Interview with artist Ariel DeAndrea for ‘Chasing the Current’

Ariel DeAndrea in studio

An interview with artist Ariel DeAndrea for her upcoming show ‘Chasing the Current’ at Thinkspace Gallery. The opening reception for the show is Saturday, May 23, and run through June 13.

SH: What is your creative process?
AD: I love to travel and I never go anywhere without my camera, rolls of hand picked paper, scissors and fishing line. Anytime I see a body of water that inspires me, be it a puddle, a fountain, the ocean or a river, I stop, pull out the paper that fits the mood, start cutting and folding cranes and then I throw them in the water with some fishing line, so I can manipulate their angle and let the current of the water and the reflection of the environment off the water do the rest. After I take hundreds of photos, the editing process begins. I pick my favorite photos, build my canvases and begin the oil paintings, using the reference material.

SH: How long can it take you to finish a single piece?
AD: It really depends on the size, but I would say that my smallest paintings get at least 100 hours of effort at 10 inches by 10 inches, not including the time it takes to build the canvases.For those not already familiar, please explain the significance of the paper crane to you and how you first came to work with them.

SH: For those not already familiar, please explain the significance of the paper crane to you and how you first came to work with them.
AD: I recently found a drawing that I did in 4th grade (age 9) of little origami cranes flying around an old Japanese saying, “O flock of heavenly cranes, cover my child with your wings”. It gave me shivers down my spine when I found it. It crystallized for me how long my obsession with cranes has really been going on and I felt like everything in my life has been working towards this moment, as I have honed my own personal understanding of the crane to pay homage to it through my art.

Ariel DeAndrea Childhood Drawing

It resonated with me as a child, that if you folded 1,000 cranes, you could make a wish. Raised atheist, prayer did not come naturally to me, in fact, it was balked at in my household. I believe folding cranes became a sort of covert form of prayer for me. I turned to folding during trying times to soothe myself , for the wishes of good health and safety for my loved ones, when I knew not what else to do. It was, is and always will be the most purest, calming and comforting single object in the world to me, that can be made 1,000 times over and yet always have an individuality and unique beauty. This has been true, as I have folded over 4,000 cranes so far in my lifetime and still counting…

This form prayer became a real solace to me, when I was 13 and my mother, our best friend and I went to Indonesia. Our friend was hit by a car and in critical condition for 18 hours before we finally could evacuate her to Singapore. It was a harrowing experience fighting for her life all those hours and it left me scared, changed and feeling helpless once the immediate danger was over. I turned to folding cranes at her bedside in the hospital and found great comfort in it, as though I was actively helping when I could no longer help and it was now in the capable hands of the doctors. Next came my father’s life threatening brain injury, and then my mother’s battle with cancer. Each time, folding cranes was a way to cope and to find hope in dark days. This is how the fascination at age 9 turned to spiritual obsession in my adulthood.

SH: How do you select the color and patterns the cranes will have?
AD: I have collected papers from my trips to Japan and hunted for paper stores in the US and Europe that carry unique paper. Mostly I look for large sheets of hand printed Japanese washi papers. I want colorful paper with strong unique and careful design. I then carry many different sheets of paper with me at all times and pick the paper that fits the mood or color scheme of the place that has captured my attention.

SH: While painting do you feel like each crane takes on a different story?
AD: I absolutely feel the personality of each crane. My art practice with cranes originally was folding. I felt that each crane deserved to be carefully selected in size and color, folded, and loved. The point of folding 1,000 cranes is not to get to the end, but the meditative practice, the process, the conscious thought of your purpose for folding, repeated again and again, 1,000 times. This is what inspired me to paint them individually, to revere the singular. When they hit the water they take on so much life. Some dance about, others seem to glide with more serious purpose, some carefree, some reflective and contemplative and some almost sinister, like they are out on a hunt.

SH: What inspired your upcoming show, Chasing The Current?
AD: I am always chasing that next current to bring a crane to life in a new inspiring way and to bring attention to the movement and reflection in life all around us. Water possesses a unique spirit, ever moving and reflecting the world around it, it is powerful and never the same after even just a milliseconds passing. Once I started looking for it, I saw it everywhere. I try to capture it as best I can, but the photos are one stagnant moment that cannot hold the experience and journey of actually being with the crane, the sun, the water. It is in the process of painting that I feel I am able to better infuse and reinterpret that feeling of movement, complexity and beauty that the real world presents to me. I simply want to share the quiet turbulence of this one birds fight not to get pulled down and drown. They are resilient in the water as though they want to splash in the sun, like a child would. Each body of water has its own current, pull in different directions, some violent, some still, all like magic to me.

SH: Your bio states that Japanese Shinto inspires your work, explain what Shinto is and how does it play a part in your day to day life?
AD: Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan. It focuses on the spiritual essence of all natural things, that a river or ocean might contain its own godlike divine spirit, making it animistic in more anthropological terms. I believe the cranes help bring out the spirit of the water they are in. They transform from a paper toy to vessel for the soul of the current, the spirit, the moment of the river or lake and so on. I have always felt that almost painful feeling of beauty and mystery that nature and especially water can hold, an energy that is unique to each place, that feeling that “god” is every rock, every stone, every river. I can almost hear the whisper of their soul if I can still myself enough. The cranes help me to find that stillness and hear that soul.

crane #22

SH: What are your favorite paints and colors to use? What’s your favorite brushes?
AD: I absolutely love Old Holland paint, hands down. They never have too much medium in them, so you can thin them yourself. Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Red Light, and Scheveningen Purple Brown are my greatest “out of the tube” obsessions. Cadmium mixed with Naples Yellow and Cremnitz white, can create one of the most beautiful, electric glowing colors of all time. I love mixing paint to see how they play together. It is forever fascinating and exciting to me.

Brushes, I use synthetic brushes of assorted sizes in filberts and rounds (mostly Robert Simmons Expressions or something similar) and squirrel hair wash brushes. All my brushes are quite small, so I am often buying relatively cheap rounds that have as fine a point as possible, so I can toss them once the point goes. Expensive brushes in size 000 don’t seem to keep their point any longer than the cheaper ones. I do spend my money on expensive wash brushes, so they don’t shed and good quality paint because the integrity of the color and body is worth it.

SH: When did you feel you had found your creative voice and style?
AD: Art for me has a strong relationship to discovery and experiment. I think the artist is always learning and yet I have found some truth to hold onto in my own art practice.

Most poignantly, when I found that fourth grade drawing…I was questioning the meaning of it all…you know, the artist dilemma in its largest most vast scape and was feeling overwhelmed. Then I found that drawing and snapped out of the macro of art and artists and all its history and into the micro, me as an artist as one piece in a larger puzzle. The best I can do is be true to myself. I thought, “the child in me would be delighted by the paintings and installation work I do with cranes today”, and that made me feel like I had arrived at something I have been searching for since childhood, something of sincere integrity. That’s when I knew, but the process of discovery has been ongoing. I revere and contemplate the master artist’s of old and still everyday strive to better honor their legacy and to affect in at least some small way the heart strings of the viewer.

Ariel DeAndrea photographing cranes

SH: As nature plays a part in your work, where is your favorite place to observe or be in nature?
AD: I have a special place in San Francisco, off the trail in Point Lobos. It is atop a cliff overlooking the ocean and the golden gate bridge. It is quiet and private and a little scary to climb over there, but I have been going there since my early teens and I think about that place often. I still go there when I am in town.

SH: Can you share with us something that scares you and something that makes you really happy?
AD: Crocodiles scare me. They are often in my nightmares. I feel like they are one of my spirit animals, alerting me of danger and playing off my fears. They are archaic, resilient and strong predators, built to adapt, survive and kill. Cranes make me happy, real ones and the paper ones. I have big white paper cranes hanging in my bedroom. Every morning I look at them dancing in the breeze from the window and feel a moment of weightlessness and delight. They are gentle, playful and vulnerable, the opposite of the crocodiles.

SH: What is something you know now, that you wish you would have known when first embarking on your artistic career?
AD: I remember hearing the famous illustrator Marshall Arisman give a talk after I had finished art school and he said something to the effect of, “paint what you know and love and you will never bore of the subject matter.” I think that as a young artist sometimes I tried to force ideas that were good ideas for someone else, but not so sincere to myself. I feel grateful to have arrived at content that resonates with me. This protects me from being too swayed by trends within the art world, allowing me to be comfortable with my work.

SH: If money were not an issue, what might your dream project entail?
AD: I know exactly what it would entail and once I get a lot of money, you shall see…

SH: Star Wars or Star Trek?
AD: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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