Andrew Espino was playing D1 football on a full ride scholarship at Saint Mary’s College of California when an ACL injury cut his scholarship short.
The next summer, he was working part time at a real estate office sorting through paperwork when, one day, his boss decided to give him an opportunity and teach him the ropes of real estate. And so the football player became a real estate broker.
Though football was his first passion and real estate his career choice, art had always captured Espino’s imagination. As time went on, his interest in it grew from a hobby into a business.
“I’ve always had a passion for art and hip-hop. I’d see local art from artists that intrigued me, so I’d buy their art for my home as a passion,” Espino says. “As I became more and more interested in the arts, I also wanted to get to know what the artists were saying outside of just what you see.’’
In May of 2022, Espino opened 1Culture, his first art gallery, two blocks from city hall in downtown San Jose. This weekend, 1Culture premieres its fourth exhibit this year, Bay Area Gems, which features 15 Bay artists from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines.
“Artwork for me is therapeutic. It’s like medicine. It puts me in a state of mind,” Espino says. “When COVID happened, the real estate business slowed down. I had a lot of free time on my hands, so I started buying artwork online. I was trying to buy art from local artists around San Jose.”
Even as he edged closer to San Jose’s arts community, Espino still didn’t think he’d ever get involved directly. That is, until he got a reality check from someone very dear to him: his son.
“My son asked me what I do to help people,” Espino says. “He told me he knows that I sell houses but just didn’t see how that helps anyone. That kind of got me a little bit upset; I sat down for a day and really started thinking about it. I help a lot of investment companies, things like that. I started to think about what I can do to actually help people. How can I help people grow their business? I thought, ‘What if I created this space where artists can sell their artwork?’”
With this loose idea, he started trying to get it off the ground. He began tabling at local events, selling what art he could and mixing it with streetwear.
“It started off with me going to pop-ups. My cousin had a taco truck. At the time I didn’t have a lot of artwork. It’d be sneakers and Funko Pops and the other half would be graffiti prints from local artists.”
It was a cool idea, but he wasn’t selling much and he almost called it quits at this stage. That’s when he had a revelation.
“I thought if we want to be in the same energy and mindset as the artist, then quitting right now isn’t the way to go.” Espino said. “It’s a very humbling experience. You get a feel for what an artist goes through week in and week out to create artwork, all while possibly working another job and then ultimately not selling the products. That’s when I decided to open up a gallery.”
With the help of a relative, graffiti artist Scape Martinez, he came up with a name, “1Culture,” to represent all the cultures in the community coming together as one.
“1Culture stands for originality, creativity and unity,” Espino says. “Artists come from different backgrounds, [but they’re] all connected in some way, whether it’s financial, economic, political or whatever. That’s what makes it one culture.”
In a city that is known mostly for its booming tech society, it is always nice to have new spots where art and artists are being exposed to the public as well. San Jose has always had a vibrant history of creative expression, a history which 1Culture looks forward to celebrating on its walls.
“I want people who come to the gallery to feel inspired, to come in and see the beautiful artwork and the different types of artists and [think]: ‘I can be a photographer, or a journalist or a painter too.’”
Opens Dec 16
1Culture, San Jose