Through the process of recovering from addiction, Asheville-based artist Pedro Esqueda has received a number of gifts — “Tools, if you will, for life,” he says. “Like acceptance.” He’s not talking about acceptance in the sense that those around him aren’t judging him too harshly, but that he’s less critical of himself: something that he’s finding helpful in the creative process.
“The only thing I have control over is what I’m going to do,” says the painter and animator. “My part is to show up and do the thing.”
Esqueda is curating New Vision, New Hope: Asheville Artists in Recovery, an exhibition of works by more than 20 local creatives who are navigating their own paths through rehabilitation. The show opens at the Asheville Area Arts Council’s Thom Robinson and Ray Griffin Exhibition Space on Friday, Sept. 7.
Esqueda discovered his own artistic skill when kids in his middle school left sketches they made of comic book characters lying around. Thinking the drawings looked cool, Esqueda started teaching himself to replicate the form — only later to realize the kids whose talents he’d admired had been tracing the characters. “I wanted to be that good,” he says, “And in the process, I got that good.” He went on to school for animation and film in Long Beach, Calif., but an alcohol and drug habit, which started in high school, caught up with him. Attempting to escape legal and personal troubles, he came to the Asheville area for a brief stint, a pattern he repeated off and on for a decade and a half.
This time, Esqueda has been in Asheville for five years, partly because he’s now a co-owner of his mother’s business, Nelly’s Upholstery — and partly because a series of events led him to finally get sober.
“A lot of [creating the art show] had to do with keeping myself busy,” he says. “The program I’m in has connected me with people and made me feel of use.”
And, while he admits the role of curator has been more work than he’d initially imagined, personal meetings with many of those submitting work has been a great experience. “They’re all really excited,” Esqueda notes. “They said they hadn’t worked on anything in a long time and this art show has lit a fire under their ass.”
In the description of New Vision, New Hope, Esqueda writes, “Coming into sobriety, I thought I would never create again or that my art would never be as good.”
That was then: “I was afraid that I was going to become this boring square and start wearing a suit,” he admits. “But when I was drinking and doing drugs and not creating, I just know if I stopped … I could do stuff. … When I drank, that was all I did.”
And this is now: “The life I knew I could have is happening,” he says. “Since I’ve gotten sober, I’ve reconnected with all the things I was interested in [during] high school,” such as rebuilding his animation career and creating a recovery comic.
This new chapter for Esqueda also includes improv comedy. He’s been taking classes with Asheville Improv Collective for more than a year and performs with his troupe, Skipping to the Good Parts, which recently opened for Reasonably Priced Babies. “Ever since I’ve started improv, I walk through the fear of creating a lot easier,” he says. “With improv, I’ve given myself permission to create stuff that’s terrible.”
But he’s also creating work that’s decidedly not terrible, including a 4-foot-by-5-foot acrylic-on-canvas painting, one of three that he hopes to hang in the exhibition at the Asheville Area Arts Council.
The response from those interested in being part of the show has been so enthusiastic that Esqueda expects there will be more exhibits with a recovery theme. And, for the initial group showcase, “There’s something I like about everyone’s work,” he says. “I think it will all go well together.”
If the curator sounds at all surprised, it might be because the call for artists was fairly broad. “If you’ve gotten sober and are creating now, that was the only stipulation” for inclusion in New Vision, New Hope, Esqueda says. “If you’re making stuff now and you weren’t making stuff before, or your work is much better now, or your work is more consistent now, then that’s the story I wanted to tell.”
He adds, “Because that’s my story.”
WHAT: New Vision, New Hope: Asheville Artists in Recovery
WHERE: Thom Robinson and Ray Griffin Exhibition Space, Asheville Area Arts Council, 207 Coxe Ave., ashevillearts.com
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 7, to Saturday, Sept. 29. Opening reception Sept. 7, 5-8 p.m. with an artist talk at 6:30 p.m. Free