Michelle Andrade: Beyond Words
Written by Genie Davis
Michelle Andrade exudes wit and whimsy, seizing and turning and transforming words that might be considered merely conversational or even cliché into something that amuses, attracts, and then strikes sharp into the heart of near profundity.
Intricate drawings, opulent patterns that remind a viewer of pop art in the 70s, pithy sayings, quick reflections, bright colors, flowers, and linked, puzzle-like images make up the body of Andrade’s work.
Despite the retro bright colors and patterns of her work, the anxiety, tension, and yes, dread, often exposed in the words that are the focal point of her art, seems right at home in today’s current socio-political landscape. In a recent group show at Blue Roof Studios, Efimera, Andrade’s palette was vivid as ever, her words as defiant and often flippant. The curatorial notes of the exhibition explain that it highlights human resilience “and different ways communities have survived through ever-changing challenges.” This fits Andrade’s work perfectly and specifically – there is a gallant sense of resilience, of strength, and accepted challenge in her work.
There is also optimism and even joy in the colorful visual images; her words may bring smiles, but their deeper meaning – and the meaning within her vivid images, compel us to look beneath the layers of optimism and hope that we have painted around ourselves like armor, and culturally be accustomed to donning. What is there beneath this protection? Insecurity and a sense of powerlessness, perhaps; a grasping at the straws of our own humanity, anger, fear, struggle, and ultimately achievement.
Whether she is beseechingly, manipulatively insisting “Be Happy for Me” while flowers and stars burst like fireworks against the phrase; or she is presenting a hot pink, bursting-from-the-work understatement of the year with “I’m Glad You’re Not Dying,” Andrade offers a fresh perspective on our embrace of the banal and mundane.
Do we really converse, whether through words or thought, in cheerful clichés or angst-ridden standards? Is even what we think we feel suspect?
Some works offer bold, relatively simple, if packed patterns of geometric shapes, flowers, stars, and the like, with vintage Peter Max-styled phrases. Others are crammed with vivid colors, a mosaic of minute images that make every interpretation, every reading of the work into a complex adventure. These more richly visually detailed works are like an explosion of drawing, an intricate emotional map that subjugates rather than emphasizes the catch phrase or words she features in each of her images.
Many of her works are drawn and painted on lined or graph paper, as if she were passing off this detailed, pointed work as a mere doodle in a college notebook. Of course, she protests too much – everything about the work is perfectly crafted, a pop dream that evokes both a simpler time and a similarly tension-filled existence as that in which we find ourselves now. The crucial difference is that as viewers we are at least putatively more self-aware.
And each work is visually linked but unique. Andrade gives us a maze of geometric and floral images in which she practically hides, in a kind of Where’s Waldo of words – the pointed decision “I’m wishing you away.” Within this maze are other words – a time of day, an admittance “I’m scared,” commands to “Stop” and a hope to “please leave.” It is a perfect encapsulation of our anxious, driven, “now.” Andrade also offers simpler patterned backgrounds from which a clear, single phrase leaps, as in the droopingly rendered “Lacks Motivation,” which includes the image of a skull with flowers in its eye sockets.
In short, Andrade, with her bright palette, and smart/sad/funny/mad plays on words, is rendering poster art for our lives, the kind we may find tattooed on our hearts rather than pinned on our walls.