The excitement surrounding the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens seems to grow with each passing moment. With a little over a month until the film (which continues the Star Wars saga from where 1983’s Return of the Jedi left off) is released, each new TV spot, character reveal, and magazine cover, is met with enough pre-release electricity to run a major American city. One of the most exciting events in the lead-up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the Art Awakens exhibit, opening tonight at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles. It’s only happening this weekend, and unless you’re being detained by grumpy Stormtroopers, you should try very hard to get there.
To explain: The Art Awakens is a collection of outstanding original artwork from 88 (!) artists (including pop art visionaries like Eric Tan, Scott C., and Andrew DeGraff, plus five fan-submitted pieces), and what’s more, it’s for a good cause. New and original pieces from the exhibit are being auctioned off in the name of Star Wars: Force for Change to support UNICEF Kid Power, and original pieces from the gallery will be up for auction tonight through eBay for Charity, along with select prints for sale. Original pieces by the professional artists will be on eBay from tonight to November 23, while prints of select originals will be on eBay until December 12.
As you can tell, this is going to be an epic weekend (the art is only up through Sunday, although extended hours have the gallery open until 10 p.m. both nights), and we are so thrilled to premiere a piece of artwork from artist Ansel Dryden. We got on the phone with him to talk about being a part of the show, what it was like whittling down the entire saga to a single moment, and how excited he is for the new movie.
How did you first become involved with the Art Awakens show?
I’ve done shows for years now with Gallery 1988, so I’m very familiar with their program. [Gallery owner] Jensen Karp emailed me to see if I wanted to become a part of it, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Are you a long-time Star Wars fan? It seems like everyone involved in this is super passionate about the series.
I grew up with the movies. The first one came out before I was born. Watching Return of the Jedi as a kid was my favorite. I actually had all the toys and everything. So, I’m a lifelong Star Wars fan, just like everyone else.
Was it hard to figure out which one you were going to do? Did you have a bunch of ideas initially and had to whittle those down? What was that process like?
Yeah. It was pretty difficult. As a kid, the whole sequence at the beginning of Return of the Jedi in Jabba’s lair was my absolute favorite. Jabba himself has been one of my favorite characters from the whole series, so I initially thought it was going to be something with that. I re-watched all the movies again for the one-millionth time and decided that I wanted to encompass more of the grand scope of the whole thing. Focusing on Jabba or just one character is great, but it didn’t seem to catch the spirit of the whole thing.
So how did you come upon this moment from The Empire Strikes Back?
I was kind of looking for something that could encapsulate the whole good vs. evil theme, and drawing various elements that I’ve loved from the movies, like the character designs—especially the creatures. After re-watching the films, that sequence at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, where the Empire is about to find out where the Rebel base is with the probe droid. That just seemed like a really exciting moment, with tension mounting. I figured I could put in the droid as sort of a representation of the evil side of things. Han Solo is a representation of the good side of things. I threw in the Tauntaun for the creature characters. As an adult, I think Empire, like many people, is my favorite of the series. Although, I still have a great love for all that crazy creature stuff going on at the beginning of Return of the Jedi.
How long did it take you to illustrate your piece?
The longest part of the process was deciding what to paint because there’s so much to work with. But, once I decided on it, it was just a matter of sketching it out, laying out the composition, and then just painting. It took about a week of long painting days.
Are you excited to see what everyone else is doing? Is that part of the thrill of being able to be in a show with all of these other people?
Totally. I’ve been following the social media feeds everyday. It’s pretty impressive what people are coming up with. The artistic skills involved are impressive as well. I am totally honored and happy to become a part of it.
Are you really excited about the upcoming film?
I am. I watched two trailers while I was working on the piece. I briefly considered doing an art piece related to the new movie, but having not seen it, and not knowing exactly who the characters were, I kind of just decided to stay away from it. Since then, I’ve been purposefully not watching anything new, or looking at any images that have come out. I would like to see the movie with as fresh eyes as possible. From what I’ve seen, it looks like it’s going to be awesome.