Finding up-and-coming artists living within the neighborhoods of East Los Angeles is a thrilling and never-ending discovery. We connected with Silver Lake-based painter Andrea Nakhla at her first show titled “Little Joy” at New Image Art Gallery to discuss what fueled creating her first large body of work, along with the revelations and discomforts felt on her journey to gaining ground as an artist. The subjects of the paintings in her series are artists of many disciplines that inhabit the boroughs of the East side. Through hard brush strokes and incredible detail, Nakhla brings our eyes into the intimate settings in which these artists live and create.
LF: What does your daily creative process look like? What stimulates you and pushes your pen (or brush in this case)?
AN: My daily creative process unfortunately involves a lot of procrastinating, I’ll go for coffee, look at the internet, call my mom.. I’m very easily distracted. I will usually start painting after dinner and then paint all through the night, time doesn’t seem as real at night and there is less distraction so I’m able to focus a lot more.
LF: It is fascinating to discover for what reasons we are brought to certain moments in our lives, what events/realizations led you to creating this series?
AN: I think the initial inspiration was a documentary I was watching about Manet, I liked the way he was painting his time, observing social life in 19th-century Paris. I thought it would be interesting to translate that idea into today’s Echo Park where I was living. I was thinking about what defines this generation and specifically the type of person who lives in this area, making a sort of anthropological study. I was feeling the pressure of being in my mid twenties, dealing with the kind of existential anxiety that tends to come with this time. I wanted to explore these ideas through portraits of my friends who were in a similar time and place in life.
LF: As we know of Art, each medium speaks a different language. Was there a reason you chose the voice of paint to communicate this particular series, as opposed to drawing or any other medium you’ve worked in?
AN: I’ve thought a lot about why spend all this time painting these works when they could just be photos. I think one advantage of painting is that it’s another step removed from reality which makes you see it in a different way, maybe makes it easier for the viewer to see themselves in the work. I’m also able to capture a certain energy or emotion in painting that I can’t with photos, it allows me to really take time to really think about each element and what it is saying and alter reality a bit. As time is also a theme in the work, I think it’s an interesting contrast that it takes many hours to recreate one little moment of life, and how painting was historically one of the first ways humanity preserved time.
LF: Where did the title of this series, “Little Joy,” derive from?
AN: It came from the bar in Echo Park. I wanted a title that drew from the neighborhood and liked the emotion of that name.
LF: There appears to be a subtle thread woven loosely among each of the subjects in these paintings, is there a connection between these people?
AN: I painted friends who live on the eastside of LA: Echo Park, Silverlake and the like. They are all in early adulthood and pursuing some sort of creative endeavor. A lot of the same people weave in and out of the smaller paintings as well which I wanted to help add some narrative and context to the larger portraits.
LF: In the scenes you’ve created, is anything fabricated or are the environments that these characters exist within an exact representation?
AN: I would say the scenes are about 80% representation of what was actually there. I work from photos so I’ll usually photoshop them into an idea of what I want the painting to look like, then use that as a reference. I wanted to keep the elements pretty true to life as it helps tell the story of who the person is. I rearranged, added, and subtracted a few things, depending on what fit best symbolically, and I changed some colors and patterns to be closer to what I was going for visually, but the basic elements are all pretty representational of what was actually there.
LF: How does the space in which these subjects operate lend itself to communicating your intention? Was the placement of your subjects important?
AN: The paintings are all set in the subjects own apartments or places in the neighborhood where we all spend a lot of time, so they are very personal. On the other hand for anyone who lives around here I would say the settings are pretty universal, I wanted to create a snapshot of this time and place that was both personal and representative of the whole.
LF: What has creating this body of work done for you as an artist?
AN: Since this was my first real body of work it’s given me a lot more confidence that I can paint, it took me about a year to even just really start painting. I had a fear that it would turn out terribly and maybe it was better not to know. Working on this consistently helped me get past that.
LF: Do you think you will build on this project or leave the series as it is?
AN: For now I think the series is done, but it could be interesting to revisit and expand upon it later in life.
LF: What is next on the horizon for you, is there something new your are working on or planning to explore in the near future?
AN: I’m working on a collaboration called Future You with my writer friend Nada Alic, it’s a zine of corresponding paintings and short stories. I’ve also been working out a few ideas and styles I would like to explore next, but they are still in the very early stages.