There is a sense of power and energy that flows through the multimedia work of illustrator Andrea D’Aquino. Fantastical animals enact strange rituals against intense sheets of colour. Anonymous, dreamlike figures move through vibrant patchwork landscapes which seem to mirror the terrain within ourselves. Influenced by everything from Mark Rothko to medieval art, and depicting subjects from spirituality to summer outfits, Andrea constantly reinvents her creative techniques, resulting in a freshness that has made her work much sought-after. Bibelot met up with her to discuss the imporance of playfulness and making mistakes – and the ultimate dog walk.
1. How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen it before?
I feel I should have a very succinct answer to this, but not sure I’ve come up with it yet. I usually say it is playful, but not child-like. I use a mix of medias and have a spontaneous approach. It’s often collage, but not necessarily photo-based. I draw and paint, then I cut things up and see what happens – though being contrary by nature, I don’t like to stay inside any box that is too pre-defined. Whenever someone calls me a “collage artist”, I never fail to be surprised – really? Is that what I am? I really don’t know, but maybe.
2. Which book illustrations have stayed with you from childhood/influenced you?
While I’ve always truly loved books, I am not directly influenced by any specific ones. Even as a kid, I was immediately drawn to paintings in museums, anything from medieval art to Mark Rothko. It may sound pretentious, but I’ve always loved these things, whether I understood them “properly” or not. I also loved television, movies and album covers. As an adult, I discovered more exotic and experimental children’s books by people like Kveta Pacovska, so in that realm, she is a real favorite of mine, but I didn’t know it as a child.
3. Describe your working routine – studio, kitchen table, caffeinated beverage of choice, music, silence?
I find I need to start the day with physical activity – whether a dog walk or a workout of some kind. I have found there is a very real link between physical and mental energy, and I don’t feel my best living entirely inside my head. It is important to me to feel flexible whether literally or metaphorically. My “studio” is also my apartment, where I have a large table devoted to tangible art making, and a desk with computer and scanner. I jump back and forth from one to the other. I tend to listen to talk radio (NPR) all day, I tune my attention in and out of it, depending on my activity. I tend to drink lots green and ginger tea all day long. Energy and creativity kind of ebbs and flows, that’s just the nature of it.
4. What 5 things can’t you live without?
Postage stamps, mouthwash, soy sauce, tulips and lipbalm.
No, that is not serious.
Frankly – we can all live without things that we believe we “can’t”. I think it’s important not to lose sight of that. Life does not allow any of us to hold on too tightly to anything – for better or worse. You can probably live without most things, even the ones that seem most important. Better to be at peace with that. Although I’m not claiming that’s easy.
5. What gets your juices flowing as an artist?
Mostly painting, often abstract, Nicolas de Stael is a huge favorite, also Paul Klee, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler – just for example. Though as mentioned, I love medieval art for its magical story-telling quality, as well as Persian art. Inventive and unexpected uses of color is usually at the heart of what I like most.
6. You illustrated the classic children’s book Alice in Wonderland, and we think it’s something of a creative triumph. Do you have any plans to illustrate anymore? What would be your ideal children’s story to work on next?
Well, thank you so very much for that. I’m sure I will illustrate more. While I was rather intimidated by the prospect at first, I realize the challenge and a bit of fear was quite an advantage, and forced me to rise to the occasion. Sink or swim, really. There was no reason whatsoever to do any version of anything that’s been done in the many decades since it’s been published, so the only logical way to go was very personal and idiosyncratic. While I skew playful, I’m not the biggest fan of “cute” – so, I’d love to tackle another serious or challenging text. I like the grey area of deciding what to visualize, choosing the less obvious or literal aspects, and letting the illustrations provide a counterpoint.
I also like to write, and feel pretty comfortable with it, so I’m sure I’ll try that at some point.
7. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people.
I don’t know whether this is surprising or not, or simply human – but, I have bouts of wondering if my work has any focus or direction. I wonder if it’s too commercial or not commercial enough. I lose the plot on regular occasion, however, plowing through these less confident periods and continuing to work anyway, or taking a little break, but not one that lasts forever – these are the traits that I believe make the difference between a working artist and someone who simply thinks about it. Notice the voices may be there, but you don’t need to pay attention to them, and for long stretches they may be silent… until next time. Then you realise ups and downs are a normal part of the process. That process just happens to echo life. It’s not a straight trajectory, but a path with some fun, effortless passages and some pretty bumpy challenging ones as well. What was the question?
8. You’ve said that “art happens” when you work instinctively, and embrace mistakes. Do you believe creativity stems from the unconscious? Is it something we’re born with, that we can all tune in to, or does it require practice and hard work?
Most certainly, both are true. Some of the best things I’ve made are mistakes, however – this does not imply sitting and waiting is any kind of effective choice. I think all art is work, it takes effort and doing things over or just organising and experimenting without a clear cut goal or without seeing pleasing results.
Some days the work aspect recedes and you are having fun, and it feels positively effortless. Clearly, this is more fun, but the key is you probably have some slightly obsessive quality that makes you keep returning to it, either way.
9. If you had a time machine that could take you anywhere, where would you go and what would you do?
I would be on a perfect hike with my dog, that would just stay on a loop for all time, never ending.
10. You work in a lot of mediums; pencils, inks, paints and paper collage. Are there any other creative techniques you’d like to explore?
I enjoy print making of all kinds. Most of that does require a learning curve, skill and time and practice. I enjoy all of that. It does require good instruction and the luxury of space and materials to ‘waste’ as you learn. I’ve done a bit of it, but not as much as I’d like. I’d like to also work on a larger scale, but that also requires more space. We’ll see what the future brings.
Chloë Owens and Badger