Adriana Lozano’s drawings of “lonely characters” are like puzzles without solutions
Surrounded by beautifully observed objects and decorations, her characters leap off the page. Yet they leave us with many unanswered questions.
- Matt Alagiah
- 18 November 2020
Like many of us, Adriana Lozano’s creativity was first ignited through the simple act of drawing with a set of coloured pencils. For her, however, the medium never ceased to present new opportunities and creative challenges. “As far back as I can remember, I have always loved coloured pencils,” she tells us. “I studied Fine Arts and I did everything they told me to – video, animation, painting, sculpture – but immediately after graduation I felt really happy going back to my coloured pencils.”
The artist and illustrator was born in Colombia but her creative career didn’t fully kick into gear until she moved away from home to Buenos Aires (“I have drawn every day since then,” she says). In her new home city she joined a women’s drawing club, which mainly consisted of creating portraits of her fellow members or of other punters sitting around them in the city’s coffee bars. “We did that for three years and it was intense,” Adriana says.
Her first book of portraits, Waiting, was a collection of drawings of people in restaurants. “I was living in Dallas, Texas, for a while and I was drawing all these bored people I used to watch in restaurants and stores,” she says. “I was bored too. I was feeling sexy and ready to go out but then there was nowhere to go.” For Adriana, this captured a gaping chasm between what was idealised as “The American Lifestyle” and “what I was actually seeing: a thrilling boredom”. Much of her work since is about “going after that disturbing feeling”, she says, even when she’s back in her birth country of Colombia, which she describes as “a broken mirror for the American Dream”.
It was her portraits that initially grabbed our attention as well. The fact that they’re rendered in coloured pencil gives them a sense of sketch-like speed, but this belies the care given to these drawings, visible in the characters that feel so real and full of life and in the beautifully observed scenery in which they exist. For Adriana, these portraits are often at once studies of other people and reflections of herself. “I think they are self-portraits at the same time,” she explains. “I am always looking at other people’s faces, their idiosyncrasies. It’s like I am always going around doing some kind of casting but, in the end, I feel I have drawn another picture of me.”
It’s the small details that make her characters really jump off the page, fully realised and alive: the gold-painted fingernails of the woman in Lucero; the striped sock on the floor in Long Week; the pictures taped hurriedly to the wall in Just Married; the nail-clippers on the table in Biblioteca. Adriana’s characters are often surrounded by the paraphernalia of their life and these small everyday objects – so easy for us to ignore most of the time – end up giving us a far deeper insight into who they are.
“Most of the time I start with the person,” says Adriana, “but sooner rather than later I need an object that sets off his or her character. A book, the food, the floor pattern, some furniture or item of clothing.” She continually collects references for these objects and observations. “I have a fluid collection of images in a folder called ‘Nextdrawings’,” she explains. “Things that caught my attention from movies, lingerie, interior design, tattoo artists, fabric patterns. There are also personal images from family albums, street walks and memories, of course. Some of them come to be part of the puzzle of the lonely characters I end up drawing.”
It’s a useful way of thinking about Adriana’s artworks: as puzzles. Each character feels fully formed, and yet at the same time each snapshot of a life leaves us with questions unanswered. Who were they sharing that cafetiere with? Who are the people in the pictures on the wall? Why is the TV not working? What are those objects doing on the table?
Adriana’s series Cars – which was turned into a book published by Terry Bleu – is completely different, but still feels like a set of puzzles. “This was two years after a road trip I made and I was just drawing cars, no people, each car in its own, specific landscape,” she says. “It is different from the others but also the same.” She also has a new book of portraits coming out in the next month called No Vacancy (also published by Terry Bleu).
Alongside this, she’s working on a new project, which marks a departure from coloured-pencil illustrations – though the connection to her portrait work is still strong. “It’s a small project in papier mâché,” she explains, “3D recreations of the objects that were recurrently appearing in my drawings as decoration or company for my characters.” With this latest series, she is focusing in on that puzzle again, looking at how the objects we surround ourselves, the detritus of our lives, in some sense end up defining who we are.
Adriana Lozano: Long Week (Copyright © Adriana Lozano, 2020)