Apiece Apart Woman: Mari Andrew
Photos: Andrea Gentl
Interview: Leigh Patterson
Technically, you could label Mari Andrew an illustrator, but to stop there is missing the point. Through her seemingly simple, often text-heavy and Instagram-friendly drawings, Andrew creates narrative-packed pieces out of her West Village apartment that hint at the complexities of what it means to be a person today.
Belonging to her own category of cultural savant-meets-artist, Mari has become known and celebrated for illustrated observation that add both urgency and levity to big, often abstract topics and emotions. There is a reason why she has an enormous and loyal fanbase and that her Instagram posts often go viral: She makes people feel heard, seen, and understood. Her work reminds us that humanity is comprised of hyper-specific, nuanced details, that underneath words like Anxiety or Fear or Loneliness or Grief are the individual stories that at once make us unique and connect us to a greater whole.
Your work translates – processing live – complex feelings into digestible elucidations on living. Can you walk us through your process?
I almost always start in conversation with a friend. A good percentage of my life is spent talking through the day's events, experiences, and thoughts with one of a couple people whose insight I value so highly. When I talk to these people, I feel myself clarifying a lot of complex feelings or being able to focus on one unifying thought in the midst of chaos. That's when I feel confident enough to pick up a pen and start writing things down for public viewing! I wouldn't be able to do any of this alone; my creative process is intertwined with friendship with very smart, interesting, kind people.
Your work often uses lists and hyper-specificity to speak to more universal ideas: can you expand on how you see the value of using tangibility, examples, and words to cut to the core of bigger and perhaps hard to explain emotions?
Hyper-specificity is something I admire so much in my favorite artists. All of the creatives I admire most infuse so much of themselves into their work, even if it doesn't fit in a classic genre.
A few examples: Pedro Almodovar, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alvin Ailey, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Louisa May Alcott, and Gabrielle Hamilton. What I love about all of these people is that they did what came naturally and personally to them and shared it with others, even if there wasn't a pre-made place for them.
Because I've been so inspired by these and others, I learned quickly that the more personal your work, the more potential it has to resonate with others. That's all I have to give--my personal experience. I'm not a very good artist and I don't have profound thoughts but I have the thoughts I have! So I share them, and it's such an honor when people find any comfort in them.
On the note of hyper-specificity, can you share a list of top-of-mind, front burner themes/words/details you are curious about, loving, reveling in the nuance of?
"Nuance" is my favorite concept! I'm really curious right now about: what hope looks like as a daily practice, trust as flexible and fluid rather than valiant and aggressive, the role of art in scary times, abundance, the romance of New York, what we mean when we say "inner beauty," wisdom that only comes with solitude, and what it would feel like to be in my body all the time.
What are some of your go-to tools: a favorite pen, paper/notebook of choice, soundtrack/artist for creative work, perhaps a writing beverage? Do you burn a candle or incense? Time of day? Speak to us about the objects that are part of your process.
Perfect question for a Libra! I'm very attached to all my things and my atmosphere--they all do so much to lift and shape my mood.
Pen: I love Sharpie ultra-fine markers and get really grouchy when I have to use anything else!
Paper: I always use Fabriano watercolor paper. Again, far too attached and I can't really work on anything else. But for journals, I'll use anything!
Paints: This is where I get much more low-maintenance! I've been using the cheapest watercolors possible for years, although recently my mom got me a very fancy set. They make me feel like a princess but I don't see a massive difference!
Soundtrack: My whole day can be mapped out in the music I listen to. I begin the day with a walk as I listen to a playlist of "Healing Songs" which spans a range of genres, then I put on bossa nova as I'm getting ready and settling into work. I can work to anything, but if I want to get the ideas really flowing, I listen to great lyricists like Serpentwithfeet, Sara Bareilles, The Decemberists, and Nas. At night I love wonderful vocals like Lily & Madeleine, Social House, and Patty Griffin.
Beverages: I love coffee and wine equally and try to switch it up but it's so tough! I've made most of my favorite work while sipping on either. I'm not drinking alcohol at the moment so pomegranate juice is having to step in and do some heavy lifting.
Scents: I love, love burning candles and I'm very loyal to my scent of choice--Wood Cabin from the Brooklyn company Keap. I subscribe to it! I also keep a couple pine-scented candles around, so my apartment smells like a cottage in the woods. I feel like my home and setting is complete when candles are burning.
Time of day: Morning is my favorite time of day, but I do most of my work at night. Evening is such an intimate and beautiful time where solitude feels honored by both the light and mood. Creating is a very intimate experience for me, so it seems like it should happen at night!
What’s something new and in an area outside of your career/medium that you are interested in learning more about?
A billion things! I'm a huge proponent of creative people having lots of non-work-related hobbies; I think it's so helpful to keep our minds fresh and egos in check! I take a lot of dance classes but I'm focusing on flamenco right now--and I'm terrible. But it's so good to be bad at something! I also listen to history lectures because I have so many gaps in my knowledge, and I take Spanish classes, and I'm constantly learning more about how to cook and do my hair--those are lifelong journeys. This year I'd like to learn a bit more about math and science, even though I find both very intimidating.
What are some specific, (as much as anything can be) surefire personal strategies that you go to when you need a little more joie de vivre?
Living with joie de vivre is the great intention of my life, and I study old people who have it! I try to look at their joyful lives now and work backwards...what made them so happy and delighted with their lives? I've found a common theme--that all of them have a rich, vast array of life experiences, and they embrace them all. Most people who appear very joyful have endured a lot of difficulty, but they have chosen to incorporate their challenges into their appreciation for life...and you can feel it.
So I suppose my best strategy for pumping up the joie de vivre is new experience: doing something you've never done before, trying something in a new way. Choosing the more pleasant option--whether it's picking out a journal, choosing a restaurant, or deciding on a way to walk--is also a great practice. "What will be the most beautiful way to do this? Most delicious way? Most soul-enlivening way?" I also read once that you should kiss all the people you want to kiss, and I think that helps too!