Armando Adrian-López doesn’t farm anymore, but he still looks to the natural world for inspiration and materials, using corn husks, dried flowers and found objects to create fantastical winged and horned creatures.
He also paints. In fact, he’s painting as we’re chatting by phone, rendering another one of his mujeres—or women—in oil on canvas, at his studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico.
The Mexican native is the featured artist of the Tempe Festival of the Arts, slated for April 5-7 in the city’s Mill Avenue District. He’ll be set up during the event at Mill Avenue and Fifth Street, and one of his paintings will be added to the gallery inside the Mill Avenue District offices.
We chatted about the long road Adrian-López, 48, has taken from a tiny town in Mexico’s Michoacan state to accountant training and jobs in restaurants, car washes and cherry orchards, to finally settling on an 8-acre organic farm where, alongside the crops he planted, his art began to blossom.
Q: Tell us about your art. What do you create?
A: I show mixed media stuff together with oil paintings. My paintings always are women. ... I grew up with women—my mother and four sisters. My mother had only one brother and six sisters, so it really was a world of women. I grew up in a little village in Mexico, and I know the stories of all these women.
... I want to make some kind of tribute or honor to women in Mexico, because they really suffer abuse. To have a drunken man, most of them—a drunken, mean man in the house, and (to) have to put up every day with that drunken man. There are some exceptions, of course, but it’s cultural, and many of them live like that, with a nasty man in the house. … There’s a lot of suffering in it. With my paintings, I hope to liberate that woman, to liberate her and put her in a way that is beauty.
Q: As a boy, was it realistic to think you could one day earn a living as an artist?
A: I think so. It is very difficult to make an artist. I think you need to be born with that gift. People call it a gift, but sometimes I don’t know if it’s a gift or a curse. I don’t have a choice. I have to do it.
… My father was a basketball player, and he fell down dead. He was 32 years old. We didn’t have any land. There my mother was, a woman with six kids. … She started cleaning houses in the city. She was an excellent mother for me. She traveled with me into my fantasy world. Nothing was impossible. I would say, ‘I need this piece of fabric to make this project,’ and it was the only sheet we had, and she would say, ‘Yeah, go ahead.’ … I would say, ‘Let’s make a basket,’ and she would say, ‘I know how.’ Or ‘I want to make a dress for this doll.’ ‘Ok,’ she would say, ‘I can help you.’ Always.
Q: You worked odd jobs in Los Angeles for a number of years. Then a friend invited you to come farm with him in New Mexico. How did farming bring you back to your art full time?
A: It was 8 acres of farming, and only me and him. … It was farming, farming, farming and farmers markets. I started doing my baskets again and selling them at the farmers markets. … For 10 years, I was working on the farm and doing art at the same time. Three or four years ago, I missed farming, so I thought, I will do a few rows. But farming is very demanding. It’s hard. It needs your whole attention and your whole love in it. If you want to grow sweet potatoes, and you want them to be sweet, you have to be there with your sweetness, taking care of them.
Q: You use some religious symbolism in your work. Is there a particular saint or religious figure you consider your patron, or one who shows up time and time again in your work?
A: Something I repeat very often is St. Raphael. My grandfather was Rafael, so I always do something about it—Raphael all the time. One Raphael (the) Archangel in a painting or in a sculpture. He’s like a charm. And my grandmother was Maria, so all my women are Maria. Maria is a great name. Madonna and child—mother and child—I repeat a lot, too. Sometimes it’s my mother and me as a kid.
Q: A study released last year by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that one in five adults have no religious affiliation and that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion is growing. Given that, do you think there are enough people around who still understand the religious references in your work?
A: It is a very small group of people, but it always happens. It’s like a miracle. ... I’m very proud of the group of people who come to my booth. They think, they use their brains. They are not superficial. They are not looking to match the couch; they are looking for art to make them feel something.
A few women come and cry in my booth for no reason. They say, ‘Don’t take it wrong, it’s just you make me feel something.’ It’s happened about five times in 10 years. I was scared the first times, but now that I’m getting older, I can understand. It’s kind of beautiful. Crying is not that bad, especially for a good feeling.
I thought they saw my sadness in (the work), and I don’t want that, really. I don’t want to demand anything with my art. I don’t want to ask for anything. I want just to do it, just to manifest my story and the story of the women mostly from my childhood.
If you go
What: As many as 400 artist booths, street performers, and food and beverage vendors line Mill Avenue and surrounding streets for the Tempe Festival of the Arts.
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday, April 5-7
Where: Mill Avenue District in downtown Tempe
Cost: Free admission
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