Teen Spirit: Michelle Andrade’s “Kind of Blue” at Charlie James Gallery

Michelle Andrade is known for her vibrant, bubble-lettered ink drawings on notebook paper depicting diaristic messages and couched in intricate delightful doodles, each one a nostalgic nod to teenage years and high school memories. In the Los Angeles-based artist’s new exhibition “Kind of Blue,” on view at L.A.’s Charlie James Gallery this month, her classic works return along with new endeavors into  painting, all the while maintaining the tone and spirit of her earlier works. Andrade pays tribute to a form of creativity and self-expression not typically considered an art form. She’s said of her work: “I like the idea of championing the mundane, taking everyday phrases and thoughts and giving them weight.”

The show features a number of Andrade’s ink drawings in a colorful ’70s palette, somewhere between the era’s Funkadelic album art and kitsch wallpaper. Each piece displays text in big, flashy bubble letters, surrounded by florid doodles made of various shapes: tubes, stars flowers, and swirls, drawn as layers and outgrowths of the letters. The phrases Andrade uses in her work are taken out of context but avoid becoming cryptic or vague through their teenage simplicity. They’re short utterances from Andrade’s everyday and personal experiences. For example, Thanks For Nothing, Don’t Make This About You, We Are Moving Too Fast (2014)—intimate words hinting at some sort of a love story, but also plain enough to be relatable. 

In addition to the notebook drawings, the exhibition debuts Andrade’s larger-scale paintings on linen. These compositions are airy, activating the entire picture plane, and highlighting each shape and letter before a spare, burlap-colored linen canvas. Employing a more contemporary color palette—neon grape lettering and sunset gradients in We Were Young; candy pinks and turquoise blues in What Are You Afraid Of? (both 2014)—Andrade creates characters that jump off the canvas and achieves a new luminosity through these new materials. Don’t let the whimsical colors motifs trick you though; Andrade’s messages are accessible and striking, expressing sentiments ranging from cutting to inspiring.

Also in the show are two large-scale ink drawings, riffs on the notebook works but consisting of more doodle than text. You Were Never There (2014)includes bits of text scattered throughout: “You Were Never There,” “Sorry,” “That Was Harsh,” “Bearclaw,” “Huh?” the words ensconced in a network of shapes and hidden figures including a squirrel, a pair of legs, an eye, lips. Like Me (2013)is a turquoise-toned vertically-oriented piece completely filled in with patterns, shapes, and various phrases, some loose and dreamy—“Wait For It,” “Powered By Emotion”—and some concrete: “July 22 Tomorrow It’s the Second Chemo Session.” Through these utterances, a narrative begins to crystallize.

—Makiko Wholey 

Kind of Blue” is on view at Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles, Nov. 1–Dec. 20, 2014.

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