With its sunset gradients, wobbly smiles and dreamlike subject matter, illustrator Anthony Eslick is bringing irreverent humour into surrealist airbrush art. He tells It’s Nice That his first inspirations came from analogue airbrush artists like Masao Saito and Harumi Yamaguchi, and newer digital airbrush artists like Keith Rankin and Robert Beatty. And yet his distinction lies in his weird and slightly unnerving comedic flair, stating: “I like using the tension between horror and humour as a basis for pretty much everything, either inverting more wholesome elements to show their brutality or vice versa.”
Anthony, who grew up in northern California and Phoenix, started out like many in the creative industry,
designing flyers for a band he was playing in as a teenager, as a practical outlet for his love of painting and drawing. This led to a job as a designer for a music promoter, and from there he “took on anything I could get trying to figure out how I could make a living as a designer or artist, trying to learn as I went. One of the weirder ones was a full-time job spell-checking and photoshopping people out of holiday cards.”
He moved to Brooklyn in 2018 and the following year, on a commercial art job working on murals and paintings, his art director recommended he try out airbrushing. Researching the aforementioned artists, he found a common thread amongst digital and analogue airbrushers despite their differing processes: the same techniques of masking and shading. “I think that continuity was really appealing to me because I wanted to find a way of working that would translate across mediums,” Anthony says. From there he spent time learning airbrush skills via online videos, though their output was somewhat different to his. “Most of the resources out there are of people airbrushing cars, model aeroplanes, eagles, flames, Punisher logos… but there was a lot of information within that, and coupled with an old blog post tutorial by Robert Beatty I found a technique that I could use across paintings and digital work.”
Since then, Anthony has collaborated with clients including Beats by Dre x Thundercat, Fender, Google and Refinery29, some of our favourites being the work for band Strawberry Mountain and marketing agency Modus. Strawberry Mountain is the musical pseudonym for Anthony’s friend Carter Prince, who he’s been working with for a while, therefore “the process is really natural” and the resulting artwork is inspired simply by the music Carter sends him.
For Modus, Anthony was tasked with five editorial illustrations that worked together cohesively, but that were otherwise flexible on style and subject matter. “The articles covered topics that reminded me of an old science fiction magazine, like Omni, so I used that as a guide for the imagery,” Anthony explains, “pulling things like desert landscapes and gradients to match the articles.” The illustrations, he adds, feature straightforward concepts capturing the story at hand, with an edge of dystopian surrealism.
Meanwhile, for Refinery29, Anthony portrayed what he believed each astrological sign would be doing on New Year’s Eve 2020 – AKA the most lacklustre NYE in decades. Admittedly knowing nothing about astrology, the illustrator opted for a limited colour palette and “leaned on colour to show the mood of each character… I wanted it to feel vague enough that anyone could find their own connection to the characters.”
Up next Anthony has a show at Glass Rice gallery in San Francisco in early 2021 and is working on an animated short, but is otherwise looking for new projects. Meanwhile, he likes to spend a significant chunk of each day drawing, referring to an ever-growing bank of photography for ideas. “I trust my gut and follow anything that feels like it’s pulling me,” he concludes. “Even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense at the time it always clears up by the time I’m done.”
Anthony Eslick: NYE Horoscopes (Copyright © Anthony Eslick, 2020)