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Skintrack Sketches: Gianna Andrews takes the silver linings in life and paints them

In this installment of Skintrack Sketches, we explore the art of Gianna Andrews. Hailing from Vashon Island, Washington, the 23-year-old is a passionate skier and mountain biker, but a compression fracture to her T6 and seven vertebrae in 2015 challenged her to expand on non-physical pursuits. The downtime provided opportunity for an evolution in her oil and canvas interpretations of shredding untracked pow and the inner city culture she is fascinated by. We caught up with her to talk style, Steven’s Pass and simplicity. Here is what she had to say.

Andrews takes a break from her bus mural project. [Photo] Courtesy Gianna Andrews

BCM: How did you get your start in painting?

Gianna Andrews: During my junior year of college in Bozeman, Montana, I took a painting class never having painted before. I really took to it and spent tons of time in the studio, often staying hours after everyone left for the day. I couldn’t stop asking questions and trying to figure out the science of painting. I didn’t declare myself an art major, but I really was enjoying a new passion. Later that summer, I was mountain biking with Rachel Pohl in Big Sky, Montana, and I fell over the handlebars and broke my back, broke my front teeth off, and abraded a lot of my body. We were together in the ER, and I knew my body was wrecked. I looked at Rachel and asked, “What will I do now?” She said, “You’re just going to paint.” So that’s what I did during my recovery. I spent eight to 10 hours a day painting for several months straight while my torso was locked up in a clamshell back brace.

BCM: When did the backcountry start making it into your work?

GA: Backcountry skiing gives me that feeling of vastness and the unknown. Since I really started painting when my back was broken, I was constantly feeling confined and thinking about how I couldn’t be skiing. So from the beginning, I have been interested in exploring those themes of vastness, the unknown and change.

BCM: Most of your paintings, if not all, take place during twilight. What is your relationship like with that time?

GA: Spending time in the backcountry, along with practicing art, gives me a sense of freedom. It’s an escape into the unknown from a known and structured routine. This sense of freedom is super important to my life. It’s similar to standing on the edge of a cliff or looking out on the horizon. I think this is why I paint so many arching horizons in the lighting of twilight—to mimic this free feeling that coincides with change and a new day. So even if I am stuck in a cast or a back brace, I have been able to use painting to free my mind, even when my body is trapped.

Baked

BCM: Your perception of snow is really cool; it looks as if you see it as a wave. So, I was wondering how you perceive reality?

GA: I think I spend a lot of time living in a daydream state, and I am constantly conjuring up ideas of movement in relation to color, space and time that will come through really well in a painting. I don’t know if I am fully living in reality most of the time; it’s all subjective right?

BCM: Hip-hop culture and the natural environment often meet in your work. What inspires this combination?

GA: I listen to rap music often, and the genre significantly influences my work. Music gives me adrenaline while I paint—the act of painting itself is such a stagnant activity—Hip hop helps my mind stay focused as I spend hours, more often days, at a time on a piece. I’m also fascinated by graffiti and city culture. I grew up in a rural town skiing, and I knew nothing about the city, but I find graffiti rebellious in nature and feel inspired by that and try to bring that out in my work.

Ridge Life

BCM: Tell me about that bus you painted for Alaska Heli Skiing. How did that project come about?

GA: They flew me out to Haines, AK, and oh boy was it cold. I was already living at 2,800 feet in the cabin, and it had been zero for a decent amount of the winter, but it was way colder in Alaska. They built me a structure of 2x4s and tarps with jet-fueled heaters to keep the paint from freezing as I painted 35 feet of one side of their dispatch bus. Helicopters were taking off into the field right behind where I was working. The Freeride World Tour was also happening while I was there, so there was a lot going on. The whole process had to happen fairly quickly, and I only had three days to plan the whole work.

In The Hood

BCM: Wow, that sounds so rushed.

GA: Exactly. It was kind of like this is happening right now, pack your stuff and come to Alaska. It took me about 10 days to finish it, but I got to wipe away all of the stress and cold with some epic heli turns.

BCM: Would you say that this was your biggest project yet?

GA: It definitely has been my largest in terms of the square feet and about putting my head down for 12 hours a day to get it done and make it look good, of course. I definitely found out that I love painting murals, because I have never done one before. I didn’t really know what to expect; it felt like dropping into a line that I haven’t skied before, but I’m really excited about it.

Alaska Heliskiing bus mural

BCM: I read that you spent a winter based out of a cabin nestled under Stevens Pass, Washington. How has that experience changed the way the backcountry represents your art?

GA: As far as seeing art in the backcountry, my art is inspired by time spent alone. The solitary motions of the skintrack allows me to enter that eternal daydream. I step outside myself and ingest the ethereal world that is the backcountry. At the cabin all I did was ski, shovel snow, paint and shovel more snow, and it gave me that space, time and silence to take those moments on the skintrack and put them on canvas. I really enjoyed my time spent at that cozy cabin, because the routine was so simple. Waking up to snow falling, touring off the pass or skiing at Stevens and then returning to paint snow ghost… it was almost too good to be true. The cabin taught me an appreciation for simplicity, which I now apply to time spent in the backcountry and my life as a whole.

Oil Spill

To see more of Andrews’s art, visit giannaandrewsart.com.

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Comments

  1. Such a great piece of writing. I am so proud of and impressed by Gianna’s indomitable spirit, natural talent, and her story inspires me every day!! I am very lucky to know Gianna personally and to have been a part of her painting journey!! Eloquent, beautiful words, very reflective and shows us that when times are hard, the only thing to do is capitalize on new perspectives.

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