What are three words that describe you? 

Loyal - Organized - Lover of Flowers

What was your first artistic memory?

I wrote poetry. I was 8 years old and I would draw pictures to go with them. My parents would buy me oil paints and my father would cut up plywood for me to paint on, but they didn't send me to art classes. As I was growing up I exhibited interest in art and in music and they [my parents] just kind of gave me tools without giving me instruction, which is probably the best thing they could have done. 

When did you realize you wanted to become an artist?

I don't think one decides to be an artist, I think you are born one - either you want to create or you don't. I think things come full circle, you may go to school and get an education to become a lawyer but inside you are an artist, certain people are too afraid to do the thing that they are passionate about. I have always felt that I was an artist, but I unfortunately felt this pull to go to college and get not an art degree, but just a degree in something that interested me - an education, not a vocation. Being an artist is something that has always been a part of me.

In my 20s I started to give it more space and started to take art classes, along with working as a paralegal. I had a 9-5 job and would take art classes on the weekends. I built a little studio for myself in my house and just started painting.

Why do you create? What's your message? 

I create because I have to. It's something that I feel is necessary to be a part of my daily living, it's a part of who I am. If I didn't do this then I would be an athlete, there is something about the expenditure of energy that has built up, like a message that one has - if I can't complete something visually then I have to go out and cycle, bike, or walk many many miles because there is this burning energy that has to get out of me. Art is one way of spreading that message of who I think I am. 

What would you be if you weren't an artist?

I was a nationally ranked racerunner when I was younger. When I was in college, I waitressed in order to get by - I would get off at 1 am and then I would get up at 4 in the morning to go do a marathon. In retrospect, all of that physical activity was just a way to burn the energy of what I wasn't doing. I think that being an artist takes a lot of attention and a lot of energy to making the thing. There is a lot of internal buildup; research, thought, process work - so when you sit down to do it it is almost a relief because you are letting that out of you. The only way I could burn that energy back then was by doing athletic competition. I think we all have the source energy, it just depends on how we choose to expend it. 

Why photography as your medium of choice? 

I feel photography is the easiest way for me to communicate the issues that are most important to me. Simply because it is a quicker mode of expression. I like to sew on my images, which takes hours and hours to do, but initially photography is the background and the layer that starts the process to do everything else. 

When or where do you get inspired? 

I think within Southern California we are all kind of pulled to the desert. We are pulled to these particular landscapes that we live with, that say so much about who we are and where we live. There is something really powerful about the desert that pulls me there. So, I feel inspired by our own landscape.

Photography is the best way for me to express displeasure with what's happening to our environment, global warming, our current administration - which is in denial, - the attack on the EPA, all those things make you feel the weight of what's really happening to where we live. There are pressing topics that sit on us and being out in our everyday environment inspires you to think about the things that you can change. 

The environment wasn't always a big focus in my work. I am a breast cancer survivor of 14 years. Surviving cancer really kind of makes your shift your priorities and makes you understand the nuances of living. I took my mother to Alaska on one of those really hokey cruises and being in that environment woke something up inside of me - I instantly felt a connection. I haven't been able to stop feeling that necessity to be outdoors and to communicate that extreme energy that I feel when I am out in the landscape. In a way, nature helped heal me. When you finish your treatment, no one tells you how to be a survivor - they don't teach you how to emotionally deal with surviving. I felt that being outdoors helped me deal with that spiritual relationship between the surviving self and your environment. I feel that nature is this gorgeous, seductive tool.  And when you combine that seductive image with science and fact – melding them together – then when someone looks at your work, it is not about "I am looking at science" but rather "I am looking at the spiritual connection between self and land," which might bring them to be an activist within their own community. 

What are you working on right now? Any exciting upcoming projects?

I am working on a 140 ft long mural for the San Diego International Airport. It is all in infrared of the California Desert. My inspiration for this mural was the Mars Rover expedition images - the way that it would go around structuring the photographic or the panoramic of the environment looks so much like California. The way they compiled it, allowed the panoramic to be organic and shaped like an arch. I am really into the images that show arch and shape, a sculpture within a sculpture. 

Within 50 years the Anza-Borrego and the Joshua Trees are going to be gone. That's all dying from a lack of water. So, this is a way to talk about what is happening through our issues of lack of rain, is to point to, in a very seductive, beautiful way. But yet it is also organic and chunky, not a beautiful panoramic, but a panoramic that challenges the viewer in height and shape. It actually is going to be outdoors on a road, people will be driving by it. It'll be happening very fast in your subconscious. It's meant to challenge the perception of shape and environment.

What is success for you?

When someone tells me that they get it. That they are so touched by a work and they get it. When you don't even have to say anything to them - that to me is success.

Your fantasized collaboration?

I am really into Mary Iverson. She's based in Seattle and is also an environmental artist. She paints and uses a lot of geometric lines in her drawings which lend into painting. She uses found imagery, found postcards, she will even paint her backgrounds but then she is very tactile with the work and draws on it with these geometric lines and then paints these containers. It's all about the environment, all about nature, and the devastation that we are experiencing. 

I also like Sheila Hicks, she's the grandmother of textile art. In the 50s she went to Yale and got an MFA in Painting. Then she got a Fulbright and went to Mexico for 4 years to study textile work and photography. She's from Nebraska, but now lives in Paris. She's an artist that also spans a lot of interests that I have, and her textile work is just mind-blowing. God, I just really love looking at it - it's inspirational. 

Artwork by Sheila Hicks

What would you imagine your last words to be? 

You know I have to tell you, when you are going through chemotherapy, you... I just have known people who have died of cancer, and their last words, usually, aren't what you would expect them to be... so I cant even begin to fathom what my last words would be. I would hope my last words would be a surprise and a gesture towards the infinity. I do believe in reincarnation, that we go to the other side and recollect who we were here and what our lessons are and in order to come back and do it all over again. So, I hope my words would be like "oh, there you are" as I am stepping into the other side and seeing everyone that I have been connected to in this lifetime. 

Adriene Hughes is an artist based in San Diego, CA.  

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