Andy Romero

Interview by Robert Yoder


Hi. Let me just start with an observation about your work after looking through it on your website. You have an extreme difference in scale. There’s huge, room filling things, and then there’s also these more discreet tabletop objects, they could be things you could carry. Is small an easier or more interesting method of working for you, or is it just something that happens?

I think it’s more just something that happens. I mean, some things are interesting because of their detail, and I can work small on those things. I’m thinking specifically of a couple of passion flowers I made. And, by looking at them closely, it’s its own little world to me, and there’s different things coming out in different ways and that’s so interesting, but also there’s something about tropical plants and their scale of how big they are that is really interesting as well.

What you said about them being their own little world really fits well because it seems like they are an object of devotion in many ways. The big ones in particular seem to be very altar-like at times, there seems to be a direction to approach the work, they have a frontal look about them, much in the same way that a discrete sculpture would do something like that as well. In particular, the tropical plant would have a preferred viewing, like the flower part that would be the preferred view, I guess. So you show a lot of respect going into the finished product. Does any of this stem from your travels as a missionary?

When I was 19 or so, before college, before BFA, I was a missionary in Micronesia. It was a formative experience and maybe I’m leaning on it too much like a crutch or something, but I saw plants and it was an environment that I’d never knew really existed. Then, after my BFA in Florida, there was a visiting artists that came, Rain Harris, who makes flowers out of clay, and I’d never seen anybody do that, and I guess I didn’t really even know it was possible. So, once I saw that happen, I felt like I had this permission to explore something that I was deeply interested in.

What do you mean when you say that you feel you’re leaning on it too much, or it’s a crutch.

Well it was over 10 years ago you know, and I’m still thinking about it, it’s a part of me, you know, maybe I should move on from this, but…

But maybe you’ve experienced something else in those 10 years? It’s interesting because there’s always a period that really resonates as you’re growing. And so you have this experience, and for you it happened at 19, but for other people it happens younger or older. And so having something like that, that influences and feeds your creativity, it’s not a crutch, nor is it leaning too much on it. I think it’s only a crutch when it becomes a habit. You can see some artists are basically making the same painting for the past 10 or 15 years; that’s when it becomes a crutch. You had that experience, and now you feel like it’s fully being investigated, particularly with the time that grad school allows you. Well, maybe you’ll never make another flower again and it would be out of your system, or you could go on to do it for another five or 10 years and still never find the entire answer that you were looking for.

Yeah, it’s a difficult subject to get bored with because there’s so much variety and there’s never ending possibilities of subjects that I can study and learn more about the different structures that I haven’t seen in different ways, things like the anatomy, the way that things are pollinated, and the resulting structures are never ending so I have the freedom to combine them.

Another interesting part of your work is where you combine the real organic material and put it on or beside the fake organic and blur that line of reality. When doing something like that, do you feel that there is a hierarchy in the material? Is one of them more important than the other?

One critique I’ve received from my work is no matter how much time I invest in something, getting the texture of flower petals, or the leaves, or the color, it will never be as good or as compelling as what’s actually out there in nature. I mean, the fact is I can’t make anything that’s alive or that can produce and grow and has an actual life and yet I kind of imitate that.

Is it a goal for you to equal nature?

No, I can’t. I can’t. No, because it’s impossible.

So when you approximate it, is it out of respect or out of curiosity or just wonder?

All of those things, but mostly respect. I’ve been reading about the theory of biophilia. It’s this theory that all humans have a natural inclination to interact with life, especially plants and animals. And I feel drawn to be in nature and then, well, we’re in Washington and you can see Mount Rainier in the distance, and I can sit on a bench, and I cannot help it but feel this peace and serenity in this awesome beauty.

Was that involved in your decision to come to school here?

When I was looking for schools, I was interested in places that would have interesting plants. And, as far as plants go, it’s not like the most varied place. I was in San Diego for a couple years previously, and you can get almost anything to grow there, so that was pretty ideal as far as going out and finding things and being inspired by things. Being in Seattle definitely has some dramatic kind of background views, and it seems like it’s very pro-nature here. It is pretty amazing that you don’t have to go very far to feel like you’re in the middle of the forest.

There is an awful lot of order similar to cell division or the way the flowers grow. There’s also a huge amount of chaos going on, especially when I think of the first sculpture of yours I saw, the giant palm tree that was melting. And viewing it kind of makes you apprehensive because you know something is going to happen, you just couldn’t tell when, but you could sense it coming. So there was that tension and a lot of that seems to spill over to more static works. How is that kind of inability to control the outcome important? How does that fit in with with what you’re doing?

It’s definitely been a progression of how I got to this point. I was used to making more static things, and then I realized the subject of plants and flowers aren’t static, they have a life and a death, and I wanted to represent that better. It’s amazing to spend so much time making a sculpture and replicating that in my process. In this plant I’m making for my final, it has over 200 leaves, and they are all about 10 feet long and it’s taking forever. I recreate that meticulous order, and I’m going to set it up outside in a way where it’s going to disintegrate. It’s interesting to put all this time and effort into it, to set up this order, and then just let it have its own life and see what happens and hope to make a metaphor of how things are in nature, that they don’t live forever.

Do you think in terms of the memento mori? Looking at your work, they seem right at that edge of most ripe, or most potent, and that if I turn my back, they’re going to start to decay or, if I come back tomorrow, they’ll be wilted. How do you arrive at producing them at that moment versus maybe their birth or their death?

Yeah, I have thought of that directly. I have looked into those still life paintings, so portraying them at their peak of beauty is just the natural attraction. It’s being beguiled by it, because that’s what it was for me to see them. It takes more effort to be like, no, I’m not going to include maybe some more decay or other stages of its life. Because it seems if you make a beautiful rose…

Then yes it’s beautiful, but it really doesn’t say anything or do anything and you can’t, like you said earlier, you can’t do anything that’s as beautiful as a real one. So you have to put the hand of the artist into it somehow. And so you have to encourage the viewer to watch this time period. Does that mean you want the viewer’s participation to be a very important aspect of the work?

Thinking about what other people will get out of it? I don’t know. I mean, I think there is part of me that is really interested in people getting this sense of loss especially with the most recent works, where things decay or melt in front of them.

And maybe that’s what I mean by the viewer participation; you’re kind of pushing them to that particular emotion.

It’s like when you are first demonstrating throwing ceramics to students. You make a pot and then you cut it in half and everybody gasps.

Because you just destroyed something.

Yeah, you just destroyed it! And that’s the work I’m making. I spend all this time, and then it kind of destroys itself. I am interested in why do we hold on to things? Nature doesn’t. I’m hoping that the sense of loss is just the first step into appreciating why things are the way they are, why things don’t last forever, to seeing the beauty in it.

So is stuff like entropy, something that you’re always aware of or partially aware of or even interested in?

Yeah, I’m trying to be more and more conscious of that. Being in graduate school has really been one of the most difficult experiences I’ve gone through, and I know that there’s value in everything. There’s value and there’s beauty in the ugliest and the worst things that can happen. There’s a reason for it all. I talked to a graduate student who is studying cancer and the different new approaches of battling cancer. I asked him, is there anything beautiful about cancer? Is there anything that can be seen as aesthetically pleasing or valuable in any way, and he mentioned the protein structure, the way that they communicate, like those structures are complex and absolutely astounding. I like that.

You don’t have to like it in order to appreciate it. The work that I see here has some form of beauty that is coming up from some form that is not as physically beautiful. But without that ugly part, the beauty part wouldn’t be able to exist. So there is a symbiotic relationship, I guess.

Yeah, I’m hoping that people will see that.

You said grad school’s been tough, has it been a dramatic change from what you were making when you first started versus now, or has it just been a difficult learning experience in general?

I am making things that are much different than what I would have ever thought of because of this program.

This department as a whole has some really incredible professors and they’re not out to punch you, but they don’t sugarcoat a lot of things. I think that that in general is a much better way of teaching. I think when they’re tough is when the student gets the most out of it afterwards. Congrats on going through two years of that. What are you going to do after graduation?

Just being an artist at all is going to be tough. Things are ambiguous. I don’t know, you can’t rely on anything. I’ve applied for lots of teaching jobs and residencies, but…

In fact, getting a teaching job would be tough at any point, but schools are not even certain that they’re going to be open at this point; that’s got to add another layer of anxiety.

Everything’s always worked out for us in the past, you know, we’ve been in kind of similar situations and it always works out. So I’m not too worried. I’m going to keep making art.

Do you think you’ll stay in this area?

I would like to. I really love the cloud cover you know. It’s gotten to the point where if I wake up in the morning and it’s sunny outside I feel kind of down.

I agree completely with this. I’m not a sun person very much myself. Is there anything you feel that we haven’t discussed that you’d like to make sure is a part of this interview?

There is something that’s central to why I work. As you know, I am a religious person, it’s the reason why I’m an artist. As far as the influence of the subject of my work, I don’t know how influential plants and flowers are but I am thinking about it.

Is it important for me as a viewer to know this about you?

That is a good question. I mean it’s so important in my personal life, but does it really matter for the viewer? I don’t think so. You know, I have a lot of respect and reverence for things in nature, and that is the foundation of what I do. Does that matter for the viewer, maybe not. The only time that it did matter is there were a couple of things I’ve made here that were specifically religious. There’s like this eight pointed star sculpture that was part of a performance and there’s also this still image of me standing next to it covered in what looks like blood, and I was just wiping it, cleaning it with my body. And that was one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done.

Because you were in it?

I just felt like it’s almost sacrilegious that I was kind of representing Jesus doing this and… I mean, I’m glad I did it, but…

How was that received?

I think it was really well appreciated.

Have you done other performance work before? How did this happen? I mean if you’re just making objects one day and then suddenly you put yourself on the pedestal with them, something must have happened.

Right. How did that happen? It started out, you know, I was doing these drawings with clay and then watching them dissolve as I sprayed them with water and the way that they kind of melted away was really compelling for me. The color would get brighter and then it would drift and fade, you know. And so I thought, how can I show this process as a work, and then it just spiraled.

There is one other artwork, it’s kind of a rectangle that looks mounted to the wall with some stuff that has dropped from it. Was that a performance as well?

That is the first piece I did that had somewhat of a life of its own. That’s when I first started, you know, experimenting with non-permanent sculpture. Inside the box is a heat gun and the debris on the floor is wax.

So the heat gun inside made the actual sculpture destroy itself?

Yeah, it melted off the wall. It was like a kind of a cathartic experience because that’s kind of how I was feeling at the time.

Was it a finished piece when you first turned on the heat gun? Or was it finished when everything had melted?

That’s a good question. I don’t know if it’s even finished now because I can still take all the wax and recast it into something else, so it has a continuous life.

There’s many ways for artists to work. Is your method of working, in general, to have a finished object that is, for better or worse, a commodity that can be sold and collected? Or is it to produce something that is an experience for the viewer and has its own lifespan and then that’s it for that piece, it’s gone.

So my research here has culminated with that idea of creating an experience rather than a commodity. And I don’t know if I’ll continue with that, I mean, because it is nice to make some money.

True. Yeah.

But I do think that is definitely where my heart is. If I just make commodities for a living, that doesn’t seem very fulfilling.

Right, right. But even with this one, where the the heat gun melted it from the wall, it could have been an object that you sell to me and then I get the satisfaction of turning on the heat gun and completing the piece knowing that I also get to put something into it. It’s not that it’s a collaboration, but there is an involvement from both parties and that makes commodity sound less dirty. Ultimately I think if you do what your heart says you should do, you will find others that will appreciate it and you’ll all benefit from it. Not to say that turns it into a commodity, and that’s probably not the best word for all of this, but there are ways of doing what you enjoy and making a living at the same time.

That’s really encouraging. There is a point, before it collapses, that I want people to see it and to know in that it also has another stage to go through.

It’s incredibly enlightening to hear you talk about all of this.

Thank you.

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