Art alum invited to White House

Receiving an invitation through an email from the White House to a dinner to celebrate modern art is not the most convincing way to be honored for your work. “I didn’t pay attention to it; I was going to delete it, and I sent probably three people that email just to make sure I wasn’t doing anything stupid,” said Santa Monica College alumnus Andrew Hem.

But Hem’s invitation to the White House was not by chance.

“The guy who did it didn’t tell me,” said Hem. “After I got the invite, one of the directors from the Smithsonian Museum said, ‘You probably got [the White House invitation] but I made a list of 10 or 20 artists and they ended up picking about five.’”

Hem was among the five.

He first began studying art at SMC, where he took figure drawing — now his favorite style — and painting.

“I guess the rest of it was game over; I knew from then that I wanted to be an artist,” he said. “I started looking into art schools, and everyone at the time was saying, ‘Go to Art Center.’”

Hem has shown his work from New York to Seattle to Los Angeles, gaining more recognition with every show.

After graduating from SMC, he transferred to Art Center, a private arts college in Pasadena.

Hem sold his first work to a gallery in Santa Monica. He met the curator at a flea market in Pasadena; his asking price was $1,000.

“She said, ‘Nobody’s heard of you, how do you expect to sell it for this?’” Hem said. “It’s true, no one’s going to invest in you if you’re brand new. It has to be a progression. Once people have heard of you, you climb up that ladder.”

Hem now spends his time painting, often until early morning hours, and lecturing at art colleges across the country, including his alma mater.

While in art school, Hem’s distinctive style won the attention of animators from entertainment companies that visited Art Center to interview potential hires, but Hem turned them down when they told him his style was too strong and that he would have to get rid of it.

“In the beginning, I was trying to figure out, ‘Am I going to make it?’” he said. “I just kept on painting, tried to not let it bother me — this huge loan started picking up. [Then, I] started paying for my loans. It’s been pretty awesome.’

A few years ago, Hem was asked by eBay to paint a mural on their building in downtown Los Angeles. Before that, he painted murals in Culver City and in Virginia, where he and other fine artists spent a week painting.

Hem lives in Pasadena and has two studios out of his home.

Hem will show at the Merry Karnowsky gallery on La Brea Avenue, starting on May 8, 2014.

NewsElizabeth MossComment