When Bugs Become Art

Arlington sculptor Andrea Uravitch uses insects, birds and other critters in her nature-inspired installations.

Photo by Michael Ventura

Name: Andrea Uravitch
Age: 68
Lives in: Madison Manor, with her husband, Joe Uravitch
Résumé: A mixed-media artist and photographer with a piece in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, Uravitch has also taught classes in the commercial art department at the Arlington Career Center for 26 years.

Family Business: My dad was a painter, and he had a small advertising agency in Cleveland. My mom was a painter, as well. Our whole family went to the Cleveland Institute of Art—my mother, father, siblings—we spent 25 years there between all of us. Both my daughters are artists, too.

Playing Favorites: I’ve made a lot of cicadas. I’m also attracted to lizards because of their patterns and textures. Their multicolored bodies can be adapted using novelty yarns and cotton threads. It’s almost seasonal. At certain times of year I want to make certain animals because, for example, I want to work with green colors. I make a lot of crows, too. One winter there was a lot of snow and we were stuck inside; the only things coming out were the crows.

Creative Process: If I don’t know something I go out and learn it. I do welded steel armatures under the sculptures, make chicken wire [frames], and then essentially wrap the whole thing with fabric and Elmer’s glue. Elmer’s glue is my secret material.

Environmental Work: I like doing big installations—going into an art place and figuring out how to change it. I did something at the Arlington Arts Center where I had a stairwell and I attached 75 fish to the walls. This was before they renovated the building. I cut clay fish in half and some of the fish were on the inside of the building and some were on the outside. It was called “Converging Forces” and it was about nature versus man, how nature always wins. This was after a trip to California back in 1989. A month later there was an earthquake and I realized we couldn’t do anything—as humans—to stop natural disasters. I was inspired to feature salmon from a trip to Alaska.

Grand Schemes: Putting together big installations can be a challenge. Sometimes it involves renting an 18-foot truck, loading it up and taking it on the road. One show I did in 2003 at Piedmont Arts Association, a small museum in Martinsville, Virginia, was about childhood memories of nature. I had all kinds of animals, and brought doors and trees, and I made a soundtrack that went with it that had sounds of growing up in Cleveland—screen doors slamming, dogs barking, insects, children laughing, running through sprinklers. The show was well received. I had a book where people could write down their own childhood memories of nature.

Making Time: Art has never been a part-time thing or a hobby for me. I wasn’t the lead teacher at school, I was the assistant—so I would come home at 3 o’clock and start working [on my art] again. When my kids were little, I was still doing shows. Even the year I gave birth to the oldest one, I had a solo show lined up. I still pull all-nighters to finish things.

Shutter Bug: Insects and animals aside, I also like taking pictures of buildings, so that’s a whole other arena. I teach black-and-white photography at the Arlington Career Center. We have the second-to-last darkroom in the county, but there are still people who want to learn [film photography], which is exciting for me.

Finding Inspiration: I like a lot of painters. I like [Robert] Rauschenberg, although his work doesn’t relate to what I’m doing. Ed Kienholz—he did some installations with doors and windows that were really creepy—has definitely had an impact on me. My husband, Joe, is not an artist, but his work has had a big influence on my art, too. He did coastal planning for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and we would talk about his work.

New Points of View: I recently did a piece where you can see both above and below ground. It’s sitting on almost a shelf shape, and I’ve got it so you can see roots and undergrowth. I’d like to do more of those. Someone recently asked if I liked dioramas when I was a kid, and my answer was yes. She did, too, and we had a giggle about always wanting to be inside those imaginary scenes.

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