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How Bushwick artist ELO draws inspiration from the chaotic world

What inspires you to create? Is it the environment that surrounds you?

Perhaps it’s the passionate drive in your heart to succeed. There can be a plethora of drivers for creators to do what they do best, create.

For Bushwick based visual artist Evan Lorberbaum (better known as ELO in the streets) his expressionistic graffiti-like style sources inspiration from the controlled chaos that we call life.

Kulture Hub caught up with ELO to find out what has propelled him to success.

At the age of 26 (Happy Birthday ELO), he has already managed to design his own sneaker, has been featured in a two-month solo exhibition at the prestigious Citigroup Center, sold pieces to celebrities including the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep, and had his own News 12 Brooklyn feature.

His top five influences consist of some of the most legendary artists across different mediums, including Jay Z, Pharrell, KAWS, Marc Ecko, and Takahashi Murakami.

These influencers serve a certain purpose in the art ELO creates as they are all multi-faceted in the genres they work and create in.

ELO uses these inspirations as a blueprint. They all model a blend of art, music, fashion, media, and pop culture, he told us:

“All of these figures are influential in my life because they are multi-faceted in the genres they work and create in.  I am personally interested in the blending of art, music, fashion, media and pop culture and I use these inspirations as a blue print that exemplifies how to expand my personal brand into different avenues that may attract a larger audience.”

ELO pressed on about his influences:

As visual artists go, KAWS and Murakami are of particular interest because they have utilized their own aesthetic, brand, and business acumen to cross over to genres including music, fashion, and merchandizing.  I use their story lines and experience with brands such as (KAWS) Nike, Jordan, COMME Des Garcons, Hennessy, (Murakami) Louis Vuitton, Vans, Macy’s and Supreme among others to study how art, fashion, and product merchandizing can all come together.

His art symbolizes a light-hearted and positive energy using vivid and colorful palettes highlighting varying shades of gradation and hard edges that contrast between light and dark.

ELO said the drippy texture seen in his pieces are “cognizant of time and symbolically draw attention to the fact that our time is not guaranteed, therefore we need to make the most of it.”

The vibes surrounding him play a huge factor into the strokes he paints with his brush or the sprays he makes out of a paint can. Beyond the environment, music plays a big role impacting his mood and flow of paint that he applies.

“The vibe of the studio or environment I am painting in also impacts my use of color, stroke, expression and overall feel of the painting that I am creating. I am listening to various genres of Hip Hop, Jazz, and Reggae which impact my mood and flow of paint that I am applying, especially during pieces that I am purely creating as a “freestyle” within that moment in time.  In this sense, I am picking up the closest colors of acrylic, oil and spray paint in proximity and applying them to canvas or mixed media through brushes, palette knives, tape and other methods as they come into sight.”

Picasso Baby!

ELO described his hustle as “Always Hungry!” Although he was born in Manhattan, ELO moved to Armonk (somewhere deep in Westchester County for those who are unfamiliar) at the age of 2.

In high school, he was very involved in athletics, which probably explains his competitive drive. Towards the end of his high school career, ELO immersed himself in hip-hop, fashion, and street culture and had to take himself back to the city that never sleeps.

“I was born in Manhattan but really grew up in Westchester as I moved from the city when I was 2 years old.  I enjoyed the suburban lifestyle growing up I was more of an athlete than anything, but towards the end of high school, I really became more immersed in hip-hop, fashion and street culture which propelled me to want to come back to the city to pursue my vision, goals, and interests.”

ELO’s goals have inspired him to create a custom design sneaker that pays tribute to NYC. The idea for the sneaker came about while he was attending Tulane University in New Orleans where he would experiment with “various mediums for creation, which included graphic tees and the early beginnings of putting spray paint to canvas.”

Throwback … Motivation Monday @teamvic @rocnation

A post shared by ELO (Blue Check) (@egetlo) on

As he was very interested in sneaker design, ELO became infatuated with Nike ID, making sneakers for himself and his friends. Creatively restricted by the website’s design options, he took matters into his own hands. It was this limitation that sparked the drive to create something unique and original.

ELO spoke about his sneaker designs:

“I was also especially interested in sneaker design and was always designing new color silhouettes for myself and friends through NIKE ID.  From a design standpoint, I felt limited by the options that were available as I could only play around with different color patterns for the shoes I was making, but I wanted to create something that was truly original and with its own unique concept.

It’s those limitations that allow human beings to surpass themselves and develop further. ELO dipped out of the “Big Easy” back to NYC and paired up with Rich Franklin of Relevant Customs to create a sneaker with a unique canvas. Covered with items that breathe NYC, the custom design Nike SB Dunk is embossed with a metro card, an entire subway map, New York Times, lotto tickets, a pizza box, and crime scene tape.

It doesn’t stop there. The sneaker has turned into a movement called What the NYC. The inspiration for the movement came from ELO just going out in the NYC streets during his lunch break while working at the Sotheby’s auction house asking people how they felt about the sneaker and what NYC meant to them. But it was a little old lady in black sunglasses that really got the gears turning for the social experiment.

According to the artist:

“I was still working at Sotheby’s auction house in the Upper East Side at the time and decided to take the shoes out during my lunch break to hear from people first hand how they felt about them, but more importantly how they felt about New York City itself.  I spotted an older woman with big black sunglasses on who for some reason I felt had a distinctive look about her.  I initially asked her what she thought about the sneakers, but as she was holding the sneakers I also asked her what her three favorite things about the city were just because I was curious and felt like making small talk.”

Elo continued:

“She answered, ‘It’s art, theater, and food.’  That is where my light bulb went off in that I became fascinated with learning how other strangers felt about the city and how they perspectives and experiences might overlap or be completely different.  The rest is history…”

Peep the old lady that started it all

The What the NYC Campaign has furthered ELO’s work ethic into a realm of nonstop hustle. He always carries a pair with him just in case he runs into someone with an inspirational NYC story.

“Whether it is a sporting event, album release party, art show, or fashion showcase; I am always pushing the envelope by talking to as many people about their New York experience as possible.  These sneakers are LITERALLY with me 24/7 because I never know who I’m going to run into and I always need to be ready.  Through this project, I have been able to further my own work ethic because I am always willing to put myself in situations where I am with the right people who will further this project and keep it interesting for the community that has been built around it.  I enjoy speaking with everyday New Yorkers but it’s also fun to see how the athletes, musicians, artists, and celebrities who I interact with feel about the work as well.  From a social media aspect, people have enjoyed meeting me, holding the sneakers, and expressing their opinions about their NYC experience and then see Spike Lee, CC Sabathia, DJ Clark Kent, Just Blaze, ‘Biggs’ Burke, Stretch & Bobbito, for example, do the same.”

So what’s next for ELO? A whole lot. Motivation runs through his veins like blood as he is always experimenting with various styles and techniques looking for new opportunities to develop his brand, network, and practice.

He’s looking to further evolve his craft by partnering with other brands and artists. He currently has an installment which is the first part of an art series called “STILL LIFE” he curated with his partner Dmitry Larionov. The series looks to discuss the current status of the art world with successful artists, curators, journalists, and managers. Check out what ELO had to say about the first discussion:

In our first discussion, we covered topics like how branding and social media influence the value of an artist’s artwork, the process, and importance of artists being able to collaborate with major brands and corporations among other topics.  This was our first live in person event, but I plan to develop this series into an accompanying podcast that will highlight how artists and creatives alike are utilizing their social media and brand influence to become successful in the worlds of art, music, fashion, and media.” 

ELO has his eyes set on the goal to get the What the NYC movement where it needs to be – getting a Nike endorsement.

As of right now, the current sneaker that we all see on display is not for sale but receiving an endorsement from Nike would allow for mass production.

“My vision and the ultimate goal of the project is that the concept behind the project will eventually be picked up by Nike so that it will become a mass produced design that everyone who has seen or heard about the project can wear and feel a part of the experience … I’ve already been at this project for over a year and I have adopted the mentality that it is only a matter of time before it will be picked up by Nike.  It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Things are looking up for the Bushwick visionary. He advises the youth and starving artists to “stay hungry.” The advances ELO has made in his career have not come easy and has made a name for himself by taking a huge leap of faith.

This includes ELO being invited to Roc Nation’s Gold Couch room to chill with Lenny S.

ELO’s official message for the youth dem is to go as hard as possible:

“My advice for the young “starving” artists out there is to ‘stay hungry.’  Hungry, drive, passion, focus, ambition and patience have been necessary traits I have had to develop to make it to this point in my life and career.  I took a HUGE leap of faith initially creating What the NYC and it was truly one of the best decision I have made in my adult life.  I had no idea how it would be perceived but I had to trust my instincts because I knew inside that it would make a splash.  Without What the NYC, I would have no reason to be invited to Lenny S of Roc Nation’s famous ‘Gold Couch Room’ (@kodaklensoffice) for an incredibly important day in my life journey and iconic photo shoot. To everyone out there looking for ways push boundaries and make a name for yourself… make your own version of what “What the NYC” might be for you… and don’t look back!”

Wise words!