Envision a modern day treasure hunt motivated by Instagram rather than half-mutilated, century-old treasure maps.
Artist Andres Gallardo, 25, of Brentwood, creates meaningful pieces of art and encourages the involvement of his community by hosting scavenger hunts—or “Gem Hunts”—for art pieces he has created. He has hosted these Gem Hunts in Europe and in the United States, in New York, Florida and California. His fan base consists of more than 4,700 Instagram (@artofandres) followers—each hoping to discover their own unique gem.
The “gems” are what Gallardo has branded his pieces of art. It can be on canvases, old tabletops, scrap wood—anything he can get his hands on, he will create murals. The murals are usually of famous people, movies, song quotes, actors and actresses. They are all small pieces featuring well-known people who inspire society with their talent or their purpose. People find out about when he will “drop the gems” via Instagram informing them an hour or two before the drop. He then posts pictures on Instagram of where he left the gems and if people recognize the spots, whoever gets to that location first, gets to keep the gem.
The Gem Hunt is inspired by Gallardo’s view of Manhattan street art. Gallardo witnessed artists painting “little universes” that were instantly distributed to the public.
“I decided to do it, and [I] didn’t really know what the reaction might be,” he recalls. I put it out and saw it was gone in 15…20 minutes.
“[At first] I thought does anybody even care? And then after I saw people’s reaction…that is really what inspired me because people could be going through the craziest things in life, and in that moment when you find a piece [of art], there would be such euphoria—and I think ‘Man, I’m able to do this for people!’ So their happiness inspired the entire movement.”
“His art is honestly for everyone,” artist and gem hunter Gabriela Suarez explains. “He can make a stencil of anything and make it look even better than the original.”
The mediums he tends to work with are stenciling and spray paint. Painters Salvador Dali, the Spanish artist known for his wild imagination and surrealism, and Andy Warhol, the American artist known for his pop art technique, were Gallardo’s two main inspirations.
Gallardo also began to familiarize himself with street art, which soon became his main focus as he began to emulate street artists such as Bansky, Ron English and Shepard Fairey, combining their very specific approaches. Bansky drops his stenciled, very detailed and symbolic graffiti, as a rebellion toward the government’s portrayal of graffiti as vandalism. English focuses on brand and advertising. Fairey is best known for his Obama “Hope” campaign, designing the iconic 2008 campaign poster. Gallardo appreciates the political and social controversies elicited by these artists’ work, as well as their technique in using pop art and stenciling to communicate their beliefs.
As for non-artist inspirations, Gallardo turns to poets and young revolutionaries. He admires and promotes individuals doing good work in their communities. Slam poetry by 19-year-old Aja Monet and Saul Williams, who also has found a career in hip-hop music, are the poets that Gallardo says, “have made their mark with words.” Gallardo says, “I think I’m always chasing that [poetry] because I go to poetry events and I get so stunned by their performance and I’m like man, I need to stun people with art!”
Lastly, he credits his inspirations to rapping phenomenon, Kanye West. For Gallardo, West exemplifies “What it is to love something so much you look pretty much insane…” Gallardo says that West “…gives us the insane amount of…egotism, which is cool—it’s not for us to be that way—it’s for us to take a little bit of that and to run with it.”
Gallardo has painted musical icons such as West, Michael Jackson, Hector Lavoe, Bob Marley, and Drake, just to name a few. And as far as the treasure hunt, fans of these artists are truly dedicated to the game. They hope to discover Gallardo’s one-of-a-kind pieces of art to have as their own.
Suarez, who is also an artist, has been on two of Gallardo’s hunts and says the first hunt “was a fun adrenaline rush… racing down to try and find it before anyone else. My second gem hunt was so much different because he was getting bigger and it was basically impossible to try and get around and find anything because there were just too many people.” Suarez believes it is important, especially as an artist, to be supportive toward other artists, which was her motivation to join the hunt.
“It’s also inspiring to see an artist make it big from our small town,” she says. “Not only that but he did it with the help of his community. He did it for himself and made things happen on his own.”
People became so impressed with Gallardo’s art that they began requesting personal pieces to give to loved ones. He has aided in the gifting of many birthdays and also a wedding proposal.
“My goal is to influence a lot of people,” Gallardo says. “I want to be able to travel. What I’ve been able to do here, I hope to do it in other places…Give people the chance to have art who aren’t able to afford it…who aren’t able to see it, there’s so many people who don’t have it.”
Often he creates large portraits and his fans are so infatuated with those pieces that he creates the gems, as smaller versions of his larger works, to give to people who are truly dedicated in finding them during a hunt. Gallardo is a realist, and his work is not only about the love of art.
Gallardo says, “My friend just had an exhibit, and had pieces selling for $15,000 to $20,000—of course I want that, of course!”
Gallardo’s work is also very cultivated in that he aspires to send a message with every controversy that occurs in society. Civil rights causes such as the Trayvon Martin case is one of many that Gallardo supports. He set up camp in New York City and distributed mini murals in remembrance of Martin. Gallardo says, “That was probably my first big one and that was like ‘Alright, you can do something with art—it’s really your ‘activistic’ weapon!”
Gallardo, who is Panamanian, also spent the day in Central Park supporting the protests in Venezuela. He distributed two symbolic paintings of a “protestor with his face covered by vinegar-soaked cloth to protect against tear gas.” The other image was of Genesis Carmona, Venezuelan’s beloved beauty queen who was shot by government troops. Both the Trayvon Martin and Venezuela pieces ended up being published in Time magazine.
Gallardo’s decision to become a revolutionary artist is rewarding but it is not all easy. As a political activist artist, “people really expect you to be on top of all of them, and it’s really hard…when I did the Venezuela pieces, I had people commenting: ‘So where are you with Colombia? Where are you with this country?’ and it’s like wait a minute, I’m trying to breathe,” says Gallardo.
Krystal Flores, an artist and Gallardo’s business partner, explains Gallardo’s mindset.
“As an artist, you have to keep your eyes, mind, and heart open to absolutely everything,” she says. “The grind doesn’t stop! Be consistent and practice your craft every single day, be true to yourself and never give up.”
The most recent causes that resonate with Gallardo are the 243 girls who were abducted in a Nigerian village and the tornadoes that recently ravaged the South. It makes Gallardo even more grateful to have a roof over his head. Even the conflicts occurring in Syria rattles Gallardo’s philanthropic brain.
“You can go down a list of what’s wrong with the world that you would like to make people aware of. So I try to,” says Gallardo. He creates awareness and promotes togetherness of our community to unite for the love of music and for combating injustice. He does this in an artistic way—he is neither boastful nor hostile in his expedition to spreading his philosophies.
When Gallardo stations in New York City to give out his stenciled murals he says: “The response is always amazing. They’re always astounded that someone’s willing to give stuff away, and I’ve been humbled by their love and all of their support when I go out there. And I give, and give, and give. I don’t ask for money, but people donate and it’s cool, I just put it into getting more cans.”
“It is in his nature to give and that has brought him so much respect from everybody who has heard of him,” says Flores, whose specialty is logos and graphic design. She and Gallardo began collaborating on projects when he approached her inquiring about a logo, and she also designed a few flyers for events that he hosts.
“We create because of what we’re exposed to, even if it is something simple like an artist’s new album. I relate to him because he is a sponge, he absorbs absolutely everything around him and incorporates it in his work,” says Flores.
She does mention a definite plan for even more future projects with Gallardo.
In early March 2014, Maykol Sanchez, who is the digital marketing manager for Fania Records, approached Gallardo after reading an article about his gems in the Miami Herald. Fania Records has produced some of the biggest names in Latin music such as Hector Lavoe, Ray Barretto, Willie Colon, Ruben Blades and Celia Cruz. Sanchez immediately fell in love with Gallardo’s gem movement and being that Gallardo is a huge salsa fan, Sanchez asked him to work with Fania Records in an upcoming salsa music festival. This is a huge step for Gallardo, and just the kind of professional exposure that will help him achieve his goals.
He is following his dream—a dream of creation—a dream that is heavily doubted in every statistic in the book.
“It was sort of an escape, but I never thought of it as a career because I think society and your teachers never encourage you to pursue it,” says Gallardo. “They’re always like you need to pursue something a little more stable.”
Artists have to make it on their own and it is not every day in which you find an artistic individual not only creating for the sake of his own enjoyment—but to give back.
“His consistent hard work and passion have inspired me to work double and give a little more,” Flores says.
It is his desire to contribute to the world in a substantial way that truly sets him apart from many other artists.
His philosophy is simple: “There’s no limits for how far I’m willing to go for the things I love.”