Gianna Andrews is a nomad painting her world—and the destinations are infinite. “I like to create tiny worlds on pieces of wood. Worlds that send your brain on a trip and leave your body behind. Dream worlds that can free your mind,” she said. Andrews is a self-proclaimed artist, skiier and nomad whose acrylic paintings take you on a colorful magic trip to the land of “hippie pow” and beyond–even if you only scroll through her Instagram feed.
But it’s not just about the art. Gianna’s story is one of resilience and taking the less than direct route to get where she is now. Leading up to her live performance this week, 23-year-old Gianna talks about her unique route to becoming an artist and how her lifestyle and skiing influences each piece.
You describe yourself as a nomad. Can you talk a bit about how you came to
that term to describe yourself.
“I identify as a nomad because I have taken a zigzag path through my early adulthood. In quest of dedicating my time towards a creative lifestyle, I like to test out new places or new ideas in search of inspiration, like living out of a cabin or out of a van. I also don’t feel overly attached to a permanent place. I like to wander on the premise that too much routine makes life grow stale. So I seek adventure both in both in nature and in art. I prefer to be on the move, in search of fresh ideas, in search of happiness, inspiration and of course, pow.
You spent the last few years on the road, living out of a 1987 van and travelling the Pacific Northwest. You are now based in Port Angeles, WA–how did you make that decision?
During my travels, I had some serious self reflection and discovered that if I actually
want to put quality energy towards painting, I needed a larger studio space to run
my business out of. Also, I like painting big, complicated paintings, and the van just
didn’t have room for this. As soon as I opened up my time,
energy, and space for work, projects and positivity have flowed my direction.
What is the medium of your artwork and what are your influences?
I use acrylics and focus on painting places I like to go. These usually have an outdoor theme and are influenced by the season. In the winter I like to paint snowy
mountains and in the summer, the Puget Sound with big volcanoes rising above. I
also almost always paint my favorite part of day, which is the twilight hour.
While you’ve always been a creative person, you are new to the world of painting. Talk about finding your art through your mountain bike accident.
When I was 21 I had a super bad over the handle bars wreck. My front teeth were dangling off, my body was abraded, and I had a burst compression fracture in my T7 vertebrae. On the long ambulance ride to the hospital I just kept asking myself, “What the hell am I going to do now?” At the time, I identified as a mountain athlete. I had just gotten back from a mountaineering trip in the Himalayas. Spending time outdoors and pushing my body was how I attained personal freedom. Once in the ER, laying on a backboard in a neck brace, through broken teeth I sputtered my question out to Rachel Pohl, whom I had been mountain biking with. Smiling, she looked down at me and said “You’re just going to paint.” And that’s what I did.
Instead of spending my recovery moping over the fact that I could no longer participate in the activities I loved, I became obsessed with expanding myself as an artist. I painted 10 hours a day, confined to a clam shell back brace for two plus months. At first it was really tough. All the drugs they had given me made my brain cloudy and it was impossible to create. Almost all I could do was smudge grey paint around to look like dark clouds. I kept repeating my mantra, “What will be, will be,” in my head, and pretty soon I was painting large whimsical mountains. I began experiencing the freedom of the places I loved to explore, all from a clamshell back brace inside my living room. Once the brace came off, I had a new mission– to find inspiration in the outdoors and return home to paint it.
Did you have any background in art or painting prior to this?
Prior to my accident, I didn’t value art in the ways I do now. Less than a year before my bike wreck, I had taken a college painting class. Yet once the class ended, my brushes became dusty in between the lines of college essays and international travel. It was almost like all my supplies and the practice I had picked up in the class were just waiting for their moment in time to be released. That moment was my crash.
On Instagram you talk about travel being the best part of your painting process. Do you usually paint what you see on trips, travel to specific locations to paint, haul your gear into the backcountry or paint from memory after a trip?
I usually need to get out and explore to find inspiration. I typically take photos wherever I go, and then once I return home, I put several photos together to form up the composition of a piece. Sometimes I have this sort of vision of a setting where time and space pop into my head, and then I don’t need to use images at all to paint this. But this is rare, its only happened to me a handful of times. I don’t really paint in the backcountry. At times, I bring a sketch book to jot down ideas. I find that I am happiest when I can be present in the backcountry, observing wonderful color, lighting, and detail. I try to soak all of this in, and then return to my studio and recreate it in my own way.
Check out her website (she commissions paintings for individuals and brands) and of course stop by the SIA booth at Outdoor Retailer to watch her paint live this week!
–Interview and story by Morgan Hope Sjogren, who writes about human powered outdoor adventures from her home on the road. While her favorite winter sport is running, she is game for anything — from backcountry skiing and ice climbing to alpine ice skating.