I’m a huge believer in making art for art’s sake. Taking photos that no one is going to pay you for. Shooting films that aren’t commissioned or funded. Writing words that the world may never read. I’ve said before that doing and making always trumps talking about it, but there’s also a difference between the doing and making that pays the bills and the doing and making that brings joy, that hones craft, lights creative fires, and that brings meaning to your life. This is personal work. This is creating simply for the act of creating.
Andres Amador (pictured above) falls in that latter category and yet is hugely inspirational across ALL walks of artist-friends of mine. With nothing more than a rake as his brush and the beach as his canvas, he creates huge and beautiful geometric patterns on the sand – patterns that last only as long as the tide permits. (Patterns not unlike those made by snow artist Simon Beck, whom we spoke to some time back.) Recently the California-based creative’s sand art projects passed across my desk and I carried his inspiration around with me for several days – I simply couldn’t shake the concept from my mind. He’s clearly an artist whose work speaks to the emphasis placed on process – the act of making, with an acknowledgment of the value we derive from that making and from the ability to appreciate something – even something entirely fleeting.
After days of pondering, I arrived at the belief that it’s his approach / attitude / priority toward creating + making for the joy of creating, and having a point of view about that which was so compelling. And I’ve come to believe with great conviction that this is a characteristic shared by all the most creative people I know and the most successful artists – the process alone makes the juice worth the squeeze. Sure there’s other stuff at play, but all great artists take joy / pride / love / appreciate the making process. (Thx to my pal Rick for the juice/squeeze saying ;))
Looking back – not all that far – I think this is what’s missing from 90% of the photographers who ask me to review their work. The awareness – through the work or the artists attitude toward his or her work – whether or not the work is for the works’ sake or some other masked reason. I think as art appreciators, we can smell the intention and it’s either authentic and hooks us, or it’s not.
Creating temporary art brings that right to the surface. And so as a maker of temporary art I wanted to find out more about Andres’s work. The results are the following interview. I tracked down Andres and asked him a few questions about his work and his process. My personal take-aways from my Q&A with him unlocked several key insights for me – check the interview below:
Andres, thanks for taking the time. You’ve really caught the world’s eye with your work. Certainly mine. Every artist has an origin story. Let’s hear yours:
I didn’t start pursuing arts with any seriousness until I was 28. I went to college studying environmental sciences. When I came home to San Francisco from serving in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, I soon became involved with the underground music and arts culture. My first trip to Burning Man marked a turning point. There I became friends with a group of people with whom I would go on to spend nearly 7 years exploring the arts. We formed a performance and arts troupe, living together in a run down building in the Tenderloin where we held arts and music events, bringing together a wide range of expressive styles. During that time the beach art began.
It happened during a trip to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. I went there for a month, bringing with me books to study ancient geometry. I was looking into the realm of sacred geometry in order to speak with people about the sculptural art I had been making for the past several years, creating large installations for festivals. The sculptures used geometric supports and I was often asked about their meaning. With a friend I made a 2 day hike to a remote beach called Kalulau Valley. With an intense backdrop of deeply gullied lush green hills on one side (the opening helicopter scene in Jurassic Park was filmed in this region) and a solid curling crystal clear wall of beach breaking waves to the other, I did an internal journey for several days. On one of those days my friend and I were playing in the sand with our walking sticks, doing calligraphy as we had seen in the movie ‘Hero’. That led to drawing designs, which led to drawing circles. The geometry I had been studying came to me and I started explaining what I had been learning- the circle representing the unity, the 2 overlapping circles representing the multiplicity, the 3 overlapping circles creating the triangle, the first 2 dimensional form, and so forth. It was though I was hit with a bolt from the heavens – I had a vision that I could do enormous designs such as I had been studying and I could picture exactly where I would do them, at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, with it’s wide flat beach. It was several weeks more before I could actualize what I had envisioned (the Kauai beaches being far too narrow and steep, with coarse grains that dry too quickly). When I got home, I immediately went out to the beach to see if my vision was true. The first run was a product in the moment, using my hand to make the marks. The next time I went back several days later it was with the tools I continue to use to this day and done near the cliff so I could look at it from above. The second piece was huge, I was off to a running start.
I imagine you feel an instinctive attraction towards the sea. Can you talk about that? When did it begin? How did it manifest itself?
There are two types of places I feel drawn to- the ocean and mountains, especially mountain rivers. I particularly love where the coast meets the mountains. The ruggedness, the drama. It was at such a location that the beach art was born. I have loved to explore coves, with their tumbled boulders and spire outcrops in the water, tidal pools and mussel encrusted reefs. I can spend the entire day at the beach. And I love to explore mountain rivers- huge piled boulders, waterfalls and pools, steep walls. Both locations are products of water, constantly moving water.
Growing up in San Francisco, I would often explore Land’s End, an area along the SF coastline with steep cliffs and hidden beaches. But it was not until the art on the beach that my life began to revolve more deeply around the ocean. Several years ago I moved inland, several hours from the ocean, to live on a family farm. My heart feels at peace on the farm, yet I feel the call of the ocean. It’s only been since moving away that I can recognize my desire to be near the ocean, where I have lived most of my life. My desire is to live near the beach again, perhaps in the Stinson area north of San Francisco.
There’s an inherent impermanence to your art, much like a Buddhist mandala. In this way it’s almost the complete opposite of a photograph. If our ideas and projects are our babies, how to you come to terms with the reality that your babies get routinely – and literally – thrown out to sea.
It feels more like my ideas are birds that I am setting free. It feels good to release them and allow them to be expressed and let go. Where do the ideas come from? Inspirations come from all around me, but it can sometime feel as though the ideas are simply moving through me, and I am their scribe. I actually find it a relief to actualize an idea, to get it out of my head and allow it life. I am then allowed to move on to the other ideas desiring expression. Having the ocean wash the work away can be frustrating when I am not yet finished, especially when I have worked hard and perhaps bitten off more than I can realistically chew. But the waves are also an essential aspect of the art in that they clean the beach and leave with me a freshly prepared canvas for my next visit.
I can’t claim to be a Buddhist but I have been influenced by its philosophy. The art is a focus on process over product. The act of doing the art brings me joy and whether or not a piece turns out as desired I feel complete with the experience simply for the opportunity to do it. The beach art has brought me into contact more than anything else I have done in my life of the impermanence of anything we can do, anything that humans can do, anything that ever exists. In the face of certain dissolution the question becomes, why do anything? My garage is filled with past arts. I can’t let them go, for they are dear to me. But the beach art I can’t hold on to. Knowing that the art can’t last has had me focus on the ‘why’ more than any other arts I have done. I find the ‘why’ to be the challenge and joy I feel in the doing of it. Its about being in the moment, which is a very Buddhist perspective. (as is non-attachment, of course!)
Although many incorrectly assume that much of the magic behind a great photograph is the combination of serendipity, quick thinking and a good eye, in fact there’s a TON of planning that goes into a shoot, and getting that single money shot. I think the readers would love to know how much of your art is preconceived – or planned – and how much of it is “go with the flow.” Talk process.
Good question. Of the hundreds of artworks I have done, there are only a couple of dozen that are truly beautiful images as photos. Not only are there the factors of happenstance of location, weather and lighting, the art itself may come out really great or may not meet my desires. I time the artwork to the tides, but I must also be aware of when and where the sun might be – the images are not nearly as vibrant after sunset, for instance.
Until very recently I have been relegated to the photographic vantage points that a location might offer me, which has been limited. This would dictate how the art could be positioned and the area I could use. Recently I have acquired the capacity to take photos from the sky via a remote controlled helicopter. This has suddenly given me the opportunity to truly utilize a location, to create an artwork that works with the whole landscape. I am just beginning the exploration of what this offers me, and I’m a bit giddy with excitement over the possibilities. Now more than ever I will be able to play with design placement and work better with the rising or setting sun to maximize the images I can capture.
Ultimately, it is ‘go with the flow’ as I must always work with what I am provided. There is very little control I can truly exert so I am always adjusting to the conditions present and making the best of what is happening.
How much location scouting do you do for your art work?
I do quite a bit of scouting. The tough part is that the only time I can get an accurate assessment of a location is during the kind of tide which I would actually do the art. So I am risking a good art day in order to check on a location. Thus I am ready to do art at the location and simply work with what I have available. Also, all beaches shift during the year. When I have a commission to do I often must scout a previously known location to see if it can still work for me.
While we’re on that subject, do you ever travel to distant beaches SOLELY to create your sand art?
Yes. I have traveled the California coast in search of good locations and there are several many hours away that I would go to for they are so nice. There is a lovely beach in Point Reyes with a waterfall emptying on to it that was several hours of walking to reach. And there is a huge beach, the largest I have had the chance to work on, south of Half Moon Bay that requires using a rope to assist in scaling down the steep hill and then a 1/2 mile walk to get to the starting spot.
On your website you advertise that you do commission work. Tell us a little bit about that.
I’ve done all sorts of work using the beach art. A big one for several years is creating marriage proposals. I might have rolled my eyes at that thought previously, but being part of such a moment is really quite special. I have done celebrations, working with guests to create together, and i have done memorials, helping to facilitate ceremonies. I have done several commercial commissions and am working on few at the moment, one being the creation of imagery for a clinic specializing in spinal care. I enjoy seeing how the beach art can be used, but the commissions bring me anxiety as I am unable to simply ‘go with the flow.’ When I am being paid there is the desire for payoff and the pressure is on.
How do you keep your work fresh and new?
There are times when it feels as though I am groping for what to do. But I have only to dip into my cache of ideas that I keep – photos of interesting patterns, cultural designs, and past sketches. I find that new directions are constantly coming to me. I am actually unable to keep up with the possibilities. The problem I sometimes face is that I seem to lack the time to develop the ideas as far as I would prefer. Also, the aerial photography capacity has me feeling like I have entered a new universe – the possibilities feel almost overwhelming. I have many years of exploration in the beach art, a lifetime, potentially, which is a comforting thought. Off the beach I have been using the same principles while using other materials. The main form this has taken is using straw, which is plentiful, cheap, and biodegradable. There is much to explore in this direction as well.
Is it possible for you to go to a beach, kick back and just relax?
Not really Well, yes, when I know it won’t be a good tide day or the beach is not suitable. My recent trip to Mexico was this way often – the beaches were not so good for my purposes, so I stopped bringing my rakes.
I’m finding that there is a larger message coming through me. The success I have found in doing the art I do stems from engaging something that brought and continues to bring me joy in the act of doing it. I could never have set out to get to where I am with it. It was an outing by outing process which invigorated me and spurred me on to do more. I’m wanting to encourage others to follow that which brings them joy, regardless of the perceived outcome, for the process, the act is all that truly matters. It’s a lesson I bring to the rest of my life and I am grateful for its guidance.
For more of Andres Amador’s story and artwork, find him across these channels:
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