An Interview with Ed Askew
A few years ago stumbling through cyberspace, I came upon Ed Askew’s work. When you hear music that’s new to you, there’s a moment that feels like you’re the only one who knows the music exists, no matter how old it is. That’s what happened when I first heard Ed’s song “Paper Horses”, and I knew I had to reach out to him one way or another. We eventually became Facebook friends and would share music here and there. I was later lucky enough to release a cassette tape for him called “Looking For Love”.
Ed Askew has released nine albums since his first in 1968 and has self-released many more online. For the World, his newest album is a culmination of his music, and proves that an artist’s best work can come later in life. Ed Askew is proof that with time, people will come around. It makes me extremely happy to see people recognizing him for the great inspiration he truly is. We talked over email about his new record, his upbringing, and what’s next.
THE BELIEVER: Many people know of you primarily for your work as a musician, but I also really enjoy your paintings. Could you talk about your time studying painting at Yale and your work as a painter?
ED ASKEW: When I graduated from high school I had no idea how I would make a living. My family—this was 1959—was concerned with what kind of job I would get, not where I would go to school. I did, however, have some talent in the arts. And I was encouraged to apply to art schools. I was accepted everywhere I applied. But since there was no money for art school I decided to go to a small school in New Canaan, CT where I could get a scholarship. I figured I could earn a living as a commercial artist.
But in my second year, my love of making paintings got me. And I switched to fine art. After another two years I got accepted at Yale. That was the first time I ever lived away from home, and the first time I had a large circle of painter friends that I would see in and outside of school every day. It was a very good time for me.
My work as a painter has always been tied to Modernism. I read everything I could find related to art, from Cézanne through the 1950s. The issue of innovation never interested me personally, since I believe it may lead to a place where people don’t paint anymore.
What interests me is all the stuff that goes into abstract and abstract-figurative art. Not the styles, but the stuff that, in various combinations, make the styles: mixing and matching painting methods and ideas.
BLVR: Some qualities of abstract painting are also reflected in your music, especially lyrically. Can you tell me about what, you feel, links your music and visual art?
EA: Well, some lyrcs are depictions of events like scenes in a movie: “Roadio Rose rides away, with the sun setting low in the sky. / The horizon is gold.” That’s an almost realistic image. And from “Westward Bound”: “He never spoke a word to me, / but left a message on the sea, / A paper boat that I could read. / ‘I love you’.” That doesn’t make any literal sense at all, but conveys an emotion through familiar images in a kind of impossible, but clear, little scene. I think this has as much to do with poetry as it does art. I used to read a lot of poetry. Especially when I started making songs: Lorca and Ginsberg and Rimbaud. I liked stuff that juxtaposed images to evoke meaning.
I noticed early on that if I said,” I feel sad because I miss you,” it has a sort of flat quality that doesn’t imply much. But if I make a picture of someone alone on a beach, looking at the sea, thinking of someone, the picture conveys the same thing in a much more poignant way.
As for art, music and art are two very different activities for me. However, the use of imagery links them, and invention is important for both.
Two Guitars, courtesy Ed Askew. 1981.