Andrew Sykes has always been interested in art. As a young child growing up in the small town of Heppner, Oregon, Sykes studied illustrations in books, exploring technique by copying what he saw. As his drawing practice developed, so did the seed of an idea: some people do this sort of thing for a living. He soon resolved to be an artist when he grew up.
“When I told my parents,” Sykes recalled, “they looked at me very concerned.”
But Sykes stuck with his interest, starting at Lane Community College in Eugene where he was first introduced to formal art instruction in foundational subjects like basic drawing and color theory. Sykes eventually landed at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, where he earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Painting, Printmaking, and Drawing.
Sykes lived in Seattle for a few years after graduating, working in graphic arts and web design while scoring the occasional gallery show, which helped him cobble together funds for more art supplies. He eventually left the big city to return to his home region, taking an opportunity to join his brother in managing the family’s Pendleton print shop in 2006. Sykes has lived and worked in Pendleton since then, continuing to make and show his work in regional art centers and galleries; “The goal is still to be a professional artist.”
Instead of drawing from day-to-day life or even conscious imagination, Sykes seeks his inspiration at the margins of his mind—images that come to him in dreams or in a flash of unconscious thought, “Like a slide show.” Sykes draws these fleeting, picture-like images from memory; the dreams he condenses into compositions that represent the mood and feeling they left him with.
When I asked him why he chooses to represent these experiences in his art, he explained, enigmatically, that it feels like a compulsion. “It’s like something is dammed up and once I get it down on paper I can continue on to the next thing.”
When you look at Sykes’ work, the first thing that stands out is the level of detail he puts into each piece—abstract, sometimes unsettling scenes intricately crafted with a drafter’s precision but not his predictability. Sykes uses technical drawing styles and tools to create detail in his work, and describes his drawing process as being like a construction project—building complexity line by line. As he developed his aesthetic, Sykes made the choice to limit himself to ink and watercolor in order to bring cohesiveness to his work as a whole.
“The images I create are unique and hard to link thematically,” Sykes explained, “so I rely on style to tie them together.”
On top of his ink drawings, Sykes often adds a layer of color—sometimes in the form of loose watercolor strokes, unbound from the linear world below them; sometimes the color is confined between lines where it feels more stifled and controlled. Occasionally the lines wrap themselves around the brush strokes, as if trying to emulate their vibrancy. The tension Sykes creates between line and color seems a metaphor for his attraction to bringing into the foreground something he can only see peripherally: color as emotive, intuitive experience; ink and lines as the conscious constructions we use to try and make sense of them.
Two pieces Sykes will exhibit at Art Center East, Destroyed City and Rebuilding, explore the creative forces of chaos and order, both as tools for art-making, and for personal and societal development. These pieces were influenced, in part, by the work of Carl Jung, who wrote extensively about the construction and destruction of personal identity through interpreting the unconscious. Destroyed City, depicts a pile of rubble over which Sykes painted a sine wave of red that reverberates with a curiously hopeful buoyancy, as if expressing the ulterior motive of destruction: to energize the next phase of creation.
“If you want to grow as an artist,” Sykes explained, “you have to allow destruction of your habits, your lifestyle, your art.” If anything, it’s this idea that Sykes would like his viewers to walk away with: that destruction and rebuilding is a constant, daily process in which one individual moment is not the disaster or the triumph, but part of a more meaningful whole.
See this new exhibit and meet artist Andrew Sykes at the opening reception, this Friday, June 9 from 6-8pm. Complementary refreshments provided. Running until July 28th.