Fantasy meets reality. Meet the artist Adela Andea

Adela Andea is currently an adjunct professor at Lone Star College and Houston Community College. She is teaching 2D and 3D media, art appreciation and sculpture. She has been a visiting artist, speaker and panelist at Texas Tech University during the sculpture symposium along with Judy Pfaff. In 2015 she has participated with a large installation in the International Kinetic Art Exhibit and Symposium in Boynton Beach, Florida. She was a visiting artist, exhibitor and speaker for University of Texas, Odessa last fall and she was invited by the organization Zebra 3 for a residency and exhibition at the Crystal Palace, Bordeaux, France, at the end of last year. 

Adela has several permanent public installations and in progress public work commissions. The most recent permanent public project was for Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, for the Human Sciences Building.

AMM: Let’s start our conversation with a little introduction from you. What is your background? Tell us what brought you into the world of contemporary art?

AA: I was born in Romania in the 70s and moved to the United States in 1999. After spending some time working as a paralegal in California, I realized that my calling was art so I moved to Houston and graduated Valedictorian and Summa Cum Laude from the Painting program at the University of Houston. I continued my higher education in Studio Arts and I received my Master of Fine Arts in New Media, with a minor in Sculpture from University of North Texas, Denton, Texas. While earning my master’s degree, I exhibited extensively with two contemporary art galleries, the Anya Tish Gallery in Houston and Cris Worley Fine Arts in Dallas. My interest in contemporary art came from an excellent education in the fine arts, continued by gallery representation specializing in contemporary art.

AMM: Why did you decide to go down the light and neon route in your art, what inspired that side of things? Do you have a strong interest in science?

AA: I started as a painter, I majored in painting for the love of painting. But, I realized that paint or color is a perception of the eye, and it can be achieved with different materials, besides colors from a tube. When I projected the green cathode light on one of my painted objects I was startled by the effect, it was exactly what I was looking for in my art. I knew I made a leap in what I was doing. I finished with my previous work and I moved on from painting and traditional sculpture into this new medium.  I started to research into the new technologies on the market. The latest technologies on the market inspired me to create the artworks I wanted. None of my works contain traditional neon lights; it is all LED or CCFL.

I am inspired by science, when it relates to nature. My position is to create awareness of modern technologies that are environmentally friendly by means of increased energy efficiency: create the same effect but use less energy. The evolution and progress in this technical field is not an enemy to the environment but rather its biggest supporter. New discoveries enable traditional industries to create efficient processes that are better attuned to our surroundings. Adopting an attitude of restriction stands in the way of progress.

AMM: Which events or experiences in life have made the strongest impact on your work? 

AA: Looking back, I see how much my life changed after moving from Romania to the US. I think it was this new beginning and culture clash that allowed the transformation I had as a young adult. In Romania, the Revolution of 1989 started in my hometown. I got to experience life under the oppressive communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, then live through the Revolution of ’89 and see the struggles of the young democracy in Romania. By contrast, in the US life was really focused on opportunities, and changed from day to day struggles to social integration and having a successful career.

Sometimes, looking at the world with an inquisitive mind, a desire to learn and a wish to grow as a person is not enough. I was fortunate to have opportunities to follow my calling and pursue whole heartedly my artistic career. I have the support and encouragement of my family, my gallerists and other people in the field. It is not a one person endeavor.

AMM: What was the process like for learning about these materials and the equipment you need to create your works? Was that daunting at all?

AA: I am not an engineer, nor do I have many technical talents. I simply look at technology as a medium from the perspective of the artist. At times it is a very frustrating process, because I need to rely on technical expertise in order to transform my ideas into art objects. It is the place where fantasy meets reality. It is a back and forth process between finding the materials, planning a new installation with them, using their inherent qualities as the scope of my work and transforming the image in my mind into a physical reality. Most of the time the electronics and additional plastic materials are in my studio storage for one year before they successfully make it into an installation or sculpture. I pull them out to try something and then put them back. Being in a creative spur comes and goes so I have to be ready for that moment. The rest of the time I call it staying busy work and I rely on repetitive tasks that involve either cutting or gluing or filling some materials. I constantly focus my mind during this phase on how to use the materials I have.

AMM: Tell us a little bit more about the materials you use: where do you get them and briefly what’s the process for making your light sculptures?

AA: When I think about the medium of light I divide it into two categories, direct light and indirect light. Direct light comes from using the actual light elements by exposing the technology with all its physical aspects. The other aspect of the medium, the indirect light, is the transformation of the medium of light through the use of other materials that can change the perception of the light. For example, I refer here to the various plastics that veil the harsh LED lights. I do combine the two types of lights sometimes within the same piece. Overtime, I also combine several types of installations into one. This approach also seems to work, and I discover new ways to blend parts of the older installation into new exciting combinations.

I usually start with off the shelf materials. As I find usages for them, I end up needing new features or specialized variations of the off the shelf material. As my end process materials are specialized, I have developed relations with manufacturers in China and with a local customs broker. Having the materials produced to my exact specifications result in high quality and durable art installations.

AMM: You produce works in various sizes, but large-scale works are predominant in your portfolio. How long does it take to produce and install a large-scale piece? How long does the installation stay ‘alive’? Would you say your art is interactive?

AA: My intention is to create large scale environments that engulf the viewers and captivate through over stimulation by light.  By stepping in and walking through the installation the viewers become temporarily part of the artwork as they experience the artwork from inside and outside in the same time, thus challenging the notion of a fixed point of view. Environments according to Allen Kaprow are an extension of painting when referring to the issue of space. The spaces I am working with are a major consideration for how the installation will work and I take into consideration the architecture of the room as a component of the artwork.

The interactive aspect of my installations comes from the property of being environments which engulf the viewer. There is no button to press to get a reaction from the installation. But as you walk through them you feel the space around you changing with a parallax quality. The kinetic elements of the installation further contribute to detaching the viewer from current reality.

Over the years, I learnt that due to time constraints it is more practical to create installations using units that can be assembled on the site. These units have various sizes and shapes. The difficult part is to make sure they do not look like a finished, self-referential sculpture. The most intense part of the installation happens on location where I have to take into consideration all the distractions and still stay in the zone as an artist. This means 16+ hour working days during the onsite installation phase. I have to bring together in a cohesive way all the elements planned months in advance within a few days, sometimes even hours.

The installations depend on the length of the show. This varies from one month to a few months or permanent, like the public art installations. The light materials have a manufacturer specified lifetime of 50,000 hours. For an installation being on for an average of 8 hours a day, the lifespan of the light elements in my artworks is about 15 years. This means that maintenance —changing the light elements — is seldom needed even for the permanent public installations.

AMM: Your works are incredibly vibrant and full of different shapes and structures, which draw a lot of attention and interest. It’s very difficult to pull yourself away from light and neon installations! Do you aim to achieve this visual and mental magnetism with all your work?

AA: I rely on my intuition and all the contemporary art history information I learned to create something new and different from everything produced so far. The overstimulation is produced by the medium of light, but also by our infatuation with new technologies today. I play with these concepts to draw the audience towards my art.

As a guiding principle, I try to avoid repeating artworks that were already created. The light is a great fit for me as this medium is at the front end of research, development and transformation. It takes time to find that new quality in the latest LED light technologies, but when I reach that point I do believe that the art created has a dash of magic that mesmerizes people.

Formally, my projects insist on the visual transformation of inorganic into organic matter, and the blending of the organic with geometric. These aesthetic aspects of my art comment on the antithetic perception of real vs. artificial or organic vs. geometric and create the variety of shapes and structures.

AMM: In your work: does the medium inspire the idea or idea inspire the medium?

AA: My work in general is about the meaning of nature, natural vs artificial concepts, environmental issues and technological advances. By applying the dichotomy of the concept natural vs artificial, my art contemplates positively on the necessity of progress and technological advances, blending artistically the romantic notion of nature with the manmade esthetic. I am inspired by natural formations and the beauty of nature for the formal elements in my work.

Sometimes the medium tends to carry its inherited meaning into the installation. That leap from the material to the idea has to be convincing. It is a challenging situation when working with readymade consumer products. I attempt to implement my ideas by either transforming their original purpose through the use of other materials or combining materials in unexpected forms. For large installations, the overwhelming presence of some materials contributes to the transition between the two stages.

AMM: Do you pay attention to the work of your contemporaries? If so, is there anyone in particular you feel inspired by?

AA: Diving into non-traditional art materials is not a new idea, but it is the particular time and place of creation of the artwork which can produce specific investigations. The “new” art forms theorized by Allan Kaprow, assemblage, happenings and environments, captured my interest as an example of a new experimental art form at its time, which pushed the boundaries of the artistic environment. By using the latest consumer electronics and a variety of manmade materials produced for my mass consumption in my work, I am formally applying some of the principles theorized by Allen Kaprow about the artistic environment, as a formal investigation.

The use of light as an art material by Dan Flavin also extends the formal vocabulary of installation. His readymade neon fixtures, arranged to create a minimalist environment, are providing more than an aesthetic experience. Flavin is not hiding the mundane qualities of the materials, which is something I am interested in in my own work.

From a formal aspect, Keith Sonnier’s art investigates light sculptures as an individual art object and large scale installations. His use of neon in an abstract and painterly approach stands in contrast with the difficulty of the process to bend and manipulate the neon tubes. I also draw inspiration from Teresita Fernandez’s artworks that attempt to transform nature into something illusionistic and fabricated. Her installations resonate with my interpretation of nature through the discussion of the cultural fabrication of nature.

AMM: If you were to try a totally different art medium which one would you pick and what would you create?

AA: I tried several mediums before arriving at the medium of light. I found that each medium has its own fascination and in my artwork I often tried to combine them. Thus, my wish would be for a polymorphic medium to exist. Akin to how you can change the wave length of some LED elements, this new medium should be able to change from light to sound, or from solid to liquid, from smooth to harsh and so on. Such medium exists now only in my imagination; but artists in general are supposed to imagine and dream about the future.

AMM: What is your life motto?  

AA: I have noticed over the years how difficult it is for very accomplished people in their profession to stand their ground and advance by the standard of the group. I think it is always challenging to pioneer. I have told myself many times I have to prove that I am very committed to the esthetic and the ideas I am advancing in the art field. It is not easy to change beliefs, practices, even theories in the field. I receive confirmation in a very unique way that I am on the right track in shaking things. I am partially identifying with principles of objectivism, in particular with the interpretation advanced by the book — and the movie — “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand.

My favorite quote is by the journalist Shana Alexander, first woman staff writer and columnist for Life magazine: “The sad truth is that excellence makes people nervous”. This quote is posted on the front page of my website. For me this embodies the essence of finding the right career and pursuing it. It takes ambition and persistence to make it to the top and I hope to reach it and to be able to measure myself with the forerunners in the field of fine art.

www.adelaandea.com