Physical Graffiti: Andrew Hem sets out to give SMC Science Building a face lift

For an entire week local artist Andrew Hem labored in a crane overlooking Santa Monica College as he changed the face of the Science building. With brushstrokes of color he turned a barren wall into an image of a hooded teen standing in the ocean. "Dr. Tsang and people were saying that there were so many blank walls and they wanted more color in them, and I was one of their top candidates," said Hem on Saturday while taking a break from finishing the first half of the project.

"I walked around and debated doing either the wall on Pico or this wall. I slept on it and I think this was the best one because of the composition I made," he explained.

Hem himself received his AA degree in Liberal Arts at SMC before making his name in the local art scene. "I went to the Art Center in Pasadena after SMC, but I couldn't have survived without doing the fundamentals here. It developed and refined my skills as an artist."

"There's a lot of people doing the wrong thing and going straight to art school," Hem went on. "Going to a college like SMC is a must to dabble, to take introduction to painting classes, and it's really affordable too."

The full mural on the Science building will depict a young figure in two scenarios. One is the character hooded, standing in a serene pose, which is the one Hem completed over the weekend. The next section will be the hooded figure standing in a full storm.

The full idea developed in Hem's mind during a trip overseas. "I was in Australia during the summer. I was in the desert and I couldn't sketch. I was brainstorming and writing everything down on the plane. That's when the concept happened," he said.

Preparing the mural is also a scientific process in itself. "I tried to get the exact size of the head and structure. Once I get the head perfect, everything becomes easy. You can map out where the chest goes, the belly button. I also like to exaggerate proportions; It's my style," he explained.

For Hem, the mural is a reflection of his own relationship with his adventurous sister. "We're total opposites. Last week someone told her to go to Cuba and the next day she got her ticket. I travel too but for me I need to plan five months in advance."

Laboring high above the campus, Hem has a lot of time to think and lose himself in his work. "I like to make sure every color is right. I like to mix the colors and make sure they look good."

While painting, Hem likes to wear headphones with music streaming through Pandora. There is no specific preference. He will paint to whatever the airwaves emit into his ears. But while painting in his studio, Hem uses another form or aural background. "I like to Netflix movies and let them play for hours. I've probably seen everything on Netflix. I did a whole painting while listening to an entire season of Orange Is The New Black." The work was a glacial sea based on a trip he made to the Arctic.

Hem appreciates the fact that in a world where painting for hire usually means following someone else's demands, SMC gave him full liberty to paint his vision for the Science building wall. "There are a lot of organizations that I do murals for and they want to 'art direct' you and tell you how it's supposed to be done. I think that takes away from the artist's voice."

"I appreciate SMC for believing in my vision," said Hem before getting back to work high above the campus, lost in his world of paint and storms.