A designer by trade and Memphis College of Art graduate, Tolson began his career as a freelance designer with an eye for typography. In just less than 10 years as a Memphian, Tolson has developed an iconic, soulful art style that has left a mark on his new home.
“It kind of comes from a love of calligraphy and graffiti and a mixing between the two, with a little bit of brush script influence, too, as a nod to old sign painters.”
During his time as a content creator with Choose901, Tolson crafted a font of his very own: handlettered, yet smooth and readable. He describes it as a fusion of the organic flourishes of calligraphy and the in-your-face immediacy of graffiti.
Now, his work is among the first things to greet visitors to the Bluff City through a pair of light pole banners created for the Downtown MemphisCommission. Tolson was invited by local artist Kyle Taylor to design the banners, which proudly bear Al Green lyrics that read as smooth as Tolson’s edges: “love and happiness” and “let’s stay together.”
“At first, I wasn’t going to do them in that style,” he says. “It was just kind of a thing for me. I wasn’t sure if it would be something widely accepted. Eventually I got the confidence to do it my way. “
Music is a big party of Tolson’s urban inspiration, something that rings true in his side projects.
Artistik Approach is an a capella group that boasts gospel, jazz, funk, soul and hip hop stylings formed alongside Memphis artist, Siphne Sylve. “It all got started at MCA,” he says. “I was getting closer to finishing and the institutionalizing of art was kind of taking the life out of things. So I went from art as an outlet to life to music as an outlet to art.” Tolson also co-heads Artistik Lounge, a monthly hip-hop lounge show featuring music and, sometimes, live painting from local artist Jamond Bullock.
A St. Louis native, Tolson was quickly drawn in by the music and urban culture of Memphis. “I’m really into all of that,” he says. “It all comes together to form what I’m doing now.” Tolson’s latest showing, Spectacular Vernacular, is a collection of handwritten colloquialisms that are uniquely Southern and often heard, but rarely seen.
“The interesting thing between where I came from and here are the similarities,” he says. ‘The great things, the not so great things – this place seemed like a home away from home when I got here.”
Eso Tolson’s work and musings can be seen at esotolson.com.
In a word: Inspirational
Brandon “Eso” Tolson talks about fonts like some people talk about fine wines.
“I like open sans,” he says. “It’s bold, but also it has character. I’m a big fan of sans serif in general.”