American artist Andrew Soria creates vibrant and colourful urban landscapes using photographs and Photoshop. Soria’s skyscrapers, fast food restaurants, pawn shops and neon lights have an almost cartoonish quality, yet offer a critical view on the deeply flawed American dream today. In January 2015, Soria’s series "America the Beautiful" won the Best in Show award at the LA Baton Rouge Gallery Surreal Salon, which every year highlights the growing pop-surrealist movement in American contemporary art.
Andrew, could you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I was born in New Jersey, moved to Florida around ten years old, and studied Graphic Design at AIFL. Naturally, I picked up photography. I learned Photoshop from Ciro Marchetti, which catapulted me to the next level. He taught me Photoshop in a way that allowed me to create whatever I wanted. Ciro creates magnificent illustrations all in Photoshop, no photos or images are used. Mind blown.
You work as a photographer, designer and artist. As an artist, you use photography and Photoshop to create wonderfully colorful, almost cartoon-like urban landscapes. Despite the at first sight jolly character, they are also quite critical of modern society. What’s the main idea behind your work?
I created my first cityscape because my aunt asked me to create a photo of a girl in the city walking in the rain. There was something about what I created, which I realize now, was very personal. I was able to create a world that from afar looked beautiful, but up close, had a melancholy feel. Subconsciously, I created a shell that appeared cheerful, while the details expose much more. Adding these minute details allows me to hide a deeper meaning, which is commonly based on social, cultural, and political issues.
Could you tell us a bit more about the technique used to create an image? It must be a quite time-consuming …
I start by taking to the streets to photograph new ideas, always keeping in mind the angle and time of day to shoot. I'm usually on my bike and, ideally, working on more than one idea at a time. After cataloging the images, I start my process in Photoshop. I’m painstakingly clipping, adjusting, resizing, re-positioning, and laying out the images on a new blank document. I never know how the final piece will turn out. I just have the concept in mind. I let the images shape the landscape. The best way to describe this would be doing a puzzle. You have all the pieces. You just have to figure out how to put them together. Lastly, I start dodging and burning, colour correcting and fixing every little edge until the final image looks as one cohesive piece.
There are never any people. Why’s that?
Initially, I wanted to create a perfect view of the city. I saw people and other objects as distractions. They were not relevant in telling the story. I found it more interesting to be able to portray an idea without the use of people.
Last year your series "America the Beautiful" won the Baton Rouge Gallery’s Best in Show Award. How important was that for you as an artist?
Being part of Surreal Salon 7 was a great experience! It was a huge stepping stone for me as an artist. It really validated what I was doing, and it gave me the confidence to press on!
You recently visited your father’s homeland Ecuador. Was that a first? And what was it like? What impressed and disappointed you the most?
Yes! Visiting Ecuador was the greatest experience I’ve ever had. Ecuadorean people are extremely proud of their country, and I can see why. You can be in a modern city one day and in the rainforest with an indigenous tribe the next, then end up at a beautiful beach with excellent point break, watching the sunset while drinking a craft beer from the Montañita Brewing Company. Most impressive was the monumental landscape. The terrain literally engulfs you! The main stigma would be the caution or concern to travel there. But it’s a beautiful country and I highly recommend visiting. Plus, everything there is at least half the cost of what you would normally spend in the US.
Did it make you view your homeland, the US, with different eyes?
Without question! Our way of life here in the States is extremely privileged. We have become completely dull to the endless options and opportunities we have. Visiting Ecuador was a genuinely humbling experience. I am forever in debt to gain such an amazing perspective.
Did it influence your work?
It allowed me to refocus and take more of a risk with my art. Art is completely subjective and not all ideas will be good ideas. You just have to put it out there and see how people respond. Now, I've decided to explore more conceptual ideas and slightly evolve the traditional cityscape.
You used to live in Miami. What’s the charm of living in Florida’s capital?
Hands down: the beautiful weather and beautiful people. Living in Florida is like living in paradise year round, which is great at first, but counterproductive in the long run. It’s very easy to become comfortable and complacent.
Today you live in LA. No regrets?
No regrets! Everything is a learning experience. LA is a hustle and the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m up for the challenge! If you want to know what it’s like to take a huge risk, and move across country to LA, listen to Go Getter by The Black Keys.
What’s the most recent art show you saw that really impressed you?
I recently visited the Corey Helford Gallery for their opening night featuring Shag’s Jungle Drums. This was a three part exhibition, also housing a solo show by Hikari Shimoda and a group show called Asymmetrical Diptych. It was outstanding! And I got to meet Josh Agle (Shag) in person. He selected my art as Best in Show last year at Surreal Salon 7. It was inspiring to see so much talent in one space. I hope to be able to show at a comparable space in LA this year.
Finally, what projects are you currently working on?
I'm working on a huge panoramic called Under Construction, which has taken me over a year to create. It's about construction and flooding in Miami. It should be done soon (fingers crossed). Other than that, I would like to launch a much bigger project involving traveling from city to city to create new cityscapes. I'd like to create a short behind-the-scenes documentary to coincide with the art I'm creating. Sort of like the no-budget, my sister’s camera video I made from my trip to Ecuador. You can check it out on my Vimeo page. Expect a much bigger, better result with proper funding!