words :: Kristin Schnelten
Andrea Mueller is a force. Chatting with the passionate, tenacious, fiercely dedicated Whistler artist is a full-on experience, an adventure in side-stitch hilarity peppered with poignant reflection on her decades in the industry.
Mueller just celebrated her first full year at Art Pop in Creekside Village. The bright and airy shop, intended initially as a few-month pop-up that just kept going, houses her studio and gallery as well as a retail area and open flex space for classes and workshops. Buzzing with colour and activity, bath bombs and textiles, the place is a feast for the senses—and is seriously cool.
“Everyone says it has good vibes,” Mueller says. “Even businessmen in suits and ties who wander in during a conference. They all look around and say, ‘This place has great vibes!’”
It’s difficult to not be inspired at Art Pop, where Mueller is so content she finds herself hanging around on her days off. And the enviable opportunity to set up shop and stick around as part of Creekside’s revitalization isn’t lost on her. “I’m just so grateful the building’s owner took a chance on me, along with other people in Whistler who have supported me over the years,” she says. “I definitely wouldn’t have been able to pursue my career in the arts without them.”
She didn’t just wander into that career. In characteristic Andrea style, she grabbed it by the horns and made it happen. Headed toward a life in tourism, she says, “I opened a magazine in a waiting room, and two people I went to OCAD (Ontario College of Art & Design) with were featured—and they were killing it.” Her resulting envy fueled a decision: “I have to be in the arts. I have to find a way.”
Mueller opened a two-day pop-up shop and made a conscious effort to take a dive deep into the arts community. The pop-up lasted a year, and saw her hosting themed shows, varied programming, gallery exhibits and opening receptions that built relationships and opened doors for her next step, a tenure with Arts Whistler.
“I worked for 10 years helping other artists learn and take lessons, to have a place to showcase their art, music and filmmaking—and get paid. I’m a huge advocate for the arts, of course I am,” she says. “It’s just so difficult because of a lack of funding. I would love to see big businesses get more involved in the arts; not just with children and youth, but with the arts in general. And without censoring the difficult things.”
Initiating engaging conversations about those difficult topics, she says, is what makes art important, what makes it a valuable effort.
Well-known for her bold, bright animal paintings and prints ubiquitous to so many area homes (and currently festooning Whistler lampposts), there’s a depth to Mueller’s body of work beyond the bears and wolves. And some of it is dark.
Her upcoming April exhibition revisits childhood memories in an effort to move forward in adulthood. “My winter show at Arts Whistler, Inconsistent Memory, is my idealized, romanticized memories of my grandparents’ farm,” she says. “But the spring show is the opposite. It’s the negative memories, childhood trauma. I find it interesting that you and a sibling can have the exact same experience but have completely different memories. I’m exploring that idea in these two exhibits.”
The stark black-on-white paintings with blasts of intense colour are also a response to current events. “I think being a mother makes you a lot more sensitive to human atrocities, especially affecting children,” Mueller says. “War is not good for anybody, especially little kids. I find these images on the news really impact me now, in a visceral way.”
Preparing work for those two upcoming events are monumental tasks in addition to her ongoing solo show at Art Pop, where she’s also managing the retail and class spaces. Andrea Mueller is busy.
“As an artist, you’re well-practiced. You’re working, every single day. It isn’t just all fun—I mean, I do have fun doing some of it, but it’s about work,” she says. “And artists are some of the toughest-skinned people there can be. You’re putting a little piece of your heart up on a wall, literally sitting and watching people walk by and talk about it. And it’s really hard to share some of this with other people.”
Her winter show, the nostalgic side of the memory coin, is less intimidating to share. An homage not just to the family farm but to her Opa, a hardworking farmer who somehow found time for oil painting, the exhibit will be a multi-media event, with paintings, photos and an installation vignette of her grandmother’s living room. And she’s carving out space for a selection of her Opa’s watercolour drawings from his final years. Because, Mueller says, “He never got an art show, and he should have had one.”
Showcasing her grandfather’s drawings is natural to Mueller, a woman who’s been championing the work of others for decades. For her it’s about uplifting those in her Whistler community and beyond, and not just those in the arts.
“My hope is that others will use their talents to support goodness,” she says. “Just support the good. If that’s what you can do for others, then support something that’s good and meaningful.”
Andrea Mueller’s Arts Whistler show, Inconsistent Memory, runs through the end of January. Her April show will take place at Art Pop. Follow @andreamuellerart and visit www.andrealikesart.com for upcoming exhibitions and workshops.
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