Surreal Animal Artist Will Eskridge

photo by Sean Dunn

Will L. Eskridge
Athens, GA Painter and Artist

Will Eskridge was born on August 2nd, 1976 and grew up in the small textile town of Kings Mountain, North Carolina. His veterinarian father had just started his own practice and had recently relocated the family to the quaint town. With a veterinarian as a father and an artist as a mother, it stands to reason that Will would grow up to be an artist focusing on animal imagery. Will’s earliest memories are finger painting in preschool and the various family pets. Through his early years, Will was constantly drawing various subjects while in class. Eskridge’s mother and siblings were art makers while growing up. “I remember my mom’s basket weavings and tapestries all in the house – my brother sketching Iron Maiden’s mascot, Eddie, on his school books. I also remember having watercolor painting sessions with my sister. Those events are burned in my brain and prompted me to keep making art”, he says. “My mom is frugal and whenever a holiday would come around, she and the kids would gather around the kitchen table gluing, taping, painting, cutting and drawing gifts and cards for loved ones.” Eskridge would draw every moment he could and at around age 10 even setup an “art booth” like a make-shift lemonade stand in his parent’s front yard, attempting to sell his drawings to passersby. Along with art, Will also develop a great passion for music, specifically percussion and guitar.

“Those events are burned in my brain and prompted me to keep making art…”

When Eskridge hit high school he worked at his father’s practice helping out and assisting with general veterinary technician duties. His close affinity to animals started during these years as he saw the happy and not-so-happy times of animals’ lives. He took afternoon art classes and fell in love with the art of his favorite artist, Vincent Van Gogh. Eskridge started putting together a portfolio of acrylic paintings, pointillist ink works and graphite drawings, varying in subject. While attending art class, Will was informed of the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem (now University of North Carolina School of the Arts). Encouraged by his parents, Will applied and was accepted into the Visual Arts program his Senior year of high school. Under the direction of Clyde Fowler, Will was exposed to art history, new techniques and a plethora of materials. Eskridge developed a deep appreciation for the Abstract Expressionists, including Cy Twombly, Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning. Clay, paper construction, found objects and even Super-8 filmmaking were explored. Having only previously utilized graphite, ink and acrylics, these new materials were an exciting pandora’s box for Will. While attending N.C.S.A., Eskridge was also introduced to oil paint which he immediately latched on to and the medium has stuck with him ever since. “Although I like to get my hands dirty with and explore other mediums, I always come back to oil. It’s my first love, artistically speaking”, says Eskridge.

“It’s my first love, artistically speaking…”

With the Visual Arts program at N.C.S.A. being only a 2 year program, Will set his sights on transferring to another school. After an encouraging portfolio review at portfolio day in New York, Will was inclined to apply and was accepted into the painting program at School of Visual Arts’ new branch in Savannah, GA. Eskridge furthered his invaluable painting knowledge, color theory, and mark-making methods while studying under celebrated painters, Patrick McCay and Jeff Markowsky. A great fondness for abstract expressionism continued as well as post-modern art developed during this time. Cy Twombly was Will’s biggest influence during this time. Eskridge also enrolled in other studio classes including sculpture, drawing and his first digital media class which was an introduction into Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and Quark Xpress. These classes would prove relevant in his day career as a graphic designer and fine art work later on. During this time he developed the prototype of what would be later called a “Mox” or “Media Box” – a type of enclosed shadow box or diorama with a single peep hole to allow visual access for the viewer. The scenes inside were often of melted toy army men, sculpted animals and collage pastings from discarded books. Most were static in nature, but Eskridge built others with moveable parts and viewer interactivity. His stampings were also developed during this time – works created solely by a found rubber stamp and ink using a modified pointillist technique. Though Savannah provided a perfect backdrop of natural beauty and historical reference, S.V.A.’s tenure in the town would be short lived. Due to political turmoil between the already established Savannah College of Art & Design and School of Visual Arts, the latter institution decided to close it’s doors while under a frivolous lawsuit from S.C.A.D. Now Will was forced to transfer yet again. This time, Will set his sights to a more cultured city. San Francisco, CA.

“They take quite a while to make, but this allows time for my mind to purge…”

With the announcement of S.V.A. Savannah shutting it’s doors in the spring of ’97, Will feverishly gathered his best pieces, painted new ones and put together a portfolio with slides he took himself and applied to various west coast art schools. Wanting to explore conceptually and expand his medium arsenal, Will was immediately drawn to the Interdisciplinary program at San Francisco Art Institute. Upon being accepted, Will spent his final formal education years at S.F.A.I. painting thick abstract oils, creating digital works and making experimental Super-8 and 16mm films. It was during this time that Will did his first book carvings – discarded or found books that he carves using only a sharpened pencil. “My book carvings are a great meditative practice. They take quite a while to make, but this allows time for my mind to purge.” Eskridge laughs, “I should probably do these more often!”

Although San Francisco became his favorite city to visit, Will developed a longing for his home state of North Carolina and after earning a B.F.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts, he moved to his hometown and landed a day job as a marketing coordinator at the Cleveland County Arts Council. The job allow Eskridge to utilized his digital media and computer graphics skills to design flyers and mailers for various events hosted by CCAC as well as managing the organization’s website and various other marketing duties. Will rented an apartment in town and spent his nights and weekends painting large surreal abstract works. These works are the first ones to incorporate the pyramid, checkerboard and stripes motifs. Influenced by Edward Hopper and Paula Modersohn-Becker, Will also created large, loose and slightly abstract paintings of historical architecture. The pieces were inspired by many polaroids Eskridge took while walking around San Francisco at sunset. The apartment was on the ground floor and had a closet that utilized the space under the stairs to the second floor apartments. Will fashioned this closet into a make-shift dark room to continue his Super-8 filmmaking ventures. His love for painting and filmmaking grew. While working for the CCAC, Will and CCAC board member, Noel Manning, saw an opportunity to open up the town to an independent film festival. Meetings, discussions and persuasions ensued and finally in the summer of 2000, the Cleveland County Arts Council hosted is first annual independent film festival, Real to Reel which is still going strong. Around this time, Eskridge was also granted his first solo show in a gallery setting at the Cleveland County Arts Council. The show included his large surreal abstract and architecture paintings and a looped video showing 3 experimental films. Though his time in his hometown proved productive, Will was feeling the urge to explore again and packed up and moved to Charleston, SC in fall of 2000.

The apartment was on the ground floor and had a closet that utilized the space under the stairs to the second floor apartments”

The historical and natural beauty of Charleston provided a sort of Savannah nostalgia for Eskridge. He worked at a local stereo shop and a natural pet food store to make ends meet, while continuing his passion of painting in the evenings and playing drums in various bands on the weekends. Will came back to portraiture while incorporating previous abstract motifs including stripes, checkerboard patterns and floating pyramids. He expanded his “Mox” series to larger sizes and started using faux fur, sculpted figures and powered lighting. It was a turbulent time personally, though he met some of his closest friends in this town. By the end of 2002, Will needed to regroup and he moved back to his hometown of Kings Mountain, NC.

Will rented a small two bedroom house on the outskirts of Kings Mountain with his right hand dog, Rushmore and his two cats, Beaufort and Charlize. He worked part-time at a local print shop as a pre-press technician, worked on his 1953 Buick, while still painting in his spare time. Influenced by Fairfield Porter (introduced to him by his mother) and using friends and family as reference, Eskridge continued his portraiture work and developed a consistent series to have a solo show at his mother’s artist co-op, Synergy Studios, in October of 2003. Eskridge felt the need again for the arts and culture of a bigger city. He and his animal entourage moved to Nashville, TN in the fall of 2003.

Will once again landed a day job as a pre-press tech/graphic designer at a local print shop. Will spent any time he could painting and playing drums in his band. He started doing commission portraits and freelance web design. Although business in the graphic arts was good, it was all too often unfulfilling. Graphic design was not a passion, but something Eskridge fell into out of financial fear after graduating college. Still he continued to learn more and more graphic skills which would help him in his future marketing efforts for his painting career. Around this time, Will began volunteering for animal rescue and adoption agencies which would further his affinity for animals.

Will began volunteering for animal rescue and adoption agencies which would further his affinity for animals.

After 3 years of the wonders of Nashville (and spending time with his Nashville-based brother) Will made the decision to relocate to Athens, GA where there was a small, but vibrant arts and music scene. Eskridge with his dogs and his cats moved to Athens, GA on his 30th birthday. The rural farm land that surrounded this town inspired Will to revisit his impressionist work and he began painting smaller, impasto landscapes and still lifes using only palette knives. He came to the realization that although he was passionate about music, it was not his priority and therefore was a hobby. He played in a few bands, but increasingly focused more and more on his painting.

In 2008, Will bought a house and promptly built a dedicated art studio on the property. This same year, Will also met his future wife – lapidarian and silversmith, Marie Ash. They married in their backyard with close family and friends in October of 2014. Marie encouraged and supported Will’s work and artistic ambitions. Eskridge had always had a love for animals, but it wasn’t until Marie became vegan, that Will started researching and learning more about the plight of factory farm animals and wildlife. These realizations would have a profound effect on Will and his artwork. In recent years he has emerged out of his sporadic and eclectic painting style and has centered his artistic expression on a blend of surrealism, impressionism and post-modernism, focusing on the relationship between nature and technology. Since diligently concentrating his work he has exhibited his art in a number of solo and group shows.

“These realizations would have a profound effect on Will and his artwork.”

Will Eskridge now works as a full-time artist and resides with his wife and their many dogs and cats in Athens, GA. Along with art, Will also makes music, works in animal rescue and has an ongoing restoration of his beloved 1953 Buick.