Abril - Eyes Without a Face

Published: 29 April, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 224, April, 2013

I might as well come straight out and confess all – I am head over heels in love with this artwork. That much will probably be very visible from the start, during the middle and also at the end. It happens. Not often, but it does happen…

It’s only right that Abril Andrade Griffith and I should speak more about the love of the canvas and girls with really big eyes. All will be revealed – or perhaps not because there’s nothing like not knowing everything about something to make you appreciate it more. Before we dig in, it’s worth saying that this is something of a personal story for me as much as it is something for you guys to get your heads around.

I’m going to take a lot for granted of the readership here – and that is to assume that we’ve all had the same feeling over certain artworks at one point or another. It doesn’t matter who it was, it only matters that the experience is buried there somewhere – it can have happened with art, music – and I guess to a certain extent, it can happen with people too.

At some point during this meeting of ‘minds’, a common ground is stood upon in which you recognise something in the art that both touches and is familiar to you. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the art will recognise something in you in return, and if you wish to accuse me of drug abuse, then so be it, but it’s true all the same. One can’t exist without the other.

Abril was born and raised in Mexico and spent most of her days in San Diego, “colouring on her bedroom walls to make her dreams come to life”, before finally finding a home in Ohio where she currently lives with her five-year-old daughter, Lucy, husband, Matt (with whom she co-owns 2 Dollar Pistol Tattoo), along with two fat cats and a Chihuahua who “thinks he is human”.

One of the first things to take on board is the geography at play here. You wouldn’t find this material authentically coming out of, say, Scotland or Poland. There’s something genuinely Latin American about Abril’s work that sings to me in a key I recognise.

“Art has always been part of my life – as a kid, my notebooks were always full of scribbles and drawings. I had a thing for drawing crosses back in the day, I wonder what was that all about? I never saw art as a career at the time at all, but simply as a way to step out of reality and everyday routine.

“I was raised by my mother and she always encouraged my artistic side and imagination. After high school, my days were spent managing an office and doing seven other things that were not in the job description. I was underpaid, tired and bored of the same old office and people.

“My night drawing classes were the only thing I had to look forward to. The only thing that truly made me happy were those two hours spent learning and drawing. Something had to give. So as soon as I realised office life was not for me and that I was wasting my life away working there, I quit my job, moved to Spain and I enrolled myself in a fine art school.

“After that, the rest just slotted into place. I can’t do anything else. I don’t see myself in any other way but painting.”

If you’re an artist yourself, it’s no doubt something you’ve thought about a million times too. If you’re smart or lucky, you’ll make the break before you have children too. It’s a lot easier to run for freedom when you have no responsibilities beyond feeding and clothing yourself. For an artist, life with children can get weird… fast. But they can also be surprisingly influential too.

“It’s been quite an adventure raising my daughter. Working to her schedule, getting used to someone always dropping into your studio or jostling you unexpectedly while you try to paint something very intricate… I am always on my guard as to what can come flying my way – and it could be anything, a ball, stuffed animal, a toy…

“One of the hardest stages of her growing up was when she would scribble all over a mostly finished painting. I can laugh now but at that particular moment, it was more of a crying feeling. What can you do? It’s not her fault – she just wanted to help! With time and at least 20 ruined paintings, she’s learned not to mess with Mom’s work; she now paints and draws beside me while I work instead. She’s a fast learner and a big inspiration to me, and is already building an artistic portfolio with two art shows at age four. I draw a lot of inspiration from Lucy and you can definitely find similarities to her in a lot of my paintings.”

As we cruise down the contents of Abril’s head, I point out that she has very three distinct styles – she corrects me and tells me she has two.

“As of right now, I have two different styles of painting, lowbrow and contemporary – both take endless hours of work. My skeletons and ‘big eye’ art fall in the lowbrow category, and the trees into the contemporary. Two different styles for two different audiences. Everyone happy and I do very well with both.”

As an observer, I am allowed to disagree – I still think there are three. For me, the skeletons and ‘big eye’ art are as different from each other as each are from the trees. And all of this is very far from being lowbrow, but I’m not going to fall out with her over it. There is however, a certain train of thought that links the skeletons and the ‘big eye’ art. From where I’m standing, that seems to be the emotion that each contains.

Look carefully and you’ll find a certain sadness or a ‘hurting’ about both – and yet, there’s another layer on top of this that makes them very far from sad. For me, they give off a serenity and an atmosphere of hopefulness. Would that be fair?

“A lot of people wonder if I am a very sad or depressed person since most of my work is emotional, but they couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m a very happy person! I love life, my family, my art, and animals. Perhaps the reason I paint very emotional work is because it has a way of connecting with people. Every interpretation is different but there is always a connection. Everyday experiences, events and memories in my life have a big impact on my art.

“Each painting has a meaning of course, a feeling that I want to share with everyone. But all paintings can be interpreted differently so it all depends on how it connects with the person looking at it.

“You know, I recently moved from acrylic paint to oils and it was a very good change, I don’t think I can go back to fully painting with acrylics. I’m enjoying oil painting more then I ever did acrylics. There is so much that you can do with them. It’s crazy that it took me so long to move over to oils.

So far, so good. As I write this, Abril has a solo exhibition coming up in a few days time. That’s a big deal to any artist – where do we go from here?

“Yes, this will be my second solo show in California. It’s been a long time in the making. My style has grown and changed over the years since my first exhibition and I’m very excited to present my new series of work.

“Ideally, I hope to expose my art to a bigger audience – bring them inside my fantasy world and enjoy the company of my friends and family. There’s a small art community in my town, but it’s mostly aimed at a different kind of audience than the art I create. I think it would be fair to say that my style is not very popular here – which is why I do all of my promoting via the internet.”

Watch out for a follow up on Abril’s exhibition next issue. If you love what she does as much as I do, let her know. She’ll appreciate it one hell of a lot – I know that for a fact!

Abril on Digital

For a surface, I prefer wood actually, but canvas is just as good – I’ll pretty much paint on whatever I have around in my studio. I do like to digitally fix or add to the paintings, but only simple things like highlights or adjust colour to make the image ready for print editions. Actually, in the future, I would like to try out some 100 percent digital painting. I’ve had my eyes on a Cintiq tablet for years but they are way out of my budget…

Abril on Her Tattoos

I got my first tattoo when I was 17 – the rest followed as soon as I had the money to pay for them! I still have a lot of space to fill in and so, so many ideas! I’d love to be completely full of beautiful tattoos one day, but I’m taking my time over it. At the moment, I have a full neck and chest piece – my left arm is about done and I’m still working on filling my left leg. My latest tattoo was last week done by my husband, Matt – a rose on my knee – and we hope to do another rose on my right knee when we return from our trip to California.

Want To Own An Original Piece of Abril's Art?

If you’d like to own an original piece of art from Abril’s collection – we’ve got a competition that can put you one step closer to being that very person. With this being something of a one off exclusive kind of deal, you’re gonna have to work for this one.

Drop me an email – editor@skindeep.co.uk – with the subject line BIG EYES telling me exactly why you should be The One. I’ll hand them all over to Abril to choose a suitable recipient. But be warned, anybody pleading poverty as a good reason will be banished to the dungeon for the duration of the comp. Let’s see what you got…


Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Abril