It’s hard not to laugh at Mari Andrew’s illustrations, even while you cringe at the painful truths they point to. One she recently posted on Instagram, for example, features a scribbled list of “emotional triggers for exes”, which include “The Bronx”, “the concept of breakfast” and “patterned socks”.
The New York-based artist and writer has built her creative career around a sometimes uncomfortable, always relatable, mixture of hardship and humour – using her own experiences of loss, love, grief, trauma, anxiety and chaos to fuel her clever and irreverent illustrations. It’s the kind of confessional art that is universally accessible, and comforting for its incisive recognition of life’s inherent contradictions.
After releasing her first book titled Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-loop, Zigzag Journey to Adulthood, she will bring two of her cathartic events to Sydney this June in collaboration with The School of Life – an organisation founded by philosopher Alain de Botton. In the first of these events, Andrew will share her insights on growing up and “dealing with the pressures of becoming an adult”, while sharing insights on finding the right career.
The intimate and relatable nature of Andrew’s work has attracted a legion of fans around the world, but she never expected to be making a living off her art. In fact, Andrew never intended to be an artist at all. She belongs to a new breed of social-media-savvy influencers, whose work has found success on Instagram (she’s amassed over 841,000 followers). The artist turned to writing and drawing as a form of personal therapy, before starting a blog at 23, and moving to South America after university.
“I started writing and drawing as hobbies,” Andrew tells Broadsheet. “I started writing a blog of my observations and inner workings when I moved to South America and that was such rich material back then because I was still finding my way through life. In hindsight, that was the beginning of my observational work, but I never had a job as a writer. I had a day job and was doing something not very creative during the day.
“I began drawing a few years later when I was going through a really painful time. It was too painful to sit at my computer and write out my feelings, but I found drawing was a lot more fun. I was expressing and processing things in a small frame.”
Her autobiographical tone obviously struck a chord with followers. Eventually she became too busy writing and drawing to hold down a full-time job. Now, Andrew spends her time trying to fill a growing demand for her work. She is also an advocate for using art as a therapeutic outlet, and runs workshops in New York teaching people how to channel pain into creativity.
“I never thought a creative job would be a full-time job,” she says. “My father was a musician and I saw how hard that was for him. It never looked glamorous to me. I always tell people to enjoy a day job for all it can give you [as a support for] a side hustle – use your pay cheque, use your lunchbreak – so that you become almost like a patron for your own art. And having a day job is great material, because you’re always interacting with people and sometimes you’re miserable, which is great fuel for your art.”
In the second event, Andrew will lead a hands-on workshop on how to turn pain into art, teaching attendees techniques and exercises “to self soothe, focus on the good, find humour in the horrific and confront fears head on”. No drawing experience is necessary for this workshop, and everyone’s art will be kept as private as they wish.
Mari Andrew On Growing Up will take place at Lend Lease Darling Quarter Theatre at 7pm on Thursday June 28. Tickets $40.
Mari Andrew: Turning Pain Into Art will take place at Spaces (111 Flinders Street in Surry Hills) at 1.30pm on Saturday June 30. Tickets $200–$250.