Drew Englander in Depth About His Paintings, Life & More

by Rubén Palma
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Andrew Englander (b.1985 in Ventura, CA) is a painter living and working in Brooklyn, NY. 

​His current body of work uses bold colors, distorted perspectives, and hard-edged chiaroscuro to depict an intimate world of clean maximalism that is at once skewed, personal, and familiar. His style is influenced by the things he engages with on a daily basis such as digital technology, sports and entertainment, virtual reality, and art history.  The work speaks to the confounding nature of solitude within a highly interconnected world, and the necessity of adapting and responding to environmental and psychological changes.

Andrew composes scenes by initially doing small observational drawings on an iPad with his finger.  Building the composition like an interlocking puzzle in an intuitive way, and working with gestural marks gives the images a messy yet deliberate fluidity that captures the shifting nature of objects and spaces.  It is for this reason that drawing is essential to Andrew’s practice, and is the genesis of every painting. Making the painting itself is an exercise in giving this perspective a believable physical presence, and unifying the loose elements.

Text courtesy of WOAW Gallery

“The Island”, 2022

Hi Drew. thank you for sitting down with me. Here’s the first question that I always ask. How does a regular day look like for you in Brooklyn, New York?

Hi Ruben! I usually stay up late so I wake up around 10 and check emails, make smoothies for Laura and myself, read, hang out with our cats Goose and Swan, stare at my phone for too long, then get to the studio at about 12pm.  Oh, I also stop at my bodega and get an apple and the same sandwich every single day.  I work from noon to 7, although lately I’ve been staying later because of show deadlines.  Then I get home around 8pm (hopefully) and catch up with Laura, get groceries if we need them, cook dinner, and watch a movie or maybe hockey or Survivor.  Lounge with our cats.  Laura goes to bed around 11 usually so I’ll stay up and read or draw or make music.  Then I go to bed around 2am.  I hardly take days off at the moment because I’ve been extremely busy, so every day pretty much looks like this.  Sometimes Laura and I will go on a little date, or I’ll go surfing or skateboarding, but otherwise I’m mostly painting. I feel a little boring right now!

“Lounge Act”, 2021

Could you tell me a little bit about growing up in New Mexico. Like what were your hobbies, what was it like etc..

In retrospect it was such a unique way to grow up.  I was in a rural mountain area, right on a river.  I would swim and fish; play hockey on the water when it froze; a lot of outdoor activities.  We lived on a ranch and had horses and chickens and ducks.. the country life!  We were quite removed from people and culture though, and I didn’t have a happy home life or school life.  I was really passionate about a lot of things though.  I was obsessed with skateboarding and thought that was what I’d try to do professionally at one point.  I loved ice hockey.  I also was always drawing or journaling; writing little songs and playing guitar.  I had a few older friends and step brothers who’d seen the world and they sort of took me under their wing and showed me things from the outside.  James Krajewski, Dana Steele, and Jake Stone, if you’re out there, thank you.  They showed me skate videos and good music and movies and clothing, etc.  A strange part of growing up the way I did was that I was surrounded by natural beauty but was always just dreaming of escape; waiting to break into the big world “out there.”  My world felt so small.  Now I treasure its memory though.

“Streets of Fire II”, 2022

I recently interviewed Erik Foss, Fred Smith, Chris Regner as well as another gentleman whom I can’t reveal yet. Who also mention that they were heavy into skateboarding. I think that’s pretty crazy and it makes me curious. What do you think it is about skater kids that makes them turn into incredible artists? And why did you stop thinking about going pro?

I think skateboarding is maybe one of the first accessible creative outlets when you’re young, especially if you’re living in a place where there isn’t a whole lot going on.  When I started skateboarding in the 90s, it was more of an outsider activity, which appealed to me because I felt like an outsider.  It offered a little escape from the regular world, which art did as well.

Skateboarding makes you think creatively about your environment and you have to visualize things in a similar way to making art.  When I’m learning something on a skateboard, I repeat it over and over in my head until I have the feeling of being able to do it, then I’m able to go do it physically. It’s the same way with making paintings for me, and it’s such a fun process to visualize things like that.  Maybe skateboarding gives you some lessons early on about pushing your boundaries, allowing for mistakes, and exploring what you’re capable of.  Also though, I don’t know if it’s skateboarding that turns people into artists or if it’s just a certain type of person with that kind of mind that gravitates toward skateboarding. Oh, one other thing – making videos is a huge part of skateboarding. Filming goes hand in hand with it for a lot of people, and it’s a major way the culture is shared. So that definitely has skateboarders thinking visually, and making skate videos is an art in itself.

I stopped thinking about going pro because making art mattered more to me. I got a lot out of skateboarding but I could feel that it wasn’t quite “it” for me.  I still love skateboarding and do it often though. I even still love to film, which I usually do with my buddy Kyle Warfield whenever we have time. 

At some point you moved to Denver, Colorado, where you went to art school. Why the long relocation and what was that experience like?

Yes, I moved there for undergrad. My best friend Andrew Cimelli (also an amazing painter) was going to school there and I visited him once and decided I had to be there.  Denver was amazing for me at the time. It was the biggest city I’d lived in and it felt like I could grow so much there. Suddenly I could go to the art museum or see my favorite bands.  Being in a big city was a breath of fresh air.  I found a very supportive community.  I had another great friend there Travis Egedy, who helped start a DIY art and music space called Rhinoceropolis, and this was like my second home.  It fostered so much creativity.  It was a radically accepting environment which felt so healthy at a time when we were all finding our voices and really experimenting with everything.  I think its good to have the experience of feeling like you can be vulnerable and try anything and make mistakes in front of people while still feel completely supported.  

Ok, so at some point while you were there you decided that you were going to pursue being an artist full time right? How did that happen? Was it an epiphany? Or did you already know this?

I’ve always made things and I knew I’d have to find a way to keep doing it somehow, so there wasn’t really an epiphany about that. The pursuit has never been a question in my mind, it’s been more about figuring out how to facilitate it while still being able to eat and make rent. I’ve spent a lot of time living on as little as possible so that I could give most of my time to making art. It’s absolutely a dream that it’s become a full time job, but even if it wasn’t I’d still be doing everything I could to devote myself to it, simply because it’s the thing makes me feel good; how I make sense of the world.  I have to do it for myself and my sanity!

I gotta ask, now that we’re on the subject. It’s a question that I’m always super curious about. What was that initial first feeling like, when you realized that you were now able to live off your art and be a full time artist?

I think I’m in the ongoing process of realizing this, and actually feeling like it’s real.  I’ve been hustling so hard the last few years that I haven’t really stopped to think about it.  It started happening during the covid pandemic so the world was already feeling skewed from that.  I was laid off from my job, quarantining; everyone kind of living in fear of disease.. just a total shift.  It feels like I entered some other reality and just never went back.  I imagine a lot of people feel that way about the last few years.  

“House Party II”, 2022

Thank you. Now back to your geographical timeline. You now reside in Brooklyn. What brought you there?

I was living in Philadelphia after undergrad (at that time I was pursuing music mostly), when a series of really difficult life changes happened – a death and a breakup, and a subsequent move back to my family home in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, where I was for a few months.  I was really struggling to find a direction, and two of my oldest friends, Zac Scheinbaum and Joey Prince (both incredible artists) were living in Brooklyn.  They called and told me they had a room opening up and I said yes immediately.  New York had always been a dream so, of course, that was a yes.  I was still working on music and drawing but didn’t really come with a specific direction in mind.  I was so out of my mind that I was grateful for any exterior signpost. 

Have you always been into drawing? And when did you begin your painting journey?

Yes, drawing has always been my main tool.  I’d done a few paintings here and there throughout my life (maybe less than 10), but drawing was always there as an outlet for me.  I experimented a lot before really jumping into painting properly.  I remember going to the David Hockney retrospective at the MET in 2017-2018 and I saw that he was doing drawings on an iPad, which was the first time I’d seen that done in a way that made me want to try it.  I didn’t necessary love those iPad pieces in the retrospective, but it sparked an idea for me and I already had a crappy old iPad at home, so I tried some of my own.  It was kind of revelatory in that everything was so quick and immediate, drawing this way.  It accelerated everything.  The drawing app I use is super simple but it can mimic a few different things like airbrush and traditional hand brush, which made it so easy to picture how I might make something with actual paint.  I also love being able to do really fast gestural work and color editing.  It helps me translate what I’m feeling or imagining.  So I started working with that in 2018 and then started making paintings from those drawings in 2019. 

“California Dreaming”, 2022

Your current style of using bright colors and painting things seen from a distorted POV. How long has it taken you to develope that? And why has it become your prefered way of expressing yourself?

That developed naturally over time.  In some ways it was a byproduct of the speedy gestural drawing I was doing on the iPad.  I was trying to just capture big motions at first, but then I’d go in and work on small details which gave the work a tiny bit of realism, and I noticed that these two things together made the pictures feel wonky or surreal.   It had to have the familiar connection to reality.  It was more subtle at first, then I started trying to push both sides a little more – a bit more distorted and loose, but a bit more attention to those familiar realistic details as well.. then a little more.. for a while I made them quite distorted and now I’m trying to find ways to bring it back to subtlety.  I’m a fan of magical realism; surrealism; impressionism.  I’m thinking in those terms quite a bit.  Something off kilter but which still leans to the side of our everyday world.  

My color choices are fairly automatic and feeling-based.  Because I like to keep the pictures somewhat true to life, I’ll usually start by finding colors in my subjects that stand out to me and relate to each other, then I’ll build from there.  Color is usually the most emotional part of painting for me, and I’ve found that my favorite way to work with it is to just try things until it gives me the feeling I’m looking for.  I think growing up in New Mexico had a big influence on my color palette.  Every color there looks vivid, crisp, inspiring and somehow calming.

“The Cabin in the Woods”, 2022

While we’re on the subject of the distorted POVs. Is that your concept of reality? And if we were to go even deeper with it, do you think there is there is a higher meaning as to how the universe works?

Reality does appear to be quite fluid to me. We take most things for granted as concrete but then you read a little quantum theory or physics and they show that things are really made up of much smaller moving parts that never actually touch.  Even just using my own terms of rationality, I can see that every “solid” object is growing or decaying over time and that it only appears static to us in our little snapshots of linear time – in this one moment.  This one moment is also an ongoing transitional state, so then we have to rely on our memories of past moments, and our memories are always distorted based on our proclivities and biases.. so yeah, every point of view seems to be “distorted” in some way in relation to other perspectives. The relational part is key because you need a point of reference to see differences. Maybe there is a higher meaning as to how the universe works but I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand it.  It’s fun (and agonizing) to keep trying though.  

“Lost”, 2022

You seem to have a good understanding and knowledge about quantum physics, time and chemistry in regards to particles and how things actually exists and are made. Have you always been curious about those topics? And would you consider yourself a book or a documentary kind of guy?”

I’ve definitely always had an interest in those things. They go hand in hand with making art for me, and I think they’re both exploring the same thing: essentially trying to understand something about the big mystery of existence that we can never totally comprehend but keep poking at. Curiosity in general plays a big part in both.  Painting feels like a way to learn about how I work or how the world works through looking closely at it; thinking about it in different ways; putting this and that together.  It teaches you things as you go. Very similar to the sciences.  You take in information, get an idea, and test it out. Maybe it falls flat, but maybe it works and opens the door to something new.  

I like books and documentaries alike, but maybe prefer books for the sciences.  I was really into Brian Greene for a while, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. They’re super accessible and fun to read. I do watch a lot of documentaries but not really on those subjects. The Last Dance is probably the last documentary that I loved.     

“Swish II”, 2022

Ok, so your current solo exhibition at WOAW gallery, you’ve named “REAL WORLD”. Does that title name have anything to do with the points you have mentioned above?

Yes, “Real World” as a title is having fun with the idea that there is such a thing as the Real World, or one objective reality.  The real world seems to exist mostly as a vague concept, but we talk about it and feel like we have at least a loose grasp on what it is.  In our individualistic “post-truth” era, each person is the center of their universe and lives in their own world which is unique from others.  Anything and everything can be included in the idea of what is real; everything can be proven as real and substantial.  So, in light of that, everything is equally real and there is no one objective reality.. or, maybe there is an objective reality, only it doesn’t exist on the individual human level, but since we perceive everything on this individual level we can never comprehend the big objective thing.  We’re lost trying to find the answer on the individual level.

“Bless this mess”, 2022

Right.. so the everyday scenes and objects in your paintings. What makes them worthy of gracing on of your canvases? I mean, what makes you look at a table or a room and think “This is what I’m going to paint today”?

It depends.  Some days, I’ll feel that every little thing has the spark in it and all I have to do is look closely and I’ll see its importance.  On those days I really will just draw whatever is in front of me.  My eyes are selective, of course, as everyone’s are, but on these days I’m not thinking so critically and this often seems to work out well.  If I’m looking with real curiosity I pretty much always am drawn to some little phenomenon that’s happening – the way water in a glass bends light or the narrow range of focus my eyes have.. they’e all simple things but they are endlessly fascinating when you question how they are happening.  Other days I’ll have a particular feeling or image in mind and I’ll be more selective about what I include – usually when I’m working this way I’ll choose objects that have some kind of embedded personality where you can see the life of the object and its purpose, and usually its connection to people.  Another way I’ll work is from photographs of moments that I really want to remember for some reason.  Moments where something subtly unordinary is happening.  

“3:33”, 2022

I read somewhere that before starting on a new project you actually draw small sketches on your iPad. Can you tell me a little bit more about your creative process, from initial idea to end result?

Yeah the last few years I’ve been doing most of my drawing on the iPad because its so useful and efficient.  I don’t use a stylus pen, just my finger, and I use this app called Brushes, which is really simple.  It has only a few tools.  I like having something with slightly limited functionality like this because it really helps creativity to have some constraints or parameters.  It makes you find little unique solutions.  I think sometimes creativity can be a reactive thing – you take in information from your environment, set up some guidelines, choose a few tools, and see how you respond to the situation.  It’s a fun way to work.  So I sketch like this a lot and start to accumulate a bunch of them, then I go back and look at which ones feel impactful, and which ones might work together in a series.  I use a little digital projector to project the images onto canvas and trace some rough outlines out in pencil, then get to painting.  I’ve been doing a combination of airbrush and traditional hand brushing with acrylic, first blocking out all the different areas with color, then doing shading or blurring of backgrounds with the airbrush, then building foreground details with the same sort of process.  I refer to the iPad drawing and sometimes additional photos of the subjects themselves (rooms or objects) if I need more information to help me figure the picture out. 

“Streets of Fire”, 2019

It’s almost like your paintings are playing with the emotions of the observers. Is that deliberate? Or what’s your take on emotions in connection to your art or emotions in general.

I think art is, in general, a great way to connect with emotion for both the maker and the viewer.  Exploring emotions, learning to articulate and communicate feelings.. I think this is really important for our health as people.  In our time it feels really easy to distract ourselves and disregard emotions, especially difficult ones, and entertain ourselves with something that doesn’t demand as much, but as a consequence we often feel largely disconnected and have unprecedentedly high anxiety, and so many people are angry and don’t quite know why.. so finding ways to sustain emotion in a healthy way and sit with it and think about it are so helpful.  I think color, spatial relationships, placing familiar and alien things together.. these can be useful to jar you out of routine thinking and create emotion because they can give you an immediate sensory response and your body will respond.  Things might come up for you that you didn’t know were there.  I’m also sometimes a fan of sentimentality in art as an in-road to emotions, but that can be a fine line.  To have an impact, it can’t only be sentimental to its creator.  It also has to hit a note on a basic human level that makes others recognize themselves in it.  To be a little more specific and personal with the question – The paintings have a melancholy or loneliness to them, but also some joy.  This wasn’t really intentional at first but it has always been there, most likely because it feels like life to me.  

“Night Shift”, 2019

So what do you hope that we, the observers take with us after viewing some of your pieces?

I don’t have a specific theme I’d like people to take away but maybe the work will make people to think about the way they perceive reality and consider how strange, unique and fluid it is.  Maybe it will inspire people to enjoy taking a closer look at their world, seeing that you don’t have to go very far to find something that moves you. I just hope you feel a little bit better about life I suppose, or that you feel less alone and maybe recognized in some way.  All of my favorite art and music do this for me – make it feel more ok to have whatever feeling I’m having.  I hope it makes you want to create things of your own as well.

I read somewhere that you used to be a fairly succesful musician in a band called R E A L M A G I C. Can you please tell me a little bit about that time in your life? and are you still making music?

Yeah, I’ve always played music and enjoyed trying to record little songs, but I never really tried to do anything with it until after undergrad.  I was living in Denver and spending a lot of time at Rhinoceropolis (which I mentioned earlier).  I started a band with my two friends Colin Ward and Stephan Herrera, and we made mostly rhythmic noise with a little bit of melody.  A little like Black Dice or something.  That was the first time I really performed in front of people and it was definitely addicting.  While we were doing that I also started experimenting by myself with different types of music on my computer – I remember some of the Realmagic songs were actually orchestral compositions at first, then I turned them into synth songs and sang over them in this weird croon that is hard for me to listen to now, ha!  So that’s how that started, just playing around with synths and a computer and my voice.  I decided to make an album out of it and it got some blog play and a following so I ended up being able to tour a lot and just play music for a couple of years.  It was an amazing experience. I do still make music and it’s one of my biggest passions, but I haven’t given it the time it needs lately because I’ve been solely focused on painting.

“Point Break”, 2021

So what is it about painting that makes it your prefered medium of expression. And not music?

I’ve always gone back and forth between the two, and I love both equally. They both offer things that I can’t get from the other in the same way. Although the creation of both is similar in some ways, painting feels like more of a marathon and music more of a sprint. Music is these concentrated bursts of emotion that come out quickly, condensed into little packages. Painting is more of a calm, slow, disciplined process.  Maybe other people have the opposite experience but that’s how it is for me. Anyway, I don’t really prefer either over the other, and I have to do both all the time.  

Ok so i’ve been doing my research on you. And that includes the mandatory scrolling through your Instagram feed, where I’ve noticed that you’re in a relationship with another succesful artist, Laura Burke. What’s that like? Being two artists under the same roof?

I guess some parts of it are like you’d think – we do talk about art a lot and it’s great to share a similar passion and be able to discuss ideas, bounce things off of each other, and pull each other out of pits of creative despair when needed. That’s one part of our relationship, but we’re also just best friends who work really well together on a basic level.  We spend a lot of time learning how to communicate and grow as people in general.. learning how to get through hangups and emotional issues, like any relationship.  Usually if we’re not in our studios we’re both homebodies and we like to cook and hang out with our cats and watch Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, haha.  

“Engagement Arrangement”, 2022

What motivates and inspires you?

Lots of things inspire me.. seeing the work my friends create; hearing a song that hits me in the chest;  surfing or skateboarding; philosophy, psychology, and quantum physics.  Seeing art in person is major.  I can get a little inspiration from seeing art or listening to music on the internet, but those things in person just do something special.  They definitely give you something. Maybe there’s a kind of energy transfer that happens when you’re near something physically.  Motivation makes me think more of internal things..  I’m motivated by my intense desire to make things and figure myself out; to try to understand things I can’t understand any other way but through art; chasing this place or idea or this creative pinnacle that I’ll surely never arrive at, knowing that I have such a limited amount of time before I die.  Thinking about death is really the biggest motivator.  

How would you describe a perfect day?

Have breakfast and hang out with Laura, go surfing with my buddies Jarrod and Noah, get an Italian sandwich and go to the studio to paint or make music, maybe surf again or skateboard if it’s summer and staying light out, come home and make dinner with Laura – salmon with prosciutto and potatoes and green beens (sorry if too specific haha), watch a good movie (hopefully one that makes me cry), curl up in bed with Laura, draw or make some more music after Laura falls asleep. 

“Surf’s Up”, 2021

What song do are you currently listening to the most?

I like to listen to albums on repeat in the studio and lately its been “You’d Prefer an Astronaut” by Hum.  One of my favorite 90s bands that never got as much play as smashing pumpkins or nirvana sadly (although I love both of them too).  Oh and I recently got back into the Interpol album Turn on the Bright Lights so I’ve been looping that.

What’s your favorite movie(s) and why?

I love movies and have a lot of favorites.  My comfort movie is The Perfect Storm, because it’s cheesy and simple and I love anything that has to do with water, and nature taking the upper hand on humans.  I might also watch the Dark Knight series for comfort.  I love Tarantino, the Coen brothers, Herzog, Linklater.. Dazed and Confused is the greatest.  I’ll always love Kevin Smith movies like Mallrats.  Adaptation is a favorite.  Oh, and David Byrne’s True Stories is an all time favorite – such a subtly funny and innocent look at uncomfortable things.  I think David Byrne has to be one of my biggest influences.. his whole approach to the world is so gentle, curious, and caring.  Actually my first week living in NYC I passed him on the street and he gave me a smile and I thought to myself “that’s a good omen, maybe this will work out.”  Hahaaa

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