If street art doesn’t work out for ESM-Artificial, he could always pursue a career as a professional hockey player. In fact, the sport inspired his inner designer. He recalls, “I remember drawing sea life from as early as three years old. As far as creative endeavors go, I was about seven or eight when I started designing my own goalie equipment for street hockey.” Growing up in Vancouver, ESM, né Kenn Sakurai, was surrounded by a group of likeminded hockeyheads that fueled his fire for the sport.
Fortunately, ESM was also immersed in a supportive group of art students. When the musical project from which he takes his name fell through, he explored street art. “I started out mainly with a fascination with stickers and a fairly wide knowledge of pop culture,” he explains. “I’m not sure if I created my own style or not. I’d love to think I did but it probably evolved from something here and there.” Listing influences from Keith Breeden and Margaret Kilgallen to Mick Karn and Peter Saville, ESM devours pop culture, digests it, and spits out clever new creations.
Since 1994, ESM has plastered city streets on five continents. Aside from Vancouver, where he lives and works, Tokyo holds a special place in his heart. He adds, “There are so many interesting buildings and landscapes to work with. I simply love Tokyo.” No location is too obscure for him; he cites bombing in Tsukiji Market, one of the world’s largest fresh fish markets, as his most unusual canvas.
ESM never got into old school graffiti, but he occasionally works with a friend in a “two person crew”. While it’s nice for someone to have his back, he says the team vibe wanes “if the other guy falls asleep with the walkie talkie on when he’s supposed to be on lookout.” Sleepy slip-ups haven’t landed him in trouble with law enforcement and it’s a good thing he’s never had to run from the cops. “I’ve never felt unsafe, but I have felt out of shape while putting work up. I’ve bombed with Shep Fairey and watched him scale buildings like Spiderman while my buddy and I get stuck squeezing through fences or wheezing over a railing.” (Maybe those Stanley Cup aspirations need to stay on the back burner after all).
Mixing graphics, pop culture, and quirky quotes, ESM hopes his trademark stickers make viewers laugh. Cardboard boxes displaying the quixotic message “Your love was orange” wait anxiously on a table for their moment to shine. In the depths of night, a street lamp reminds travelers to “fight for love”. Posting up on the side of a phone booth, a bright sticker shouts, “Hang tight!” Tom Sellek greets commuters with a friendly “Aloha!”
Career-wise, ESM is driven by the work he sees on the streets and continues to push himself. Culture and technology continue to impact style. “The use of computers has helped speed up the working process. I think my style also changes depending on how things get perceived and ripped off on the Internet. I was to try to keep things moving and change it up every once in a while.”
The constant barrage of culture and technology leads ESM to believe that street art is still evolving. “In the future,” he predicts, “it will probably be highly advanced and more permanent, not unlike what Space Invader is doing but with lazer beams, live exotic animals, beautiful paint colors, naked people, and free hot dogs.”