I’m half black; my mom’s Japanese. I pretty much look black. So obviously there are those things; I grew up with those kind of issues you’re talking about,” the 28-year-old Los Angeles-based artist said. “But I’m not really a socio-political artist in any way. I don’t have that kind of agenda. I’m not trying to push the issue across too hard. That being said, I definitely feel like those things, ideas, and thoughts are inherent in my work. I think I’m unconsciously developing those ideas. Just the fact that I painted black figures in the first place was kind of—it was a conscious decision that I made.”

Gardner, who grew up in Southern California, only decided to fully commit to his artistry in 2014. Although he studied illustration in college, being an artist never seemed like it could be a full-time career for him. Now, though, he says “without financial boundaries” he wants to do “more interactive installations.”

“Is that what you’re trying to do with your work—romanticize life?” I asked.

“I think so,” he said. “Lots of it is about intimacy. But I’m not trying to communicate this one dimensional story with any of my paintings. For the longest time I didn’t [use] titles because you can give too much information away. Whatever my initial feelings or whatever inspired me to make the painting doesn't need to be directly communicated as its original form.