Mari Andrews

Emeryville CA, sculptor // July 2012
I grew up in Ohio, on the outskirts of suburbia, right at the edge where things turn rural and wild. I’ve been collecting natural objects since I was a kid.

Visiting Mari Andrews’s Emeryville studio is like stepping into an old-world apothecary’s shop, where rows and rows of small glass jars are filled with specimens gathered on her hikes through Muir Woods, Point Reyes, and beyond: molted snakeskins, seedpods, smooth-surfaced stones, rusted bits of wire, tufts of moss, and more. “I grew up in Ohio, on the outskirts of suburbia, right at the edge, where things turn rural and wild. I was outdoors a lot, and have been collecting natural objects since I was a kid.” Andrews has lived and worked in this armory of marvels –part of the 45th Street Artists’ Cooperative–since 1996, making sculptural work that evolved out of years of drawing and obsessive collecting. Though drawing is no longer her focus, she uses linear materials like wire and branches to mimic the look of hand-drawn lines in her sculptures. Combining both man made and natural materials, her three-dimensional sculptures come together to create a series of primitive, but elegant symbols that conjure cave drawings or a forgotten language. Mari’s work and studio make you encounter overlooked objects in a newly intimate way; a dried leaf or fallen acorn become dazzling when seen out of context and leave you a little more curious, a little more awake to the natural world, than when you arrived.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
I like to work with annealed, steel wire. It is heated when made, therefore blackened, and softened, and is easily manipulated. I often add found materials, some man-made but mostly natural objects picked up on walks or hikes. I go collecting in many different places: I’ve spent time in the Sierras, Berkeley/Oakland Hills, and Marin, from the Headlands to Muir woods, around many of the reservoirs and beaches. I also walk the RR tracks in Emeryville. I particularly like to walk near construction sites as there is often bent metal wire there – “Ready-mades”!

I grew up in Ohio, on the outskirts of suburbia, right at the edge where things turn rural and wild. I’ve been collecting natural objects since I was a kid.

Recently I’ve been adding some Japanese paper to some of pieces, for strengthening, and to create membranes. I also make small ink or pigment drawings.

My work is an ongoing investigation of drawing. The wire works are an exploration of drawing without paper. The result is fairly abstract but sometimes suggestive of recognizable forms and objects. I’m interested in paring down forms, getting rid of anything extraneous.

My current three-dimensional work evolved out of years of drawing. As part of my process, I will often still make a series of drawings of a single image, that I then re-work and play with and allow to morph. And sometimes these drawings will be a reference for my sculptural work.

When combining wire with natural found objects I am hoping to bring your attention to these modest pods, acorns, seeds, branches. We walk by and miss so many amazing things in our world. If we can slow down and appreciate the color, texture, symmetry, the beauty of say, an acorn, maybe we can also appreciate the various qualities in our neighbors, be they local or international.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I work at a printmaking studio, four days a week. It’s a great job to have as it’s in the art world, but in a particular part of the art world– printmaking is different in that things are made in multiples and this draws a broader spectrum of people who can own real artwork. It’s a wonderful and democratic way of engaging people in art. Having this job supports me and gives me the ability to pursue my studio practice very freely. I use mostly the left side of my brain at work and that allows me to really exercise the right side in the studio.

Have you had to make sacrifices in order to live your life as an artist? Do you encounter misconceptions about that life or choice?
I wouldn’t have done it any other way but, yes, I feel there have been sacrifices. I’ve had to make choices to give up social activities to be in the studio as much as I am. That can stress out relationships. I think it’s been hard over the years for friends and partners to understand the solitude required for the work.

When you are in need of inspiration are there particular things you read, listen to or look at to fuel your work?
I get outside to a more natural setting. Go collecting.
Poetry is always a great inspiration— the economy of words relates to my liking an economy of materials. Right now I’m reading Wislawa Szymborska’s book, Here.

I’m looking at a book titled Tantra Song, a book on anonymously made Indian Tantric paintings, researched and described by a French poet. Also the monograph on Herman de Vries a Dutch artist who works in the German landscape, called Chance and Change.

Sometimes looking back over completed works and seeing how they could have gone another direction: been cut and re-assembled, mangled and rebuilt, or combined with another form or piece. This practice can break a dull or stuck moment in the studio.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
Probably the most cohesive thing I’m doing is working on a welded steel wire “alphabet” of abstract forms. In starting this series I was inspired by Native American petroglyphs— the shapes are suggestive of a pictorial significance but because they are abstract they don’t necessarily have meaning to us. The images come from about 700 of my ink drawings done over many years. I’m selecting the ones most translatable to steel wire. I want to see how the work translates from one medium to another.

What risks have you taken in your work, and what has been at stake?
Moving from drawing on paper for 20 years to sculpture is likely the big one. My construction skills are tentative, so structural failure is always possible. I had been in exhibitions as an artist who worked on paper, so this departure was good for me, my own artistic development, but was tough as far as public perception went. No one knew me as a “sculptor” and there can be a lot of pressure for an artist to keep to the same path.

How do you navigate the art world?
Hmmm…I’m pretty solitary so don’t get out much although I try to support all of my friends by attending their exhibitions. I am lucky to have a couple of dealers who exhibit my work. I manage to send out enough material to galleries that I end up in a few group shows each year as well. I’m working on expanding the network of locations where my work can be found.

What do you think is the function of art in society? Do art or artists have a responsibility to do anything in particular?
I believe art is necessary to promote creative problem solving in all parts of our human lives. It is really important that people learn to express themselves and be elevated by their creative endeavors. It’s imperative that as a society we have great artworks around that inspire us, challenge our thinking, and soothe our souls.

Artists have the responsibility to be the best artist they can be (whatever form that takes). Period.

Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
If I’m lucky, maybe Martin Puryear, Lee Bontecou, a little Eva Hesse, maybe Richard Tuttle.

Who taught you the most about art?
All the artists who have made prints at the printmaking studios where I have worked (there are too many to mention). Witnessing their creative process has been invaluable to me.

Do you have a motto?
“Trust yourself and keep working.”

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I’m in a two-person show in August 2012 at Marji Gallery, Santa Fe, NM.

I will also be in a three-person show called “Organic Intentions” in August 2012 at Art Works Downtown, San Rafael, CA.

I’m in a group show called “Captured: Specimens in Contemporary Art” in September 2012 at Bedford Gallery, Walnut Creek, CA.

I have another group show in October at The Cold Store, Norwich, UK.

I will have a solo installation exhibition at San Jose Institute of Contemporary Arts, CA in 2013.

To see more of Mari’s work:
Tayloe Piggott Gallery, Jackson WY.
Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, Oakland CA.
Marji Gallery & Contemporary Projects.

Mari’s work has also been on quite a few blogs! Here are a couple of them to check out:
You Have Been Here Sometime
The Gorgeous Daily

  • Rosa Maria Pérez Laguna

    I like

  • Guy

    Well, I can say one thing …it isn’t Rembrandt.

  • Violeta Martínez

    ó! waw! love her work! & her studiO!!! (jeje!)