Radio Maine Episode 6: Andrew Faulkner

In this episode, Lisa Belisle connects with California-based artist, Andrew Faulkner.  Andrew has an unusually rich lineage of creativity.  His great-grandfather was an accomplished professional artist who traveled regularly to Europe for inspiration before returning to Connecticut to paint. His grandfather, father and brother are architects. Andrew’s mother was an interior designer. However, Andrew entered Trinity College prepared to obtain a more practical education in English, or Psychology, before finishing with a degree in Fine Arts.  After a successful 30 year career in graphic design, Andrew started his “real job” as a professional artist.  Learn more about Andrew Faulkner in Episode 6.

Dr. Lisa: Hello, this is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Welcome to the sixth episode of Radio Maine. We are broadcasting from our studio on Littlejohn Island. I happen to have a lovely painting behind me that is of Littlejohn Island. And, I also happen to have with me, Andrew Faulkner, who is a Portland Art Gallery represented artist who painted this painting behind me. Thank you for coming on and having this conversation with me, Andrew.

Andrew: Thanks for having me. This is fun for me. As I was saying to you earlier, I love Portland. I have a plan to come the summer, but yes, it's exciting to be part of Radio Maine.

Dr. Lisa: You are currently located not in Maine, however.

Andrew: No, I’m about as far as you can get from Maine. I'm in my art studio in Sausalito, California. I live about 10 minutes north of my studio in Mill Valley. I'm a transplant from the East Coast but I consider myself pretty much one hundred percent California because I've been here since 1988. So all of my East Coast DNA is starting to fade.

Dr. Lisa: I’m a big fan of your current neck of the woods. I had done my acupuncture training in the San Francisco area. In addition to doing acupuncture training there when I was just starting out in family medicine, I also have had multiple family members who have lived out in your neck of the woods. It's a gorgeous part of the country.

Andrew: Yes. Marin County has, I want to say, 75% open space, protected land, where we are. There are so many trails and so much beautiful nature. At the same time, we're right next to a world-class city, San Francisco, which inspired this cityscape behind me. I get inspiration from cityscapes, country scapes and woods, the areas like Maine, and which is not that dissimilar to Lake Tahoe, which is just north of us too. But yes, it's great just living around nature.

Dr. Lisa: One of my favorite things about that area was going to Muir Woods and seeing the enormous trees, which we do not have here. Our trees are not nearly as big as the trees on the West Coast.

Andrew: They really are startling when you're up close to them and their trunks are like the size of a pickup truck. And everyone says the cliche that they're majestic, but there's really not a better word that I can think of, these huge columns and the red of the bark is just very saturated, red, brown, red, and gorgeous. We have redwoods in Mill Valley, too.

Dr. Lisa: One of the things that I remember reading about you was that you had a former career and then you chose to take on your actual, real career, which is the career that you have now.

Andrew: Yes. I kind of poke fun at that when I describe to people about having a 30-year successful career in graphic design and then I decided to get a real job and become an artist. It's funny to me because there's the cliche of the starving artist. And then the thought that painting is not a real job. But the more you get into it, and the more you take it seriously, you realize it is a real job. And I was doing it sort of as a part-time job when I had my own design studio. And it feels very different now that I have closed my design shop and I go into my studio every day as my workplace. It's just a great gift to be able to do this, but there is a fair amount of work, just keeping up with it, too.

Dr. Lisa: So, tell me what your day looks like. I know that when I wake up in the morning most days I know I'm going to get in my car, drive to my office, see patients and work with colleagues. You probably have a very different type of structure to the life that you lead.

Andrew: I do. I I'm actually in my home office now where I take care of paperwork or correspondence with galleries and such. And, I try to get that out of the way by 10 o'clock so I can go straight to the studio. And so it's 10 minutes or less to my studio and I'm there. And I have a large studio with four big windows. And it's in a building with over 50 other artists. We're all practicing during COVID. So there is a community there. It’s all been very COVID safe. We all have our own studio space. So we haven't had to worry about interacting so much with people. And, the hallways are large, so you can do social distancing. So having that during the pandemic has been a lifesaver.

Andrew: As far as my process, I generally work on three pieces at one time, and I do art prints too. I don't know if you knew that, but I do prints. And many times those smaller prints get used as sketches for larger work. My paintings can get as big as 10 feet wide. So working from a print to a painting it sort of becomes a different thing, but I'm really all about using color to define space. And so it's experimentation after experimentation to get that kind of richness to happen. And also a part of my  process is using my phone as a kind of a sketchbook camera. We talked about being around so much open space. So I'm always snapping pictures. And then I have those, sometime I'll print out the picture, put it up on the wall and that'll become the beginning of a painting.

Dr. Lisa: You and I were talking before we started talking on air about the mug that I have in my hand with a bee on it. It seems as though you allow yourself to have the freedom to not only use different sorts of subjects to focus on, like the rooftops of San Francisco or the trees, or Littlejohn Island. But you also apply it in different ways like coffee mugs, for example.

Andrew: Well, I was so excited to be asked to do this project. There's this great boutique housewares store in San Francisco. They actually have five of them around the country called Hudson Grace, and they sell just beautiful, very curated houseware. And sometimes they have things made custom. And so they had been selling some of my art through their store and they asked if I would be interested in doing a series of plates. And I just almost died because you know, I've spent some time in Italy. I love hand painted plates from Italy or Portugal. They weren't asking for anything like that, but just to have something applied to something that you use was exciting to me, and they had some concepts of what they wanted, they wanted a fleur de lis and a bumblebee. And so I was able to come up with some ideas and they loved them. And so we sorta went with it so they're on plates and on mugs for now anyway. And that's been fun.

Dr. Lisa: There must be some interesting accommodations that you have to make, being an artist who's currently located in California, but working with galleries across the country, including the Portland Art Gallery here in Maine.

Andrew: Well, sending work is expensive and takes time. And it’s very interesting to me how you can really get to know a gallery, even if they're far away from you, and they take an interest in you. And I feel that way with the Portland Art Gallery. First of all, the true story is, I'd been stalking the Portland Art Gallery for a while. And I just love going in there. And so, in their guest book, I write, “Hi, it's Andrew again, follow me" you know? And so they started following me on Instagram and and then over time they started liking some of my work, and then they reached out and said, would you be interested in just doing sort of a test runs and sell a few pieces through us and we'll see how it goes. And it was very open-ended and easy going. And so, then they were asking for more and then they offered me this show that's up now for April 2021. And so it's going really well. So I think that you know, there's a time difference and there's kind of logistical things. But I think it's been easier than I imagined to work with a gallery so far away,

Dr. Lisa: You have a very large piece currently hanging at the gallery, which I've been told that I should ask you about, I believe it's called Outlier.

Andrew: Outlier. Yes. So this is a diptych, meaning that it's two large canvases put together. It's 6 feet tall by 10 feet wide. That’s the two pieces together. And this is a very blue boat scene. Like many of my works, it's somewhat abstracted and the use of colors, what I call an invented color space. And Outlier is a scene from California. And the title is really, you know, if you look at the painting, it's mostly the blue water, and then there's these collection of boats in the left corner and there's sun on one of the boat. And I think of that as the outlier and thinking that even though you're small and you're off in the distance, the sun will shine on you someday. And I just think that's the kind of very optimistic thought.

Andrew: So that’s where the concept of that piece came. And then again, like I said, for my process with color, I just put layer upon layer and then it starts to gel in a way that makes sense to me. One of the questions I get a lot, and artists get a lot, is how do you know when it's finished? And that the answer for me is not really describable in terms of a formula or checking the boxes. It's more of a feeling, and I think many artists have that. You keep going keep pushing it and then there's a voice inside that says you can stop now.

Dr. Lisa: This piece behind me, the Littlejohn Island piece where your sister apparently walks her dogs, your sister has been living in Maine for quite some time. The part of it that is striking to me is the light; the light that's coming through the trees. And it's really a feeling more than anything when I see this. And it's a similar feeling to something I've had as I've walked my own dogs at the Littlejohn Island Preserve. Was that what you were attempting to capture?

Andrew: I think so. When you think of a light coming in, in the morning or in the afternoon, which is streaming in, you're interacting with it in a way. You're having this subconscious dialogue with earth, that they're opening, that's pouring this goodness towards you and you're accepting it or not. And so I find that light has so many characteristics like that. And the piece behind me has some interesting sense of lights, even though the building colors are abstracted and kind of funky, there is a sense of light coming from one direction and interacting with the shapes and the forms. And I find that in nature. And oftentimes I will, if there's not enough of that, I'll add some in, it's somewhat up to my imagination. So the piece behind you with Littlejohn, some of it was based on light coming from a certain direction, but in some cases I exaggerated it. Other cases I muted it and made it sort of stylized. So it is, I mean, you picked up on a theme that I see over and over again, emerging in my work, which is the sense of light and how that defines painting.

Dr. Lisa: Is there also an idea that light creates contrast? In looking at the piece behind you, it's a very kind of geometric piece with the rooftops and the squares and the shapes, but then the light softens it somehow

Andrew: It creates contrast. And also it creates a sense of place and a perspective and a place for your eye to go. I mean, I think that as much as we want to interpret a piece of art in any way that it hits us, I think that for many of us, our eye wants to be told where to go. Like you go here first, and then you go down. I mean, everyone's going to experience it differently, but I like to have a little bit of a roadmap in the art that I enjoy. And with a Rothko it's more subtle because there's large areas of color that are kind of similar in value. So I might have to work a little differently to move around the page, but even with his work, your eye sort of has a journey going through. And that's not the case for all of the art, but I think especially when you bring up light, I think that that is a tool for artists to tell the viewer where their focus is, or where the artist's point of view is.

Dr. Lisa: Tell me about this piece. That's smaller behind me, the Sonoma road piece.

Andrew: So this is from Jack London State Park and it's called Jack's Way. And that's in Sonoma and this came from one of the many hikes that I've taken with my wife. So my wife grew up here in Marin around this beautiful nature. I grew up in Washington DC near the national cathedral. And although it was not super urban, it was much more urban than out here with all these trees and such and I never went hiking growing up. I mean, that was not part of the agenda. Fortunately, we have all these wonderful museums in DC, so that was our family activity. And not that I had an aversion to hiking, but when I got married, that was kind of part of the contract is that we're going to be doing a lot of hiking. So that was understood. And it turns out, my wife will tell you that,  a lot of my really successful paintings have been out and about with her. So I give her a lot of credit. That is one of them we were, went up to Sonoma for lunch and instead of driving right back, we were invariably going to go find a state park or something and go for a hike. So that's where that originated.

Dr. Lisa: That actually makes a lot of sense to me because when I think about some of the pieces that I love the most, there are pieces that remind me of a place that I've been with someone that I care about. So there is an emotional connection to that piece. And then there's an emotion that's associated with my looking at the art. So it's an interaction with the heart. It creates something that's more than just a two dimensional viewing.

Andrew: Yes, absolutely. And it tells part of the story of my life. I mean, I am not a nature guru by any respect, but I appreciate all of the beautiful open space we have around. And so part of the story of my life of the last 30 years has been out in nature, whether it's at Littlejohn or in a park out here or in Sausalito by the boats. So that's very personal to me.

Dr. Lisa: Art is also something that has been kind of running through your veins. So it was almost as if you were almost genetically predisposed to to being artistic. I believe you have some pretty impressive art family members or an art oriented family members lineage. That's the word I was looking for.

Andrew: I didn't clear this before the interview, but I'd have a little painting of my great-grandfather's if it would be okay to show that So this hopefully there's not too much reflection, but can you see that that's Venice? 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, it's gorgeous. 

Andrew: It's very beautiful. Yes. So he also had a appreciation for light. He was he was painting at the turn of the century. He's from actually Washington, Connecticut but he would go to Venice and Paris and bring his family for months and do these sketches. What I showed you is what he called a sketch painting on wood. And then he would come back to Connecticut and get commissions to do larger sort of salon paintings from these paintings. And of course I never met him because he died way before I was born.

Andrew: But he was a professional artist and I often think about what it would be like to meet him. And then my grandfather, his son was an architect and then my father was an architect and my uncle was an architect. And my brother's an architect. So we have a lot of architects that sprang from this artistry. So yes, that's kind of part of my story too. And then I was dragged to a lot of museums, as I said as a kid, when hiking was not the go-to for my family, but museums were definitely up there.

Dr. Lisa: You went to Trinity College as your education, but you didn't start out in art, correct?

Andrew: Right. Well, I was initially an English major. And then I switched to psychology and I took a personality. It was a statistics class called personality for psych majors. And I knew it wasn't right for me, so I quit the class, but they continued to have me as listed as a student in class. So I failed the class. So my mother never lets me forget that I failed personality in college. Then I discovered art and I had actually been spending a lot of time in the art room since I started college. It kind of goes back to your original question, how did you end up going from graphic design to art and rightly so your parents and society discourage you a little bit from going right into the arts, because it's a hard life, especially when you're young.

Andrew: And so when I started college, I wanted to do a real major, art or psychology, were things that were interesting to me, but I was in the art room all the time. So I figured I might as well get credit for this. So I settled on fine art about halfway through Trinity and I had a great professor George Chapman, who was a student of Joseph Albers, the great colorist. And so he really knocked color into me for my time at Trinity. And he was a really hard teacher. Actually one of Portland Art Gallery's other artists, Paige Eastburn O’Rourke ,was in my class at Trinity College and had the same teacher. So interestingly enough, we're both students of this very strict, but very good art teacher.

Dr. Lisa: And she also uses a lot of really vibrant colors in her art.

Andrew: Yes, absolutely. Yes. I love her work. It's really fun.

Dr. Lisa: And she also has used her art in a very practical way prior to becoming a full time artist. I believe she's done illustrations. And so both of you have that kind of similarity that somehow there was this need to do something very practical before you kind of broke free and said, okay, now, now it's my time.

Andrew: Right. And so, yes, we'd both kind of been dabbling in illustration. While I was doing graphic design, I was also doing illustration for the New York Times and Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. And at one time about 50% of my workload was illustration. And then when stock illustration came on the scene and the recession happened and illustration wasn't paying as well, it just didn't make sense. But it is good training for artists, I think to have an assignment every once in a while to bring some focus to what you're doing. So that bumblebee mug was this kind of like an essay assignment for me, which was kind of fun to problem solve.

Dr. Lisa: It’s a funny thing that you're describing, funny in a larger sense, because I think a lot of people, whether they're writers or whether they're painters or whether they're photographers, they end up basically creating lives out of bringing other people's ideas to fruition. So if you're a graphic designer, you're given somebody else's stuff to work on and it's your job to make it real. But I wonder if in doing that, sometimes it can be really helpful because it's good practice. Other times do you think to yourself, okay, when is my own idea going to become real? When do I get to work on the stuff that somebody else is not paying me for at least not right this moment?

Andrew: That's a really good question. In fact, I just heard a podcast by two artists who are talking about, how you get caught up in making art that will make people happy, or that you have your audience in mind. And I think that there are definitely times where that enters into my mind, especially with my graphic design background, where I'm always thinking how can we make this work? So the client is happy. Sometimes I will see a sketch or a photo, and I'll think that will be great. But what somebody would want that versus what I want to make. I'm working on a painting of figures in a gallery right now. And figurative work is not really part of my go-to. Although I have one figurative piece in the show in Portland now which I'm very proud of, but that took a lot of struggling because I'm using abstraction. I'm doing the figure, but I'm not thinking, oh, someone's gonna want this painting of these hikers.

Andrew: This is the one in Portland or the one I'm working on now, people in the gallery. Since we've had several open studios where I've talked to people about my work and what they're looking for, paintings with figures in them can be so personal that it's not going to attract as broad an audience as a very simple landscape, which can be interpreted in many ways. So to answer your question, yes, I kind of go back and forth. I don't think there's anything wrong with making work that you think people will like, but I think that one of the ingredients of a good artist is to be able to get in touch with personal work, whether it sells or not, but also to explore.

Dr. Lisa: Well, isn't that similar to essentially having conversational skills. So you have the types of conversational skills where you go to a party and you listen to what somebody else has to say. And part of what you need to do as an individual is to also show up and have something to say yourself that they will then kind of bounce back at you. And I think art done really well is that sort of conversation. So it's not that you're kind of creating in a void, but it's more like you're saying, okay, here's my part of the conversation. Let's see what somebody else has to say back.

Andrew: Yes. And I think that I'm attracted to art that is doing that too, if they have something to say that's personal to them. That's not something that I would have maybe imagined before, you know? And so it's nice to make connections with artwork in that way, where you see something and you have a personal connection with the artist through their art without ever having met them.

Dr. Lisa: For people who may not have a chance to meet you as readily as some of the other Portland Art Gallery artists, because you do happen to live on the West Coast. What would you say is an important aspect of who you are beyond your yourself as an artist?

Andrew: Hmm. That's a good question. I mean, I think that it's important for people to know that I have this family connection that goes way back to art and that I have something to say in terms of putting a part of myself into the interpretation of landscape or interiors. But if you are looking for a really deep meaning in my work, I'm probably not your artist in that my art is really about connecting my experience in a visual way with the viewer. I do love art that has a lot of deep meaning and undertones. But I think you can tell from looking at my work that it doesn't have a lot of metaphor and so forth. I don't feel like I answered your question well, but yes,

Dr. Lisa: It’s interesting that you would describe your art as not being metaphorical or deep, but maybe other people would look at it and find some metaphor in it,

Andrew: Which is great! I'm also a big music fan and I know that I also listened to a podcast called Song Exploder, where artists are taking part their songs and talking about how they create them. And one artist, a musician whose work, I really love said if I knew what my song meant when I put it out to the public, then I would be doing people a disservice because I don't really even figure out what my song meant till about two years after it's released. And so I think that maybe I should rephrase that and say not that it doesn't have deep meaning, it's just that I'm not consciously putting out a script for someone to interpret my work. I like it to be very interpretive. And in my work behind that you have, Littlejohn also looks like a view that you might find in the great lakes of Minnesota or in Lake Tahoe and it's really nice for me when people connect to that work. And even though it's not the exact place, it's the feeling that they get from being in that place.

Dr. Lisa: And sometimes that allowing other people to exist with your art is even more powerful than being prescriptive about how you want other people to experience your art, because that's a gift that you're giving them.

Andrew: Yes,  as I said, pre COVID, we've had two large open studios a year in our building with 50 plus artists. And so it's quite a cattle call of people roaming through your studio. And so it can be overwhelming for artists at time. But what is really interesting is the reaction that people will say the most wonderful things about your work and think of things about it that you would never have thought. So it's almost like they're teaching you something about yourself. So I like getting my work out there because it's really interesting to see what people have to say.

Dr. Lisa: Andrew, I've really enjoyed our conversation today. And I feel like you've allowed me to go back and reclaim a little piece of myself that continues to exist out on the West Coast, where I went, as I told you, to learn acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine many years ago. I hope that people take the time to get to know your work online, to take the time to get to know you from a distance or maybe even go to California.  And to visit, to certainly see the opening, which is available both in-person at the Portland Art Gallery and also is available virtually. This is the sixth episode of Radio Maine.  Every time I have a chance to talk to somebody who is engaging in creative pursuits, like you, Andrew Faulkner, I feel very privileged and I'm so glad you were able to join me today on our podcast and videocast.

Andrew: Well, that's nice of you to say.  It's been nice to chat with you and thank you for promoting artist's work. It's really nice. I've watched all of the episodes of Radio Maine so far, and it's really interesting for me to get to know the artists through your questions. Obviously you have a great appreciation for art.