Andi Mascareñas | The Observant American

By Todd Wilkinson

Andi MascareñasGreece. Several years ago. At an outdoor cafe shadowed by the Acropolis, Andi Mascareñas sits under an awning, watching. Locked in her own observational trance, she is attempting to make time slow down long enough so she can take a piece of it home.

As traffic zips past and Mediterranean drivers blare their horns, Mascareñas, undistracted, spots a lone figure—a frail, itinerant shoe cobbler—slowly making his way up the Athens boulevard. When the man stops to catch his breath on a bench, Mascareñas takes note of his misshapen, arthritic hands; his sunburned face; the shock of pure white hair; the wear of his clothes; the tattered laborer’s apron hanging across his chest.

To the gawking tourists beside her, his presence is insignificant compared with the massive backdrop of ancient stone pillars. But extracting a fist of clay from her satchel, Mascareñas goes to work, unwilling to let the ironic moment pass.

The cobbler will never know how intently this American sculptor is paying attention, nor realize that the memory of his existence, rendered in 45 minutes, will later be forged and commemorated thousands of miles away in a Colorado kiln.

Greek Shoe Cobbler 10 x 10 x 8

Looking back, Mascareñas explains the reason she was drawn to him, and the inspiration behind her popular piece, THE GREEK COBBLER: “I wondered if he knew he lived at the dawn of the 21st century,” she muses. “He seemed completely unaffected by modern life around him. He was alone, in his own busy world, and yet his world is our own.”

Within contemporary figurative sculpture, Mascareñas is a mirror of her enigmatic subjects, moving about fine-art circles quietly at her own pace since the 1980s; pursuing her method with an eye toward classical tradition, she explores archetypal expression from divergent cultures and has cultivated a loyal following among viewers who revel in the soulful encounters of everyday life.

“Andi’s never been a self promoter or aggressive marketer, but the reputation of her work is spreading via word of mouth,” says Mikkel Saks, owner of Saks Fine Art in Denver, one of the few galleries with which the prolific Mascareñas is associated. “Her wider public recognition, while well deserved, is just now rapidly starting to grow.”

Like the work of George Carlson and Ken Bunn, whose non-literal interpretations represent magnetic north on her compass of modern influences, Mascareñas’s bronzes and fired-clay pieces are technically noteworthy for the interplay between surface and light and for the fresh, spontaneous sense of creation they convey.

When one views her loose, luscious texture and flow, there are few hints, other than her ability to draw, that her formal art training was in commercial illustration and graphic design.

“Andi’s work has a sensuality that tugs at something inside of you,” suggests close friend and fellow sculptor Grant Besley. “As far as I’m concerned, she’s one of the best sculptors in the country.”

At the annual Loveland Sculpture Invitational held every summer, Mascareñas has found as much interest in her low-fired clay maquettes as in her bronzes. Like the old European masters, she loves to work in terra-cotta and fired clays. Her bronze editions vary between 10 and 40, though the average is typically 17. She has yet to do a large monumental commission but is waiting for the right opportunity to arise.

Born in Butte, MT, in 1955, Mascareñas is an artist of Hispanic heritage whose parents bestowed her at an early age with a gift that defines the essence of her work: An uncanny ability to recognize the power of a moment conveyed through simple gesture.

 Pee Wee League, Bronze 4 x 6 x 3

When she was a toddler, her family moved to Las Vegas, NV, then settled during her high school years in Albuquerque. She enrolled in classes at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in the late 1970s, and ever since she’s lived in Colorado. Married to painter Kim English, she maintains a home and studio in Pine, located in the foothills outside of metropolitan Denver.

The studio that Mascareñas uses is a mile and a half from her house. In “commuting” to work, Mascareñas will often set off on a brisk jog if she hasn’t already completed her daily five-mile run to clear her thoughts. Her creative space is drenched in natural sunlight, adorned with artifacts from her adventures abroad, and it overlooks meadows girded by aspen that often have mule deer bounding through. In early morning and late evening, she has also encountered bobcats.

Together (and sometimes with their son, Joshua Cain), Mascareñas and English are inveterate travelers. Their explorations have taken them to remote villages in Peru, Guatemala, Italy, France, Greece, and Nepal. The resulting art resonates wherever it is shown.

Besley remembers the night he first met Mascareñas. She and English were honored at a two-artist show hosted by Saks, and collectors, particularly women, would stop in front of her pieces and literally gasp. He points to a Mascareñas piece he owns which grew out of a visit to Nepal.

“I know the mold maker who works with Andi, and one day she called me up and said there was a new piece that I had to see,” Besley says. The work is signature Mascareñas, featuring a mother with a young child on her hip. The parent exudes contentment and the child a sense of curiosity and wonder about the world. Mascareñas uses body language—not detail—to communicate those emotions.

 NEWS, BRONZE 14 x 10 x 5
NEWS, BRONZE 14 x 10 x 5

“I’ve discovered that if I am in a small village in Asia, Europe, or South America, people are pretty much the same. Yes, of course, we all have different customs, physical characteristics that reflect a range of ethnic backgrounds, but the gestures of body language are remarkably similar,” she says. “All of our faces are different, but we have the same expressions.”

Her work is distinguished by its exotic subject matter yet also by this timeless accessibility. The progression from illustration to sculpture, from two to three dimensions, was bridged easily, she says. Illustration is the act of building a story on a theme. Sculpture, she notes, is a matter of finding a story in life. She compares her quest to theater. “In high school, I was in drama. The challenge was not in the speaking part but in conveying an emotion or intellectual thought through body language. In creating sculpture, I try to achieve the same effect using interacting figures or in a solitary piece. If I’m successful, the experience for the viewer will also become personal.”

When she travels, Mascareñas has always carried clay and sculpting tools with her out of habit, but since September 11, 2001, she’s had to modify that routine. During a recent trip to Italy, the logistics of transporting her implements became problematic, so she turned to sketching and drawing. One piece, titled JOURNEY ON ORION, emerged from that trip.

At a local train station in Tuscany, a vision for a piece presented itself in a group of three young people huddled together, moving in and out of a sleep state as they prepared to hop the next train. “I always look for a story in my work. Back in my studio I tried to return to the same heavy feeling one gets when spending long hours moving between time and space,” she says, explaining how she used the interplay between mass and negative space to achieve her desired effect.

“In order to understand the impact of her sculpture, it helps to understand Andi herself,” Mikkel Saks says. “She is warm and introspective. Andi’s work is definitely not cute. When you see one of her works and then have an opportunity to come back and revisit it, you realize how it flows with energy and emotion along the lines of Rodin. When one sees a ‘cute’ piece by another artist, they are going to see everything there is to see about it in a single viewing. But with Andi’s work, the more you live with it, the more you see every day.”

Autumn Skies low-fired clay 9 1/2 x 15 x 11

Consider the inspiration for QUECHUA FAMILY, which evolved from a study made in Peru. Mascareñas’s description—and the work—have the quality of a poetic entry in her journal. “In the square in Cuzco, I set up and get ready to sculpt,” she says. “I have been spying small family groups all along my journey. The children are very curious about us. The mothers are protective and well aware of our presence. The light is buttery and falls on the subjects’ faces with a golden glow. I have to sculpt quickly because they won’t stay around long. However, I’ve attracted a small crowd that quietly gathers around me until they block my view. I decide to surrender to the beauty of these people and enjoy the smiles that transcend the language barriers. Yet I realize I haven’t lost that slice of time because it is embedded in my clay and in my head.”

In every work by Mascareñas there is a story being told, a narrative distilled from a single moment but part of something far grander and ongoing. Like all of us, she is fascinated with the cultural differences dividing the world into peoples, but even more profound is what humanity shares in common. “I am a student of life,” she says. “I am always looking for a way to tell the story better.”

Mascareñas is represented by Saks Fine Art, Denver, CO; Evergreen Fine Art, Evergreen, CO; Taos Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; and NanEtte Richardson Fine Art, San Antonio, TX.

Featured in July 2003