There are moments in life that we reflect on as turning points. This happens when something changes direction, and it causes us to make a choice. In my own life, I’ve looked back and recognized pivotal moments. During my last job, I met my colleague, Evan Lorberbaum, who became a friend. While working together, he and I discussed being artists in our free time. For Lorberbaum, I saw that this pandemic was a turning point for him. When our company let go a lot of their employees, Lorberbaum being one, he took this moment to move forward as a full-time artist. I went upstate to his studio to see what he’s been up to and how this year has impacted his path.
Lorberbaum grew up in upstate New York, about an hour north of the city. Right after graduating high school, he took a trip to Brazil with a friend. This was one of those reflective moments — his starting point of falling in love with graffiti. He called this an “awakening.” He came back to the US and picked up a tarp and cans of spray paint to start experimenting. Soon after, he left for Tulane University in New Orleans in the fall of 2010, with a studio art major and a business minor in mind.
After a few weeks at the school, Lorberbaum recalled hitting a low point. “Within a few weeks or so, I had my first manic episode which was brought on by drug and alcohol use, not sleeping, and kind of the energetic buzz of being so excited in this new place and everything happening all at once. It was the perfect storm.” He came back to New York to work on his mental health, then returned back to Tulane in 2011. In his fourth semester, he had another episode. “I think it’s just the premise of being away, out on your own having more time to yourself, then being home with your parents. When you’re in college, you’re just acting more promiscuously, drinking, smoking, staying up and meeting new people. New Orleans itself is an obviously crazy place so I think all of that added to that mix.”
When you’re in college, you’re just acting more promiscuously, drinking, smoking, staying up and meeting new people. New Orleans itself is an obviously crazy place so I think all of that added to that mix.
While at Tulane, Lorberbaum started a t-shirt business under the name ELO. “I was given the nickname ‘ELO’ by my friend’s dad who was our soccer coach at the time. This was Little League, like 8/9 year old’s. I basically transformed it to be an acronym standing for Encourage Life Originality.” ELO started creating shirt designs on Adobe Photoshop inspired by street wear, graffiti, and hip-hop culture. He didn’t realize that at this point, he was essentially creating small works of digital art. He had a little success with his first venture into business, showing the ELO shirts at Sneaker Con and selling in a few boutique stores in New Orleans. Although his shirts fizzled out, it opened up a new path forward.
After leaving Tulane for a second time, ELO enrolled in the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study. “The official title of my major was the business of art and entrepreneurship. I definitely had an interest at the time where I didn’t realize that it would benefit my own art career someday. I was able to study the inner workings of art galleries, auction houses, art fairs, as well as art studio practice. We went on field trips to different galleries in different boroughs. I had an urban art class, and we created a mural in Brooklyn. In some of my creative writing papers, I was writing about the evolution of graffiti in the early 70s and 80s in New York City.” He remarked that he felt lucky to have a positive experience through this curated curriculum and he was able to explore his passions. ELO took business, marketing, and entrepreneurship classes through the NYU Business School and filled his curriculum with various art courses.
After graduation in 2016, ELO found himself working for Sotheby’s auction house in their shipping department. He was able to understand inventory management and how the auction houses work. At this time, he was creating artworks and started an ELO Facebook page to promote his new abstract paintings. He was inspired by mark making, Jackson Pollock, and pointillism, while incorporating his street art and hip-hop influences. He had the opportunity to show his earliest works at a show in Midtown at Citigroup Center which was an exciting milestone. ELO had no idea that this would be the start of a new venture into the art world.
In the last five years, ELO has balanced working full time, a social life, and becoming an artist. I asked him about his struggle while building his brand and working with time management. “Art was always my most important passion, but it was always off to the side, so if you have a regular nine to five job you’re really only getting to paint after or on the weekends. I would come home on the weekends and sacrifice my social life. Sometimes I was feeling lazy and not even wanting to paint that weekend. It’s fighting that kind of an inner battle where it’s like the urge to really be productive and paint.” With ELO’s sobriety, he found that being in his studio on a Saturday night was more fulfilling rather than partying in college. He saw that if he put in the work now, he could reap the benefits later.
Mental health is an important facet in ELO’s work. “I kind of joke around and say really these paintings are all for me. I say that kind of selfishly from an art therapy standpoint.” A sentiment many artists can agree with. Art is a powerful way to release emotion and find your center point. “It’s definitely cathartic to put on some music, sometimes it’s hip-hop, jazz, reggae or classical even. Sometimes I don’t know what the work’s going to look like but I’m kind of grabbing different paint cans or colored oil sticks and just making different marks. It’s almost like a runner’s high, where you’re just in there for like 4 hours and it just goes by like nothing.”
“It’s definitely cathartic to put on some music, sometimes it’s hip-hop, jazz, reggae or classical even. Sometimes I don’t know what the work’s going to look like but I’m kind of grabbing different paint cans or colored oil sticks and just making different marks. It’s almost like a runner’s high, where you’re just in there for like 4 hours and it just goes by like nothing.”
I asked ELO how his bipolar disorder effects his current lifestyle. He remarked that, “Encourage Life Originality is how I’ve embraced my own originality and taken ownership [of my mental health]. My artwork makes me happy and really makes me feel like I’m living by my own truth.” He feels that he is currently taking the right steps forward. “If you look at my life, 11 years later, I don’t think I would have looked anything like this now. The track I was going on wasn’t a bad one, but it wasn’t one that was anything unique or special. I do take a lot of pride in my sobriety, being a small business owner and entrepreneur, and just kind of fighting for every opportunity. I would want to hopefully encourage others to take that plunge or kind of believe in themselves.” When ELO was explaining how he has grown over the years, I could see that art has brought him to this affirmative place in his career.
Sitting on ELO’s porch, we started talking about how the pandemic has shaped our lives. He remarked that after he was let go from his job, he was essentially given the gift of time. He grabbed this moment as an chance to focus on his artwork. “Today I get to wake up and I feel like I’m in control of my day. If I want to go in for a full day in of painting I can, but if I want to take some mental time and do some other things, just focus on the marketing of my business, or the networking, it’s kind of that flexibility to create everyday so it is something new.”
“Today I get to wake up and I feel like I’m in control of my day. If I want to go in for a full day in of painting I can, but if I want to take some mental time and do some other things, just focus on the marketing of my business, or the networking, it’s kind of that flexibility to create everyday so it is something new.”
With ELO’s background in the auction house and e-commerce, he was able to apply this prior knowledge to marketing himself as an artist. He works directly with a studio manager to reach out to different channels to get visibility on his work. It also helps that in the last five years, he’s increased his social media following to over 20,000 people. He loves to welcome clients to his private studio to check out works or discuss commissions. He joked that many people who visit think there are two artists working in the studio. ELO likes to work in abstract, mark-making type of paintings and in contrast he will work with logos and iconic images which he refers to as pop culture nostalgia.
ELO’s work has evolved many times in subject matter, materials, and size. “I don’t like to be pigeonholed really and I’m always just having different ideas in my head that I’m visualizing. During the moment, it can come to life organically. I use different ways of applying paint to canvas, different methods of making texture, and different techniques of mark making.” One thing that has remained consistent over the years is his usage of spray paint. In the near future, ELO hopes to apply collages with fabrics and scraps from around the studio. He even remarked that he started using paint brushes for the first time. For materials, he will utilize anything from oil sticks, watercolor pencils, acetone, acrylic, and oil paint. When looking through the works, it was difficult to see how many diverse materials could be found.
ELO’s work has evolved many times in subject matter, materials, and size. “I don’t like to be pigeonholed really and I’m always just having different ideas in my head that I’m visualizing.
When I was in the studio and browsing his work, I noticed a lot of contrasts. I saw some paintings that felt softer with muted colors. Cool blues and transparent layers drew me in. When ELO pours acetone on his canvases, he creates this weathered effect, it seems to melt the colors together. On the opposite end, he incorporates stencils, hard lines, and graffiti writing with bold color schemes. “I really like hard edge painting and contrast with use of colors, line, and shape, so it’s just something that’s visually kind of jarring in the sense that kind of makes you look twice.” One thing that is consistent in the studio is a sense of layers. Each canvas had multiple layers of materials and effects which allowed me to stand for an extended time thinking about what methods he used to create them. One thing I found unique is that ELO uses items like cardboard to create stamping effects. “I like that I don’t know what it’s going to look like. A lot of the work is very experimental where I have an idea, but it really is evolving as it’s being made which is kind of fun to embrace the controlled chaos of it all.”
ELO is a self-described maximalist. By mixing colors and styles, he hopes to create an emotional reaction to his work. “I kind of think is really it’s almost like alchemy in the sense where it’s bringing together raw materials like spray paint, ink, oil, acrylic, pastel, leafing. Each separately have value to them, but once they are put all together in this kind of magical system, then it has an enhanced value and there is the process and the purpose behind it.” While I was looking at the works, I felt relaxed and lost in the abstract layers, but other works left me feeling excited. As an art collector, I felt that I had a chance to connect with multiple paintings. It would be easy for anyone to picture one of the works in their own home.
One of the most unique items in the studio was a custom pair of sneakers that he designed and shared on What The NYC. The sneakers had leather patches of ELO’s art as well as iconic New York imagery like the Metro Card, Subway map, a pizza box, and lottery tickets. He produced the pair of shoes with Relevant Customs where they picked out leathers and patterns for the shoes. ELO spent time after the shoes were made to walk around the five boroughs and ask them about their stories of being in the city. This is where he put together the What The NYC campaign to promote the design while bringing people together.
ELO’s next move is exploring the realm of sculptural design. He is going to continue to create in his studio in upstate New York and looks forward to new commissions and welcoming clients. I definitely perceive that ELO will look back at this pandemic as one of the pivotal moments of his career. Seeing how many years ELO pushed through with his sobriety and passion, it is a well-deserved accomplishment.