in conversation with Brice Esso
How did you first get interested in art and begin making works?
I started to draw as a toddler like most people in kindergarten, but it was when I arrived in America in 2011 that I thought about making artworks. I came to study business while there was a war in my home country (Cote D’Ivoire). I couldn’t get any help from my family nor get a proper job. Once, I’ve been called to model in a photo shoot and after a conversation with the photographer, I got inspired and invested my savings in a camera. Photography was a fun way to make money and a gateway into a long artistic practice.
What attracted you to create your sculpture specifically?
Sculpting came as a step up to the pictorial art and a summary of my life. Growing up, I was surrounded by terracotta objects, pots, plates, and even houses. Also, the fact that my father was a geologist had an impact on me, I was exposed to stones and other raw minerals at a very young age. It only made sense to combine these elements in my sculptures. Making these marble heads is an attempt at braiding my influences, marble sculptures of the Renaissance and the African tradition of clay modelling, as both approaches are prevalent in my process.
Your works are addressing issues such as identity, confrontation and perception of existence. Can you talk about this choice and how are you approaching and thinking about the process?
When I got to the New York Academy of Arts to pursue a masters in sculpture, I learned more about my identity as an African creative mind. This wasn’t due to the curriculum there but despite it. The emphasis was put on occidental art and that led me to research the work of my continent and that led to many discoveries. I learned about the travel of knowledge and the evolution of cultures. It slowly became clearer that I was a hybrid that was only aware of one side of his identity. I just used my art to express both aspects of who I was. My art was then not African nor European in its object nor subject but a mix of all my influences. I am telling my story as a contemporary African in the “first world”. As I progressed, more questions surfaced about the individuals in the history of the world. Thus, my work is just the materialisation of these questions that take up most of my mental bandwidth.
What are you working on right now? I know you have been working on sculpting the full figures.
I am putting more focus on the current states of affairs in my direct environment. I am developing a series of drawing that explores concepts such as feminism, sexual abuse, consumerism, masculinity, social movements, and power systems. These questions are asked from my perspective using the genres of art I am most fond of, such as the Italian Renaissance and African ritual artefacts. I am also developing a series of sculptures that talk about these concepts but this time in the setting of ancient Africa. The full figure is being introduced as it is more efficient in the telling of the stories.
What are you looking to achieve in your works?
With my work, I am attempting to lead more people to question the essence of life on earth. By challenging our concept of reality, we will ask more question. Thus, new truths may be uncovered. I believe that asking new questions is the minimum required to have a full existence.
Why do you think art is important and what is it for you?
I define Art as any form of abstraction. For me, a single word, a painting or a sculpture hold the same artistic value. It is a mean of communication and expression; the challenge is in the accuracy in the transmission of the raw idea. In that sense, art is the basis of our existence. We spend our lives interpreting material and immaterial objects and are bound to share it. That should be enough to make Art important.
Brice Esso was born in 1991 in Dabou, a small town of Cote D’Ivoire. His father who was a geologist, carried the family around the country exposing young Brice to a plethora of raw materials and cultural influences. Brice's upbringing structured by the rigorous programs of Catholic schools and elite Ivorian establishments birthed in him a thirst for adventure. In 2011, he took off for the United States to further his education although a fratricide war was ravaging his home country. Brice graduated from a bachelor's in economics at Georgia State University, while simultaneously honing his artistic skills as a photographer and draftsman. In 2015, he decided to briefly return home in order to present his first solo exhibition, displaying his photography, drawings, and paintings. This experience inspired him to broaden his abilities. The young artist, avid of knowledge enrolled at the New York Academy of Art to pursue a masters in Sculpture.
There, while learning the traditional arts in the steps of the old masters, the young Ivorian grew a deeper longing for the art of his childhood. Brice thus produced a series of Marbles sculptures that mimicked the techniques of the old Italian masters while maintaining the simplicity and directness of the African carvers. These works opened his career as a sculptor. He then reached several milestones such as an auction at Sotheby's NY, Honorable mention in the International Sculpture Center’s 2017 Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award, other international exhibitions.
Now, Brice is deepening his conversation on what being an African artist in this age means by implementing new techniques that mix ancient African and western techniques with contemporary technologies such as 3D scanning and printing or robotic milling and augmented reality.