’s allowed me to focus more on creating while learning to operate as a entrepreneur. The entrepreneur skills are incredibly helpful in being able to manage you future.
YK: You seem to be a big music fan. Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
AW: The list could be really long, but I’ll start with all the people I have made art with. [Bob] Marley, Jay-Z, Kanye [West], [Erykah] Badu, but I also love Mos Def, Sébastien Tellier, Theophilus London, Beenie Man, Nas, Little Dragon, Daft Punk, and Kendrick Lamar. The list could go on, but it all depends on the day, time, and moment. Music is the one thing that keeps me sane, so it provides the soundtrack for every moment in my life.
YK: What’s next for Andre Woolery?
AW: I am still experimenting with pushpins and thumbtacks. Still playing with oil paint. Experimenting with different messages. Just bought a DSLR [camera] so who knows what that will generate. You’ll just have to stay tuned…but I will tell you that 2013-2014 is going to be an interesting time for me.
For more info about Andre Woolery click it
To connect with Andre follow him @undre2g
Check out the promo video for Invisible Hieroglyphics: