Andres Amador, a San Francisco-based artist, has been sketching large-scale drawings on sandy beaches since 2004. His patterns include geometric motifs, mandalas, and aquatic currents, all of which vanish when the waves return to shore. While he began his environmental art business in Northern California, he currently does work on coasts all over the world.
“The Earthscape Art series has been the center of my work for the past 15 years, inspired by my studies of calligraphy, ancient architecture, and science in many fields,” Amador adds. “At low tide, when the beach is visible, the artwork may extend over 100,000 feet.” These sand etchings establish a relationship between the art and the environment, as well as between the artist and his own work. The ephemerality of Amador’s approach compels him to ponder issues other than it. “Through this creative form, I’ve learned to cherish the meditative process of creating for its own purpose,” he says. “The entire act becomes a meditation on living in the moment, on celebrating and accepting life and death.”
We spoke with Amador about his Earthscape Art series and how he approaches these massive sand artworks. Continue reading for an exclusive interview with us.
How did you get started with sand art?
I used to do sculptural work before I started doing landscapes. That piece turned out to be really geometric. I wandered into looking at strategies that our ancient predecessors might have used to develop their massive temples and buildings while analyzing the forms I was producing. Crop circles use many of similar approaches, so my attention was pulled there as well. Then, while on the beach with a friend, sharing what I had been studying, it immediately occurred to me what may be possible with a canvas as vast as what the beach could give.
The majority of your designs are centered on patterns. What inspired you to create these abstract pieces?
Nature is my greatest source of inspiration. For the first several years, I concentrated on geometric art because it was my first foray into large-scale creation. By this point, my research had shifted to fractals and natural patterns. My geometric work was a major source of concern for me. They appeared to be stagnant and dead, whereas these new fields of inquiry appeared to be vibrant and active. I’ve always been drawn to nature but couldn’t figure out how to interpret what I saw. Then I had an insight that in nature, processes are taking place, and the pattern we perceive is the consequence.
For example, at a certain temperature, moisture in the sky will precipitate and create a cloud. When the temperature rises, the water evaporates. Rain may fall if the humidity rises. It’s a dynamic process that may be experienced by watching clouds form, move, and evolve as they pass. The cloud has no idea what it looks like; it appears as a result of other factors interacting. Consider the ripples in the sand caused by water or wind. Or how tree growth reacts to light. Each species, in their own way, creates distinct yet recognisable profiles in the forest.
As a result, I began to emulate this seeming complexity by mixing basic processes while working-processes that I could keep together over a vast region without needing to be precise in any manner (as I would need to be with the geometric work). The artwork would “surface” in this manner, with no clear direction or aim.
I’ve been blending this “geometric” and “organic” techniques lately, recognizing both the order and chaotic sides of our life.
What is your thought process behind each design?
I am always noticing and photographing patterns I find when out in the environment, both natural and man-made, in order to comprehend what is going on and what I may learn that can be used on a larger scale. An strategy I discover for working at the landscape level will occasionally reveal its own possibilities. All of this will be explored in my sketchbook. When a design has matured, it goes into a “pot” of ideas for me to choose from the next time I’m at the beach. When I am able to inspect a spot in person, I select a design that works well with the conditions on the beach.
Each design takes a unique approach. Sometimes I have a better idea of what it will be before I start, and other times the process breaks down in unexpected ways.
Do you plan ahead of time or make items on the spot when you visit a location?
For the most part, I go to the beach with no preconceived notions. However, once I start working on a new piece, I know exactly how I will go. So I’m not making it up as I go—some there’s kind of strategy in place that allows me to keep it all together on such a vast scale. When I arrive in a new site, I usually bring a variety of options that I have been working on. Then I decide what is most suited given the beach’s conditions—is it large or small, inclined or flat, and so on.
Some designs demand more room, while others benefit from natural nooks and crannies to fill in. I may spend several days in one spot, in which case I may create for that unique situation. There can be a dialogue between the artwork and the terrain; I never know how a beach will show itself. They all change over the month and year, so I have to be adaptable in what I do.
How do you feel about your art’s ephemerality?
After doing this art for as long as I have, ephemerality plays a less role in my experience than it did in the start. The work had a subversive aspect to it at first. I’m not unusual in any way for making art that isn’t designed to last, but as a cultural standard, we value permanence more. But it was via this work that I realized that nothing lasts in the long run. All that I and all humanity have ever done will be wiped at some point.
It made me realize that the yearning for permanency stems from a dread of our mortality. How do we choose to use our limited time in this life? It is a fundamental question that may be both difficult and encouraging. It led me to the following realization: what is worthwhile other than what improves my spirit? That caused me to allow art to play a larger role in my life, devoting so much energy in something that will almost instantly wash away. My art serves as a reminder to treasure the moment-to-moment experience of life.
How has your artistic practice evolved over time?
There are a few aspects of my work’s evolution that I admire. Over 20 years ago, when I first began working professionally, I was nearly always indoors, frequently in the near dark owing to the sculptures I was building, crouched over performing delicate, painstaking work. Working outside and on the beach (barefoot!) was a significant and delightful difference. And becoming personal with my art—essentially using my body as a brush—brought me a much stronger connection to my pieces.
Do you have a favorite piece of art?
Yes. Flow II is my largest work that is inspired by a specific environment. My idea came from a Japanese water painting of a rushing river. It was based on an aerial shot of the site. It is tough to carry through the lengthy curving line as if they were strokes made from above. I had a certain goal in mind for an organic design that appears and feels natural from above, but on the ground, it’s a big distance and I had to “feel the strokes.”
How do you tell when a project is completed?
Different designs have various ends. Some must complete a certain task. Some can continue on indefinitely and are done when my canvas runs out, the waves return, or I’m ready to call it quits. A design may require several attempts before it is complete as a concept.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being an artist?
I enjoy that I get to be creative for a career, and that I can do it on my own terms that reflect who I am. It’s rewarding to make art that offers joy, amazement, and inspiration to so many people.
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