In Conversation with Bryan Espiritu

I have known Bryan for over 10 years and have admired him as a multi-disciplined artist for even longer. From his early days designing cover art for Drake (Hello, Comeback Season) to collaborations with a slew of massive brands like Nike to creating his own collectable and lineup worthy brand, Legends League, it seems his creative genius knows no boundaries.

During a very trying time in my life I was able to convince Bryan to create a piece for me. Though Bryan asks that the collaboration process be kept personal, it was very transformative for me, stepping into a new life and marking it with beautiful works from him. The one thing I can tell you is the triptych is based on a quote by Jung:

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

And that the quote can be found hidden under the layers of paint.

I had a chance to talk to Bryan about his creative process and I was even more moved by his candid ability to be truly authentic. Bryan is a true artist, inspiration and leader. I hope you enjoy reading about  his perspective and process.

1. You are a multi disciplined artist. You write, paint, draw, design, the list goes on… Do you approach each medium the same or do you have a different approach for each?

For the most part, what I do creatively is an extension of something I’ve gone through or the way I see the world based on past experiences. This is obviously different when it comes to client based work, where I’m given a brief or an objective to hit. With my personal painting and writing, the approach is mostly to exorcise some internal haunting from the way I grew up. There’s a lot that I still have to unpack, and without those 2 creative outlets, I’m not sure what kind of mental state I’d be in. It’s very therapeutic for me to be able to create. 

With drawing and design, it’s often just an aesthetics thing. I like to make things that are visually appealing, and I also love solving visual problems, which are still important forms of output, but are entirely different when it comes to the catharsis of producing work that is generated by pain. 

Having created my entire life, I guess the commonality in the approach is that I’ve made enough mistakes to know what not to do with each medium while still being playful enough to explore new things when I feel like it.

2. What inspires you and how do you stay inspired?

I’m typically inspired by an urge to improve my mental health. I’ve experienced a lot of horrendous things, and there are traumatic visuals that you just can’t un-see. I get motivated by a need to get those things off of my chest, knowing that the effects of sitting with them too long are very toxic. For a few years in my early 30’s, I was inspired by making other people think about things differently. At the age I’m at now, I don’t feel like I have anyone to please other than my own need for internal calm through creativity. 

3. You’ve created campaigns for major corporations and also have a successful brand of your own. Being an artist do you find it hard to create for the corporate world?

Yes. It was very difficult. I’m currently the Creative Catalyst at an agency called Anomaly, helping specifically on their lifestyle projects, and most commonly on Nike Toronto’s social media, experiential activations, and digital work. I’m also the Creative Director for Jessie Reyez. Those are 2 positions where I’m not head honcho and do not have the complete final say in what our creative outputs look like. 

The nature of knowing your role, and playing on a team is understanding that you have to do what’s best as a whole, which is different than being an artist and doing whatever the fuck you want. When working on the corporate side it’s important to recognize the guidelines you can’t cross, and being someone who has constantly pushed what those lines are, it used to be a challenge to not throw in the towel. 

Thankfully, my current roles were offered to me based on who I am and what I do, which gives me a little more space to play than I did when I was doing work for PlayStation years ago. Nowadays, I get hired to be me, so the difficulty doesn’t really exist, but looking back on my early years in advertising, yes, it was very hard to deal with. 

4. What is your creative process?

This differs depending on what I’m working on. 

When creating canvases for clients, I typically ask them for a quote or some lines that resonate with the vibe they want me to paint with. I then create a colour palette for the painting, and make sure my client is happy with the colour direction I’m taking. When I begin the painting, I use my signature “ESPIRITUSUCKS” type style to write out the quote they gave me and camouflage it within the painting. Then, I just paint with how I feel about what they’ve shared with me. I don’t ever know what the final painting will look like, and I often paint right over paintings that might look finished to someone else. I just keep painting until it feels done, and I don’t ever know when that will be. 

When I’m designing, it’s about subtraction. I try my best to eliminate as much as I can until the message is clear or the graphic is saying all it needs to in the simplest way possible. This doesn’t mean I don’t do busy work for the sake of aesthetics, but one thing I have learned is that when your design work feels wrong, you often need to subtract from it to make it better. 

Writing for myself is usually just freeform stream of thought type stuff. That’s my favourite thing to do. But when I’m writing about my past experiences, or stories that I’ve gone through, I always think about the line between telling a story for my own sake and telling a story that will allow the reader to look into themselves and see something different internally. I write my own pain for others now. This is also how I approach writing my “3 Things” books. It used to be personal stuff that I wrote for fun. Now, I write those posts on Twitter with purpose. I think way more about my audience when I write than any other medium I use.

5. Who would be your dream collaborator?

This can go so many different ways. I’d love to work with Nike on a footwear project. It’s just a goal I always had as a child. I’ve done work with them, but it’s never been on a shoe. That’s the pinnacle for childhood me. I would love to do textile design work for Hermes. Pattern design is something I really enjoy, and I’m a big fan of their scarves. I really love Patagonia as a company, so on the apparel side, that would be a dream. And I would love to do some large scale sculptural stuff with Kaws or Daniel Arsham. 

6. In the age of Social Media you’ve been able to keep your platforms very authentic and honest, do you ever struggle with the boundaries between sharing and over-sharing?

Yes, I always do, but not because I think it’s too much to share my experiences. I started my whole journey with my brand through social media on MySpace in 2007, sharing the most candid stories about my life when nobody was really doing it. It was scary, but the alternative for me was to go back to substance abuse, or to living my life how I did before I was put on house arrest in 2004. 

Creativity and vulnerability were truly my saving grace, and my following grew with me because of that. As a result, I ended up connecting with a lot of people emotionally, and gaining the faith and trust of many people who were going through their own struggles. But I quickly realized that it meant that many people who felt that I could understand them would later feel like they relied on me to help them. That was a very scary realization, especially as more and more people who were suicidal were reaching out to me to help them. 

The boundary that needed to change or that I most often struggle with is whether I’m sharing just to get stuff off of my chest, or sharing with the objective of allowing people to see that they’re not alone. If it’s not to help others reflect in some way, I don’t do it. 

7. What advice would you give younger creatives starting out?

Act now on your passions and understand that those passions may change. Move quickly and don’t wait for perfection before shipping your ideas. Understand that if you wanna make a career out of something you love you may have to do work that you hate before it becomes fruitful. Always have another job that helps you pay for your creative outputs. Save your money and get a good accountant. Check your ego at the door because we’ve all got a long way to go before we die great. Support the young people around you, respect the efforts of your contemporaries, and honour the work of your OGs.

8. And finally, what do you do for yourself to relieve stress and try to eke out some form of balance? How do you practice Self Care?

Self care is my main focus for this year. I’m balancing the best year of my career in 2017 with the calmest right now in 2018. 

I meditate often, typically in the morning before I get up. I try to get in 10-15 minutes of meditation practice every day. It helps with my anxiety and my understanding of my own body while making me more present and self aware. 

I see a therapist regularly. Therapy is like having a fitness trainer for your emotions. Everyone, no matter who they think they are, can stand to improve their understanding of self. It’s something that I’m so grateful for, and it allows me to challenge my internal dialogues. 

I try to read often. I’m currently reading “The Trouble With Billionaires” by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks, “Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, and “Ham On Rye” by Charles Bukowski. I also just finished “Ways Of Seeing” by John Berger, and “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn. 

I try to learn something new everyday, so I readily scour the internet for new information on useful things. If it’s not a recipe I’m learning to cook, it’s information on different steels used for utility blades, or how to tie knots that are useful for survival. I don’t ever want to stop learning.

I go to a life drawing class every Monday. This has been so therapeutic. At first I was trying to draw how I did in high school, and make all the models look real. Now I draw them how I paint, which has provided me with some beautiful references for future artwork.

And lastly, I’m aware of the energies of people that I’m compatible with, so I keep good energy close, and bad energy away. Self awareness has really shaped where I am today. Because when all is said and done, I don’t plan on working the way I’ve worked forever, nor do I plan on staying in the city. So I need to find calm in myself now so I match my surroundings when I disappear to some other form of calm later in my life.


Instagram: @bryanespiritu


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