This week we share our studio visit with local artist Andy Faith.
Andy Faith’s artwork would fit perfectly in the setting of the Visionary Art Museum. It was a treat to meet someone whose personal sense of style so embodies the aesthetic of her art work. When we met, she wore a purple velvet cape with spiked hair, pink glasses, and a carved resin necklace in the shape of a snake’s head. Here is what she had to say about her artwork and her artistic vision.
Tell me a little about yourself as an artist.
I have always been the type of person who believes that if you follow what your passion is, then you can make things work. Do what you love, be happy, don’t worry, just chill and it will be okay.
I am a retired elementary school teacher and I didn’t start making art until I got a divorce. Then, all of a sudden, all this stuff came pouring out of me. My house looks like my studio, filled with stuff. I have always been attracted to things like rust and beeswax, and as I get older, I find that I am using more natural materials like branches and deer antlers, etc. When I first started, I was doing all this kitschy Jesus art, similar to the kind that I love from Mexico. But over the years, my artwork has evolved to be more autobiographical. All of my figures are me, and they depict my life story through various stages of aging, being single, and being a mother.
Around the time that I separated from my husband, I remember walking down the street in South Philadelphia, and there was this store there where everything comes from Mexico. I loved to shop there, and I loved to look at the sculptural work. I said to myself, “I’d really love to get that, but I can’t afford it. ” And then I started just making stuff like that. I was very whimsical and funny and people liked it. I even had a one woman show on the Downtown Mall.
I had so much stuff for art materials at the time that I had boxes and boxes stacked up in my bedroom. I had to make a pathway to get around them. And I would get up in the middle of the night and start working on two or three pieces at a time. I just had this energy and it really floated me. Doing artwork really helped me get through a very difficult time.
I also found that I had reinvented myself. I wasn’t Andy the wife anymore; I was Andy the artist. I even changed my name after the divorce to my sister’s middle name, Faith. My motto is “I have faith that everything always works out in the end,”and I feel that I represent “A” faith. I’m not any religion, but merely having faith will get you through in the end.
What are you working on now?
I usually have several different projects going on at any given time. A piece that I am currently working on is called “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” It’s about where we come from in nature and utilizes the imagery of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the main nerve in your body that hits every internal organ. This symbolizes the mind-body-soul connection and a lot of the spiritual things I have been studying lately. I’m not sure I would have been working on a piece like this five years ago, but I’ve been doing a lot of soulful work with various teachers and it has come into play in my artwork. All of the heart stuff and all of the soul stuff is an important part of my collection.
Do you have any formal training?
I remember going to the Philadelphia Art Museum when I was a kid. I went into this room, the Marcel Duchamp room. There was the broken glass piece, the urinal, and the upside-down wheel. And then he had this piece where you had to look into it, and he made you a voyeur. There was this woman inside, a sculptural thing. But that was my favorite room in the entire museum. I will never forget that, and I went back again and again to see it.
What would you call your style?
I do call it mixed media, but it is also intuitive. Because for me, it is an experimental process of deciding what works and what does not. I try to integrate different objects into a piece and make them meaningful. And different people, they see my work and they offer so many different reactions. Some people are put off by the religious imagery I use. Some people can look at my skulls and respond with fear. They say, “Oh that’s so scary!” I find it interesting that people interpret my work in their own way dependent upon who they are and where they come from in life. None of my pieces are scary to me because they come from me and I’m not scary. So my style is very intuitive.
What is your medium?
Sometimes I think that I do this art just because I love to collect things.
I have a whole crawl space at home plus two storage buildings, and my entire backyard is filled with my stuff. I’m just attracted to skulls and barbed wire and little pieces of hardware. That’s the cat’s pajamas for me.
I also use horseshoes, antlers, baby dolls, mannequins, and rust. My daughter travels all over the world, and she brought me a piece of rust from Tajikistan. I love it, and it goes really well on a piece that I am currently working on.
I have these spoke thingies that make great breasts and these portions of a lampshade that make great shoulders. I have baby doll eyeballs that I love. If you remove the face from an old baby doll, you will find that the eyes are amazing. I use old eyelash curlers, bullets casings, eyes glass lenses, animal bones, clock parts, and iridescent beetle wings. I even utilize used tea bags and I have a whole collection of teeth and partial dentures.
I am just so in love with my materials.
What is your method of working?
It’s funny because in my ad for my kids classes, I always advertise that art making is a problem solving process. And the process is so very important. I want the kids to know that there is no “wrong” in art. I will model ideas as the instructor, but I always want them to maintain their own vision and figure out a way to make things work and take ownership of the fact that they are artists, too.
In terms of artistic process, what I will usually do is choose a form, and then gather my materials. I’ll just start looking through my stuff to get inspired. My materials are my inspiration, and once I get started, the piece will take on a life of its own and become what it wants to be. I don’t usually start with a set idea in mind, so I let the materials inform the direction the piece needs to take to be completed. I’m constantly experimenting, and I like to follow my gut. I will try different materials until I know I have found the right ones. I’ll know that it’s finished when it’s finished.
Do you use photographic sources?
Not usually. I start with one thing and then keep building until I feel that it is finished. My favorite art is African art, and I have made figures that are inspired by African masks. But I try to let my materials inform the work.
How regular is your studio practice?
I try to come to the studio often. You can find me here most days. I always have multiple projects going on, so once I am in the studio, there is always something to do.
What is your favorite Bodo’s bagel?
Cinnamon raisin with coffee or an everything bagel with tomato, cucumber, and the baked salmon and whitefish salad.
~ Rose Guterbock and Aaron Miller