As a devout naturalist and native Oklahoman, Kayla Andrus’ work is dedicated to spotlighting the tenderness and beauty of everyday flora and fauna as she explores the unascertainable afterlife that we’re all faced with and the crucial role of death in the cycle of renewal. Holding strong beliefs inspired by her Cherokee grandfather that the spiritual world and the physical world are one and the same, Andrus’ work asks viewers to draw connections between the creatures before them and themselves as the animals represent the impending afterlife. Drawing connection to the unique symbolism of flowers as they relate to the human experience – either through congratulatory or infelicitous moments in time – Andrus uses her work to inspire recollection of viewers’ experiences with life or death. These thoughts are closely tied to her own experiences – most recently, the unexpected death of her uncle and grandfather, who both played major roles in her upbringing and strong appreciation for the natural world.
Andrus’ artistic process begins at the convergence of recollection and observation as she explores local wilderness while getting lost in memory and thought. By juxtaposing her menagerie of intricate figures against a stark white or black background, she draws attention to the nuances and impossibility of her subjects and the ambiguity of the future before them. Her circuitous process of drawing the anatomy of each animal in graphite and charcoal allows her to produce rich contrast against the deep and unforgiving blacks, enabling an intense focus on the subject. Andrus intentionally strays from pure realism in her work in order to imbue her own sense of style and character, portraying a more authentic representation of not only the creature, but also the creature’s unique disposition.
Rather than maintaining the same size of each work regardless of the subject,
Andrus works at a variety of scales so that the figures are proportional when shown together, which is especially true in the samples presented today. Working from largest to smallest, her first sample, “I am You” boasts a generous 4’x5’ paper size which is intended to reflect the relative scale of the deer in comparison to the rest of the animals in her works. As one of her only works with closed eyes, “I am You” represents death most bluntly, as the deer lays among new growth. In Oklahoma and across the midwest, many residents have personal stories with deer, whether that’s seeing them with awe in forests, hunting them, or perhaps even close encounters while driving. As the title suggests, “I am You” confronts viewers with a variety of interpretations regarding their own relationship with deer – whether that the dead deer depicted is a foreshadowing of what will happen to the viewer, that the deer is dead because of the viewer’s actions, or perhaps even that the deer is what the viewer will become in the next life. In her second sample, titled “Rebirth,” Andrus suggests more movement and life in the heron depicted. With a bewildered expression and wings outstretched, from the chest of the heron emerges a chrysanthemum, blending together with the feathers to suggest the renewal of life in the future. And finally, in “Gemini,” the smallest of these three samples at 8 inches by 8 inches, a new litter of white-tailed bunnies huddles together in a framed circle, representing both the circle of life and life on Earth more broadly, as these bunnies are rooted into the ground. The Gemini constellation is emblazoned into the work, relating the litter of bunnies back to the historical Gemini twins as a suggestion of reincarnation over a larger period of time.
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