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Born in Arizona, Adrian Black’s family moved to the area before turning three. “My mother was born and raised in this area, so it was kind of a homecoming for her. We have deep roots in this part of the United States.”

As a youngster, Adrian’s forays into art seemed to be a reaction to the world, rather than a thought-through exercise. An introverted child with asthma, they weren’t able to go out and do a lot of things with other kids. “I was overweight and kind of awkward and didn’t really know how to interact with kids that much,” they say, “so I spent a lot of my time either in my room or wandering through the woods.”

Adrian kept journals from the age of 9, spending hours every day writing down stories, drawing, and bringing in found forest materials, like leaves and fungus. The journals’ binding nearly broke, they were stuffed so fully. “It was my way of interfacing with a world that I found kind of scary and overstimulating,” Adrian says. “I was able to translate my experiences in the world into something where I could explore the finer details and not just be overwhelmed.”

Adrian describes the “great fortune” they had to attend Explorations Academy, a small and independent private high school in Bellingham that follows an experiential learning model. “While fulfilling state requirements for education, I could follow things that were interesting to me,” they say. “That gave me a lot of freedom, and I could take responsibility for my education.”

The art world serves as a venue for Adrian to feel comfortable sharing with other people. Photo courtesy Adrian Black

All school classes revolved around a single subject or concept, such as the Renaissance period, and all lessons related to that focus. “We learned about Renaissance history for our history class, about the chemistry behind making your own paints for our science class, and in our art class we figured out how to copy Renaissance painters’ work in our own styles.”

Studying art in school allowed art to transition from a habit of coloring outside the lines into a conscientious practice of sharing an inner vision with the rest of the world. “That’s when it went from doodling in my journal or drawing with crayons on my walls to making art that I can share with people, that I can have conversations with people about,” says Adrian. “I learned how to make it more a community activity, not just a single person in a room by myself.”

An ever-evolving set of media give Adrian’s art a sense of depth and texture. Photo courtesy Adrian Black

That willingness to experiment — and to experience new modes of expression — soon took Adrian through a couple of unexpected turns. “One of my teachers at Explorations was an Evergreen grad, and they thought I’d do really well at Evergreen State College, because it’s the same interdisciplinary setup,” says Adrian. “I went there and stayed within the artistic, creative avenues, but I took a sharp left turn and got into dance, which is something I never thought would happen.”

Part of the appeal was a new type of interdisciplinary arts experience, one that happened in a less intellectual way.

“It was really tapping into what was happening in the body, and then we would go make art about all the things that came up,” they say. “That was extremely powerful for me, and for a long time I thought I was going to be a practitioner of dance therapy, but then I injured my knees. From dance I moved into doing theater, backstage, stage management, technical theater stuff.”

After schooling, Adrian’s focus returned to visual art, though the media they used continued to evolve and push along the expression.

“I started with markers, because I didn’t have to wait for the art to dry before I continued working. And for a really long time I would only use black ink,” says Adrian. “But when I picked up markers with alcohol-based ink, I found out how to use color. That was a revolutionary learning moment for me because I could suddenly get very bold colors — which are my favorite — very easily, and I wouldn’t have to wait for paint to dry.”

Adrian learned to harness creative impulses at Explorations and Evergreen, two schools that allow students to plan their educations. Photo courtesy Adrian Black

Adrian has now moved into highly pigmented watercolors and layers on inks and markers and some acrylic paint when they want to bring out highlights, plus metallic paints for finishing touches.

Many artists have a hard time discussing their aesthetic, but Adrian seems to have a good handle on some fairly heady themes.

“If I had to attempt to describe my art, I would call it dream art, or mythic art. A lot of my stuff is inspired by dreams that I’ve had, or images that have come into my mind that strike me as important. A lot of it is very symbolic — I’m very interested in psychology and Jungian archetypes and exploring inner worlds,” says Adrian. “That’s normally unseen, and I think art is an excellent way to tap into the stories we have in our heads, whether they’re stories about us or stories about the world we’re experiencing.”

Mystic and mythic images from dreams and folk tales make up a large part of Black’s artwork. Photo courtesy Adrian Black

Adrian sees similar images coming to us by way of fairy tales, myths, and legends from around the world.

“There’s a unifying humanity in that, and in a time of people butting heads it’s an excellent reminder that we’re all still human. We all have these inner worlds that don’t necessarily align with the world outside, and the goal is to bring the world that we imagine inside of ourselves out into the world, to make it a better place.”

While Black loves to frequent Art & Happiness and enjoys taking part in the marketplace created by the Rebel Artists of Whatcom. Their art can be found and purchased on Instagram and Etsy. They also want others to join in the artistic cameraderie. “Everyone is an artist,” Adrian says. “The technical skills of art are just technical skills, and anyone can learn them at any age. But everyone is an artist because we’re all human. That’s it.”

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