Friday, January 2, 2015


CONNECTION TO NOHO: Writes "The Hidden Artist" for the NOHO Arts District website

MEDIUMS: acrylic and mixed media on canvas


I’ve often wondered how I’d respond if I were interviewed by someone like me for a blog such as this. I have to admit, when I agreed to contribute a visual arts article to the NOHO Arts District website, I didn’t know the first thing about peeling away the layers of a complete stranger to find a story. So I Googled “an idiot’s guide to artist interviews” or something to that affect and printed a wallet-sized guide to help me along. I’ve never referred to it once––not with my first interviewed artist, Nicole Palmquist (aka Booleep) all the way to my most recent, Jennifer Gunlock, thus creating the “wing it” approach, which has basically been narrowed down to this: GOD, HELP ME WRITE THIS F**KING ARTICLE!! And here I am again in the same conundrum, only a trifle more difficult because I’ve decided to interview the most hidden artist I know––me, Andrea Monroe.

When I first met Andrea, she was a shy and insecure child who often spent time by
My Bumble Bee with sisters, Susan (far left), Frances (middle),
and me (far right)
herself contemplating the creation of life. With this curiosity, she investigated all forms of plants and animals; purchasing snails and newts from the Ben Franklin store or observing the delicate wingspan of katydids and cicadas in the springtime. By third grade, she wrote a short story about an imagined princess among fanciful creatures in the forest (inspired by a classical piece of music she’d never heard before; Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major) and was published in the local newspaper. And she 
drew. A lot. So much so that at age nine, her mother scraped up enough money to send her to the Art Institute of Chicago for one semester. Andrea has always joked about the polka-dot Bumble Bee she’d made with those greasy oil pastels and the fact that it won an honorable mention from the school and toured the world––while she never had.

Flash forward through Andrea’s life. She graduates from high school (but bypasses college) to work hard, quit, or get fired from positions in the commodities field, advertising, photography, modeling, and retail fashion. Her motto is “experience everything through living life” so she plays hard too and while doing so, she creates things; clothing, jewelry, poetry, a beautiful home, and art, always hearing the distant echo of her family telling her  how “talented” she is (while she secretly wishes someone, ANYBODY, would tell her what she’s really talented at). Then she meets her future husband, moves to LA, has a son, and is eventually inducted into the film industry as a costumer which spans into a twenty year career (and counting) and with a pension to boot (the kind her father always advised her to work for, but she defied). FINALLY, in 2003, she begins to paint, showing an innate ability to exercise her creative right side of the brain while continuing to support her family with the logical left, all the while listening to another conflicting echo. Like a bad seed planted in her mind, she remembers the words of the only psychic she ever visited back in 1990 who told her, “the artist in you struggles to get out and be recognized.” And so it was for half of her life and still is. 

"Jesus" from the "Byzantine Pop Art" series by Andrea Monroe
The title for my blog, The Hidden Artist, literally came from the fact that my own work hides in two closets and on several walls of my house. Back in 2003, when I began to paint on canvas for the first time in my life, I did a series called “Byzantine Pop Art,” inspired by my religious belief that I (we) are all an expression(s) of a higher being and I (we) have the capability of expressing it in my (our) own unique way. In these paintings of Jesus, Mary, Buddha, Elvis Presley, and my rendition of the Last Supper, I crossed religious figures from my Catholic upbringing with a modernistic touch by replacing natural skin tones with unexpected colors and depicting facial shadows as shapes. One gallery looked at this body of work and referred to it as “paint by number” technique, and although they liked it, they did not represent me. About a year later, another gallery actually sold one of these paintings to an actor from Desperate Housewives for way less than I should’ve priced it with a discount on top of that, teaching me a big lesson about time and worth. This ultimately sent that first series into the depths of my closets for an unlimited sentence (although giclee copies of them can be viewed at the North Hollywood Church of Religious Science). Point blank, if I did not know my artwork’s worth, it was either priceless––or worthless––or somewhere in-between. Purgatory.
"Sirf and Turf" from the "Raw" series by Andrea Monroe
Luckily, that experience taught me a huge lesson and was the beginning of my introspection of my own self-worth. It was only later, after I painted whenever I could (in between film jobs and raising my son), the mourning of my parents’ deaths, and the realization that my marriage had increasingly become an unhappy place to be that I began to write. For one and a half years I wrote a memoir by which became the exercise and means to write a novel––a pretty funny chick lit novel called the Devil and Me that lives in a different type of closet on my computer desktop (more about that when I write a new blog called The Hidden Writer, ha ha). Later still, I finally got divorced. I’m a rare bird. I’ve used conflict all my life to create things in my life, whether it was a new job, a new living situation, or a means in which to express myself, and my divorce was no different. This is when I painted the series I call “Raw,” a symbolic almost Aboriginal-style of intense pattern and color that represented my emotional state at the time.  And just as intense are the poems I wrote to “illustrate” these paintings. And where are they, you ask? You guessed it. In the closet…and on the desktop.

"Will Rogers: I Never Met a Woman I Didn't Like" from
"The LA Series" by Andrea Monroe
That brings me to my present day endeavor that I’m just in the midst of painting. I call it “The LA Series.” Inspired by a “call to artists” to paint something about Northridge. It was then I came across a style that incorporated so much of what I love; pattern, color, history, portrait, textile, and my unique tongue in cheek expression. So far, I’ve completed biographical paintings of Doheny, Wilshire, Mulholland, Pico, and Will Rogers who all happily reside––where else? In my closet (except for "The Halversons Were Here,” the Northridge piece, because it currently hangs in The Museum of San Fernando Valley in Northridge).

In the end, you might wonder, what is she waiting for? Why doesn’t she just get it out there? Well, like the paintings were created in the first place, it was the right time for them to happen. And I guess there will be a right time for them to be seen too. My dream is for them to be viewed together because in my experience of seeing how artists display a painting here or there just doesn’t cut the cake unless its a well curated show. That type of limited exposure never seems to represent the work properly or have the public or exhibitor take the artist seriously. I also think that kind of representation gives some viewers a chance to devalue your art. My day will come. In the meantime, I write a blog about those hidden artists who might be in a similar boat as me. I feel your pain and you deserve the recognition. More than that, you need to be respected and paid what you are worth. In my case, I might have to become a “dead artist” and my work discovered and deemed a treasure trove when it's found in my closet, but in my heart, I already know how valuable it is.

Andrea Monroe has been a member of the San Fernando Arts Council, the Public Art Initiative (through the Museum of the San Fernando Valley), and has showed at several 11:11 A Creative Collection themed shows in Tarzana. And if you you look hard enough, her custom painted clogs will be seen on Lily Tomlin's feet on Netflix's new show Grace and Frankie airing sometime in 2015.  You can follow Andrea Monroe ART on Facebook.