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Bringing the Outdoors into Art
December 6, 2013

As a child growing up in Heidelberg, Germany, artist Andrea Loefke’s family turned to the outdoors for vacations as often as possible. They spent summers camping together, they took hikes for special occasions, such as for Christmas to look for Santa Claus, and for birthday parties. And while on vacation in Sweden, they would go searching for gnomes and fairies deep in the woods. “We never saw any,” she says.

The fairy-searching expeditions in particular have stayed with her and the mystique has always influenced her thinking and work. But quite incongruously, she became inspired to bring the outdoors into her art by visiting dollar stores in Columbus, OH, where she was pursuing a second Master’s degree.

“My work has always been driven by materials, texture, and colors and the conflict or irritation that can be created by unusual combinations,” she explains. “I became fascinated by the 99-cent stores with all their colorful plastics. I then created worlds and nature settings out of artificial, candy-colored materials.”

A Gallery View of the Natural World

In an exhibit titled “Homecoming,” Ms. Loefke’s work is currently showcased at the Smack Mellon Gallery in DUMBO, and to visit it is to turn familiar views of the natural world around in your mind and see them in a different context. We went at a friend’s recommendation and brought the kids because at ages eight and ten, they know how to behave in museums. Our friend also assured us that Ms. Lofke’s three-year-old daughter, Emmie, would definitely be there, and as it would turn out, there were many children at this family-friendly exhibit.
 

Parents were carrying or leading toddlers around the central exhibit—a large elevated boat-shaped platform where collections of the natural world have found their temporary home from an imagined flood. Parents pointed to tree branches, upended roots, and logs that have been juxtaposed or combined with consumer goods and household objects, and encouraged the children to think abstractly about the natural world—as well as consider the intersection of natural and manmade worlds. This area of Brooklyn sustained severe flooding in Hurricane Sandy just one year ago, so the display had a particular relevance and poignancy.

Exploring the Urban Outdoors

As much as the outdoors inspires Ms. Loefke’s work, it is even more important for family time and recreation and for that, she says there’s no place like home.

“A trip outside of the city is rather rare for us. Like most New Yorkers we don’t have a car and whenever we rent one, we often get too stressed about the preparations to leave and the traffic that follows,” she explains. “Instead, we use the bike on a daily basis and spend a lot of time outside in fresh air. If we are longing for some green or blue, we might bike to Prospect Park for a picnic or take even longer day trips to the Far Rockaways for a day at the beach at Fort Tilden.”

The family also uses early-rising Emmie to a secret advantage. “We are lucky to live in DUMBO, right near the beautiful waterfront. On Sunday, before all the tourist traffic arrives and before the city awakes, I love to go down to Pier 1 with my family with our breakfast and enjoy the fresh air and astonishing view of the East River, Brooklyn Bridge, and Manhattan skyline. As often as we do it, it never ceases to amaze!”

Natural World Art Projects at Home

While Emmie considers herself more of a gymnast than an artist at this point, she recently accompanied her mother on a branch-finding expedition for “Homecoming.” 

“In the last six months, my life and that our family has revolved around trees and branches in all shapes and sizes, and Emmie got into the spirit of it,” Ms. Loefke explains.

“She decided that she wanted to paint her bundle of branches herself. We took our craft box out with paints, glue, and all sorts of small odds and ends and she instructed me to leave the room. When she was done, she had beautifully painted her small branches with many colors, glued pieces of ribbons, buttons, paper cut-outs, and glitter on them and wrapped part of a branch with pipe cleaners. Afterwards we made a mobile out of the different pieces to hang in her room. It is a beautiful homage to ‘Homecoming,’” Ms. Loefke says—and something anyone can do at home too.

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