Bert Esenherz: Walking Art
Walking art is a true story of professional artist Bert Esenherz's desire to literally walk across America with a 5x7 ft painting in tow. He offered me his heart felt passion to help bring awareness to rural communities. He wanted to share the message that they should support their local artist.
Bert shared a very powerful statement by saying, “Art is a equal element of the social environment. It is the reflection of the functionality as a community where all kinds of trades coexist”.
Bert’s message touched my heart as his vision was perfectly articulated in these words: During my years of living in metropolitan cities like Berlin and New York, I have encountered many who moved to the City with hopes and dreams of making it big as an artist.
Very few were blessed with fame, but the majority end up with jobs to make ends meet. If those artists who didn’t make it, were encouraged by their local communities to be engaged and respected as a valuable member of society then they might have never left. Bert said that during his walk across America he had the chance to meet many People who welcomed this dialog.
“I met with the Mayor of Nebraska City, Jo Dee Adelung, who at this time worked on a program that contributed to the tourism draw in Nebraska City. In 2001, the Kimmel-Harding-Nelson Center for the Arts was formed in Nebraska City. The Center annually hosts between fifty to sixty visual artists, writers, composers, and interdisciplinary artists from across the country and around the world. Accommodating up to five artists at a time for stays that vary from two to eight weeks. This artist-in-residency program has helped shape the face of arts in Nebraska and the region”
Bert Esenherz is a professional artist currently living in Los Angeles. As I started my interview with Bert, one of the first things I noticed was his strong German accent, which caused me to hang on every word, to make sure I didn’t miss any of his epic story.
Bert started out by saying that when he was a child, he had no interest in art and was more of an athlete, enjoying sports over a paint brush. However as fate would have it, Bert found himself in school for graphic designing. There he was working for a graphic design agency, editing promotional material. Bert said he was bored sitting in his cubical doing the same thing day in and day out. Feeling as if he was just wasting his life, Bert knew some changes were in order.
In 1990 he joined, an artist group in Germany and quit his job. The big changes continued as he explained that he then became a sailing instructor. Bert said this environment was very good for him. Being around an entirely different crowd. However, he admits that it still wasn’t what he was looking for, as he said, “he wasn’t doing anything creative."
In 1992 He started doing decoration for a large techno music company. This added more creativity and affiliated him with major promoters in the techno industry. After three years of this lifestyle, Bert decided he wanted to start over and made a commitment to make a living doing art. This was the aha moment that I see happen to many artists who can no longer fight the calling to be an artist.
Bert decided to visit New York City, which is of course filled with a vibrant and rich art culture. Bert said that New York City was a nice city for him; partly because it was similar to living in Berlin. In just one days’ time, he met lots of interesting and creative people from all over the world. A week later he went back to Germany and decided to sell as much as he could and take that money and move to New York City, where he felt he could fully embrace being an artist.
After arriving back in NYC, he became a street artist and like many others, he was selling his paintings on the streets of New York. Bert said that New York, has a huge diverse range of street artist many of them were an inspiration to him. Over time Bert opened his own gallery in Brooklyn, called A.I.R. (Artist In Residency). Admitting that he also lived there and that there was an exception for artist if the building had two exits, you could also live there even though he had a commercial lease. As he continues to describe the details of the building I was taken back by the size of it, an enormous 19k sq. ft. When I asked how he could afford such a building he said it was on the East River and not many people wanted to live there at that time due to high crime rate.
Bert began building a name for himself, he also became very good at producing and promoting art and artists. The gallery, was first mostly visited by other artists. Then in 1998 things changed and Brooklyn became more accessible as the city got cleaned up and people with money started showing up. That’s when Bert and his crew of artist became kind of famous. The word started getting around and that’s when things really took off. They really started selling their paintings. Bert became known for his style of art (Cityscapes),
which was selling very well. While at the same time being able to fully develop his style. It was also at this time that Bert’s artwork started getting featured in other galleries. Then the moment came, when he got a solo show, which he says is a pretty big deal for an artist. Additionally his solo show was in Harlem at the Hamilton Landmark Galleries. Bert beamed with pride as he shared that he was the first white person to exhibit there. Bert told me what an honor this was for him.
After acquiring local fame in the art community, Bert realized that he had only seen New York City, and didn’t know anything about America, and this bothered him. In 2001 Bert made yet another heroic decision, this time to walk across America from New York City to San Francisco, California, while painting. On May 2, 2001 there he was on foot, with a 5x7’ painting on wheels setting out to walk across America.
There he was traveling across America alone with his painting on wheels. Finally, when he arrived in Denver, Colorado, he realized he would have to turn back. His trek across America started to get rough. They got so rough for him that he literally walked his shoes off. After not being able to sell any of his art along the way as he had hoped and with no money or shoes, Bert made the decision to postpone his epic trek and head back to the Big Apple. I was fully attentive to Bert’s most engaging story and wanted to know how he managed to make it back. My heart went out to him as he said, he went to pawn shop in Denver with nothing but his Sony camera in hand, for which he was given $130. With that he purchased a Greyhound ticket back to New York City.
Once back in the Big Apple, Bert quickly sold two paintings. With the excitement of continuing his journey across America, he used the funds to purchase a ticket back to where he left off in Denver, Colorado. I had so much respect for his determination to finish what he started that I was literally in tears. Then Bert shared something that we are all to familiar with...He said just two days before his departure, the tragic event that forever changed us as Americans occurred, September 11, 2001. This of course changed the entire dynamics in the City (NYC) he called home and in fact the entire Nation.
Bert had a girlfriend at the time, who was not with him on his solitary trip on foot across America but was now afraid and Bert admits to feeling very uncertain about things too. With Winter approaching, he made the decision to postpone his trip until the following Spring, knowing that the Rocky Mountains would be near impossible to cross on foot in Winter. Not to mention the deadliest terrorist attack the Country had ever known had just happened.
Bert said that everything in New York had changed significantly and it was very hard to make a living after 9/11. Adding that people were not thinking of buying art. As Bert describe it, they were very desperate times. Once able to sell his art, to not being able to make rent. The good news to his story is that Bert said he had a great landlord who was supportive to the arts, along with the devastation that had occurred. His landlord allowed him to slide on the rent along with the building that was full of out of work artist.
Bert said he made it through the year, but year after year he postponed his journey across America. Although he now lives in Los Angeles as of 2018, through the many years between 2001 and 2018 he made several trips across the country, just not on foot. Then something wonderful happened, photographs of his trek across the country on foot was published in several newspapers. The painting that he was working on during his journey is going to a new home...The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. Bert says it took him 18 years to start writing the full details of his journey, and this was the push he needed. Bert’s book is currently being written and we look forward to reading it and hope you will check it out too.
Bert have always been quite creative and have used several marketing strategies to help bring awareness to a cause and to his art.
Bert says he’s been known to do performances to promote his art that sometimes surround controversial issues. These performances usually draw a crowd of onlookers and the media.
One of Bert’s performances (pictured here) occurred after the stock market crash in 2008. He said he made screen prints of “dollarts” on canvas and handed them out on Wall Street as the stock market was closing at 4pm. As you can see by the crowd, his performance was a huge success!
One of the things that fascinated me most about Bert's abstract style of art, was it's deliberateness. Bert told me to look closer and in fact what appeared to be abstract was a true cityscape. They were maps of places he visited or neighborhoods on a grand abstract scale. Most of Bert's art is quite large and can easily cover a wall.
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