Shawn Powers & Gogy Esparza, Artist & Photographer
Words by Nikolaj Hansson. Illustration by Sine Jensen.
Shawn Powers and Gogy Esparza have been paving the way for themselves throughout the New York art scene over the more recent years. Powers, already known in the skateboard community as skater for Palace Skateboards, with his paintings and illustrations, depicting the gritty life of New York with women, drugs and guns whilst bearing the element of romanticism in mind. Esparza is schooled as barber through his family and is a multidisciplinary artist with a focus on photograph. While juxtaposing the subject of his photographs, Esparza depicts moods and vibes through characters and raw elements. Both Powers and Esparza visited Copenhagen for their "BLOODY MONEY" exhibition, hosted by Soulland, Sam Jarou & TEST Gallery, and we met with the two for a talk about New York, authenticity and getting fired.
Gogy, you used to work at a barber shop close to Tompkins Square, commonly known as the T.F., where Shawn often skates. Did you ever run into each other?
Gogy: We've known each other since summer time. But we didn't run into each other back then.
Shawn: I'd never seen you around.
Gogy: But I saw you around though.
Shawn, I read about your impromptu photo show in an elevator in the building where you worked. How did that come about?
Shawn: I was taking a lot of disposable photos with disposable cameras. I was smoking weed and got all these crazy fucking ideas. I was in an elevator all day at work and my mind was getting bored. I wanted to impress all these rich people that lived in the building. I was like: "Yo, they probably love art. Let me do something here." I showed up to work one day, I wasn't even wearing the my work outfit. I was wearing nice clothes. I'd just started my shift, I got in the elevator and hung up five photos of my friend, Brengar. The tenants were kinda freaked out. The super of the building called me to his office and told me "What are you doing? You're trying to sell art to the tenants? That's it buddy. You're fired, you gotta go."
Gogy, you've done group shows before, amongst other together with Peter Sutherland and Maggie Lee. What do you think that format has to offer as compared to a solo show?
Gogy: Collaboration. I love collaboration. That's how you grow. I feel like magic occurs, it brings the best out in you.
Moneyfish by Gogy Esparza
Shawn, do you mean for there to be bizarre elements in your work?
Shawn: What do you wanna know about that? It's kinda planned out. I have an idea. Just trying to execute it.
Gogy: That's the way he thinks.
Shawn: Yeah. I'm sick in the head.
You both do other things besides art. Gogy is a barber and Shawn is a skateboarder for Palace. Do you bring these things into your work?
Shawn: Yeah. Skating around in the city, I always overhear people talking. I'll use that for inspiration. I'll use music and lyrics, movies and that for inspiration. Everything is a sign to me. I take everything in. I write it down. Trying to make something out of it.
Gogy: With reference to cutting hair, you gotta work layers and finesse into your photography. You need to be silky about it. There needs to be a lot of texture to it. There's many ways to give a fade. You can do a straight up fade but there's no flavor to it. That's what I apply to it the most. The finesse.
What do you like about New York
Shawn: The freedom. You have so many options. If plan A doesn't work, go to plan B. If that doesn't work. Do plan C. Go through the whole entire alphabet. There are so many options in New York. Everything's sketchy in New York though. I'm sketched out by everything. The girls are sketchy dude.
4 by Shawn Powers
Gogy, do you feel that photography is about depicting a culture?
Gogy: I think a lot of times, kids who come from money, are blessed and have been given way more resources than Shawn and I have often come to the streets and take from the culture that we actually live without the authenticity that we have. We live and reside in it. We take risks in the darkness. We live in it.
Shawn: A lot of motherfuckers that are from New York are just corny. Me and my man Gogy, he not even from New York but he's one of the realest. I'm so thankful that he's from New York city.
Gogy: It's our responsibility to honour and elevate the culture that bred us. Just because the words have to do with the street, it's not street art. We try hard to show how intelligent we're able to elevate what we do. What's beautiful in the hood is that it transcends the streets through layers. We need to bring it to a higher level.
Can you read authenticity through art?
Shawn: Right away. If I like it, it's probably real. If I hate it, then nah. I don't get the attention people receive for shitty art. Especially art from people who are not even from New York but are just, fucking, silverspooning it.
God by Gogy Esparza
Have you ever had a plan with your art?
Shawn: This is all I wanted to do. I made it to Copenhagen. I'm quitting art after this. I made art for the love and the fun of it. Of course, there's big money involved and lots of opportunities to go around the world. I didn't expect any of it. It just got my mind of things. Art was like skating for me. And now all these things are happening. I genuinely love this and believe that I deserve it. My first show was really fun and made a lot of sense because I didn't do that much before that. It was years of experience into one show.
Gogy, how important is tension when shooting photography?
Gogy: There has to be a spark, you have to have something to say. You have to product a flame. If not, then what are you saying? Ultimately what I want to say is that I feel like we're kings. We have kings in our blood. We're kings and queens. We deserve to be in certain places and I want to take us there. To reside on the throne.
Shawn: I'm so glad Gogy's 100% for that. In this day and age, most artists are selfish about it.
Gogy: They're scared.
Shawn: If I make a million off a show and Gogy helped me out the slightest bit, I'm down to split that with my brother. Then we'll have a bigger show after that and we'll split that.
Gogy: That's honouring the culture. We didn't have a place to stay for a while. We stayed at the studio. I grew up Catholic. We don't know much so we just share what we have.