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Interview with artist A'Driane Nieves

Interview with artist A'Driane Nieves

Rare Device is pleased to present our next gallery show, Women, featuring five independent female artists who created worked based on the theme of female empowerment. One of those artists, A'Driane Nieves, agreed to give us a deeper look into her creative process from inside her San Jose, CA studio. A'Driane describes herself as a writer, artist, activist, and speaker with a heart for serving others and social good.


Photo by Steven Cotton Photography

KC: What is your background in painting and how long have you been creating art?

AN: I was the kid who grew up wanting to be a writer and did performance based arts-I knew I was a creative, but I never considered myself a visual artist. Drawing and painting weren't my things and my art teacher in 7th grade reinforced that belief after looking at my still-life drawings. However, in 2012, after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my therapist at the time recommended I find something constructive to do with my hands as a form of self-care. I went to Wal-Mart searching for yarn and a crochet hook, and on my way to the aisle full of yarns, my eyes caught the cheap brushes, paints, and small canvas boards in the aisle over. I threw some in my cart on a whim and after two weeks of failed attempts at crochet, I finally sat on the floor in my room and started pushing paint around on canvas board. All I was really looking for that day was a distraction, but when I finished, I noticed my mind was quieter and my anxiety had eased. I remember being surprised at how peaceful I felt, having unconsciously unloaded all that l had been carrying onto the small canvas board in front of me. So I didn't find painting, it honestly found me during a season I desperately needed something to keep me tethered to living. Painting started off strictly as a form of self-care in my treatment plant, but over the last 5 years, it's replaced writing as my default medium for expressing myself creatively. 

KC: Can you tell us about your creative process?

AN: My work is intuitive in nature, so I rely pretty heavily on emotion, tuning into how my body is physically responding to whatever I'm processing mentally or emotionally, and movement to create every piece.

Sometimes I'll go into a piece knowing what I want to construct or communicate, based off of something I saw in my dreams or a reaction I'm having to a current event in my own life or our society. With other pieces, it's not until after I'm 2-3 layers into a piece or even once I feel it's "done." There are times that I will not understand what my subconscious has been trying to help me grasp until after it's out of my head and on the surface in front of me, telling me its (my) story. I do a lot of writing, and snap images on my phone that I pull up later in the studio for inspiration. I also do a lot of art journaling in smaller notebooks, collaging images with paint to work out ideas in my head before I jump to canvas or larger paper. Lately, I've been very focused on collecting scraps of paper, dried paint, and other materials to incorporate into my paintings.

Photo by Steven Cotton Photography

KC: Color is a very big aspect in all of your pieces. What are some colors you gravitate to, and how do they play a role in the feeling of your pieces?

AN: I'm addicted to color - the bolder, deeper, and richer, the better. It's a mood stabilizer for me, in a way. When I first started painting, I used color primarily to convey mood, and I tended to use bold shades or red, orange, magenta, and brighter blues. I didn't use a lot of black or white. Over the last couple of years, that's changed as I've tried to incorporate more negative space and restraint into my paintings. The last few months I've found myself more drawn to muted tones, deep, dark blues like Prussian Blue Hue, Paynes Gray, and Anthraquinone, as well as darker yellows like Yellow Ochre, Oxide and Indian Yellow Hue. They feel very grounding to me and that's a feeling I like to evoke as I construct images that speak to past traumas.

Photo by Steven Cotton Photography

KC: What inspires you? Do you ever find inspiration in unlikely places? 

AN: Music - I can see colors and movement when I hear the emotion, melody, and rhythms in song. Unapologetic expressions of self, particularly from Black women and other women of color. Dance - movement has always been liberating for me and as an abuse survivor, the only time I've felt the most in control of my body and rooted to myself is when I'm running or dancing. Struggle and resistance. Pain and trauma. Words. I'm constantly striving to integrate these elements in each painting.


Photo by Steven Cotton Photography


KC: I know you’re very into social activism and call your artwork a form of protest. What do you think the role of art is within the current political and social climate?

AN: I think now is the time for artists to do what we do best: bear witness to the times and construct a lens for people to see our society and culture through as unfiltered as possible. James Baldwin stated that our obligation as artists to society is to "...illuminate the darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so what we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place." ("The Creative Process", 1962) I fully believe that in times like the ones we're facing, it's imperative we create work that does exactly this, that exhumes hidden and silent histories, and unapologetically tells the truths we'd much rather not face about ourselves and one another collectively. As a Black woman, however, I also believe my role as an artist is to balance all of that with work that encourages a celebration of self, healing, growth, thriving, and even joy. All of that is a form of resistance and power too.

Photo by Steven Cotton Photography


KC: What do you want viewers to take away from the pieces you’ll be exhibiting at the gallery show, “Women,” at Rare Device?

AN: What can be recovered, what can remain, and what must we abandon to do that and live unapologetically free?

In interpreting the theme, I was drawn to the idea of women connecting to, and reclaiming pieces of themselves that were lost, stunted, or silenced in the past. I want all women, including those who identify as cis, queer, trans or non-binary, to reclaim ownership of every person they've had to be to survive, and integrate all of those former selves into who they presently are. In this way, they can live as their most embodied, fullest selves. My work is intended to foster conversations within, about narrative, connection, embodiment, and power. The aim is to challenge and examine the beliefs women hold of themselves and of their place in the world, as well as consider how traumas and other life experiences have psychologically impacted their sense of self.

Taking the time to discover who I've been in the past has enabled me to heal and to embody my fullest self in the present. These pieces are born out of my own experiences, and my hope is that sharing a bit of my journey encourages other women to embark upon their own.

Photo by Steven Cotton Photography


You can find A'Driane's pieces, along with the work of LINDSAY STRIPLING, SARAH K. BENNING, KATIE GONG, and KRISTINE VEJAR at the opening of "Women," Friday May 5th at 600 Divisadero Street. The show will be up from May 5th - July 3rd.

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