In the Love + Paint series, Alex Esguerra relies on couples to create his artistic signature. By tapping artists and designers to build experiences, brands are now doing the same. Above: “Interracial”
Alexander Esguerra is the 29-year-old artist behind Love + Paint, a series that invites couples to make love on paint and canvas. Esguerra considers himself more of a director than an artist, an experience-builder more than a painter. The native Californian, who’s holding his second New York City exhibition at Openhouse Gallery – the first was at Andy Warhol’s old Wooster St. loft – is making art by creating experiences. That puts him squarely in the middle of a sea change, not so much in the art world, but in the corporate world, where Esguerra feels right at home. From YouTube at the Guggenheim to Intel at the gates of Vice, brands are tapping creatives to build experiences for us. Corporate shills losing their voice and artists expanding theirs means we’ll get to enjoy an increasingly original, and beautiful future. For Esguerra, who’s done experiential work with the Economist, Vanity Fair, Target and other multinationals, it means a bright future and no more ramen noodles. Esguerra sat down with Openhouse’s Greg Spielberg to discuss why product design is sexy, Esguerra’s impulse to create and the end of two-dimensional advertising.
You majored in product design at Parsons. What’s an artist like you doing getting involved in consumer-packaged goods?
Product design is so underrated, it’s ridiculous. It gives you so many opportunities to change the world. I’ll trip on a sidewalk and think, “Damn, why isn’t this made of a different material.” It’s like Bruce Mau says: “Design is invisible until it fails.” I’m constantly being bombarded by opportunities to create something better. I realized half-way through my first year that graphic design was really easy for me. I could execute my vision, and it wasn’t that difficult. I got into product design and just fell in love. We take every object around us for granted, but we don’t realize that someone sketched that, designed that, or had a pet peeve and fixed it.
Isn’t it ironic then, that you majored in hard-good design but you’ve been creating experiences, not products, for brands like the Economist, Vanity Fair and Target?
We live in a society of advertising, and it’s very difficult for a brand to reach and inject its identity into society with only an ad. Brands have used conventional methods to get their message across through ubiquitous commercial clutter – print ads, TV commercials, display ads. What brands have been doing recently is opening up this new sector of marketing called experiential advertising. Billboards and cute little commercials aren’t good enough. You need to actually create an experience around a brand, create a memorable moment in someone’s life. Cause at the end of the day, memories are what make life, well, memorable.
When I was on Mother New York’s experience team in 2009, Vanity Fair wanted to do a pop up on Greene St. for Fashion Night Out. We helped them create the Proust Parlor based on the popular Proust Questionnaire they do. We paired that idea with big caricatures from Robert Risko and hung them on the wall from floor to ceiling salon-style. We put Proust Questionnaires all over the walls, too. Mother created this beautiful space where people could come in, be transported through time, drink Grand Marnier. It was a memorable experience, you know? If Proust lived today, this is what his French parlor would look like – except with a ping-pong table from SPiN.
For the Economist, we worked on their 2009 Economist Media Convergence Conference. Everyone was there discussing the state of media, disruptive tech, social, all that. My job was to create a space that reflected the themes of the speakers. Mother set up four 30-foot projection screens with a mosaic of thousands and thousands of Facebook profile pictures. What we projected totally wrapped the audience in the ideas of the discussion and made the speakers’ words more memorable. When someone discussed biomimicry, we could show how the neurons connect in your brain — but on these enormous screens.
Journalism’s an experience as-is, right? What about experience-building for staid CPG brands?
The work I was doing for Vanity Fair and the Economist really wasn’t that different from the work I was doing with brands like Target: Creating a memorable experience, you know? It’s pretty simple. Create an experience and hopefully people will associate that experience with the brand. I remember I was at a Ultra at Miami’s Music Conference a few weeks back, and Lady Gaga had a plane fly over the concert and write her name in the sky. I looked around and wanted to scream, “This is what I’m talking about!”
I worked with Target at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver while at Mother. We thought, how cool would it be to have a four-story snow globe filled with Target snowflakes, sleds and a winter landscape. You’re going to remember that for the rest of your life and associate that brand with happiness and joy. I worked with Johnson and Johnson to come up with innovative ways to address baby care in the future. I know, I know, what? Random. I can’t tell you any more about it though.
You look at Google’s YouTube exhibit at the Guggenheim, Intel’s multi-million-dollar deal with Vice and AOL’s AOL Artists and it seems like the future will bring a seamless connection between brands and artists. Why are we seeing these connections?
The best outlet for creativity and self-expression is art and design, and I think brands have realized that. The best way to embrace their demographic is by capitalizing on the self-expression of the demo’s artists. Brands are realizing that art isn’t just art, it’s a culture, it’s a way of life. It’s influential and important. Brands are piggybacking on art; it’s the right move at the right time.
So what does that mean then for artists?
They get to break the mold of the starving artist! But at the same time, art is the anti-brand, it’s the anti-red tape, it’s the fuck you. We can’t say fuck you when we realize brands are actually trying to make a difference now. If they are validating and illuminating us, we can’t in our right mind poke fun at them any more. We have to join forces. Banksy gets a lot of shit because people say he’s sold out. I think that’s ridiculous – being an artist is a job. We choose it so we can make money, not eat ramen and collect unemployment.
I was really struck by Sam Spratt, a young digital guy who’s done work for diverse clients like Gawker, Wiz Khalifa and Razer. He says he creates because he can, not because he needs to release creativity. Seems like a very businesslike response coming from an artist. What’s your inspiration to create?
I just have a lot to say, and I feel the only way people can hear it is by seeing it. I feel like if I don’t create, I go through withdrawal. It’s this itch you get but you can’t capture. And I swear, new projects are like giving birth to an idea. They take on a life of their own, they have their own innate sense of direction. Love + Paint, it’s a child. I swear, it’s a fucking child. You start to realize it’s a lot bigger than you ever imagined.
During my interviews with the couples, one of my artists got stood up the day of the interview, so it was just me and him. He starts to talk about love and sexuality in Uganda where he’s from. He starts telling me how you have to hide your sexuality. Another couple tells me about being beaten up because they are gay. That was two weeks before they did the painting, and the entire project for me went from cute and entertaining to a statement that needed to be made: No matter what society has labeled you, this art gives us a chance to lose those labels in the paint and prove that we’re all equal. Love and sex become the great equalizer. You really can’t tell or assume who did which painting. I love that power.
Love + Paint also proves we’re all artists. Anyone can do these paintings, you know? You don’t have to be creative to make art, capture art or shed light on art. It’s cathartic and bonding for anyone. One couple was always fighting before they did a Love + Paint piece. Real passionate relationship, really fiery. Now they’ve put the painting above their bed, and after a fight, they’ll look at it and smirk. It reminds them of what they’re there for. It’s all about love. Check out the video below from Ogilvy’s Create or Else series about Esguerra’s Love + Paint series:
Alexander Esguerra + Greg Spielberg | May 13 2011
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