Southwestern.eduThe Creative Process: Interview Series - artist Andrew Lakey  
Dr. Aaron Prevots, Ph.D.
Southwestern University

Andrew Lakey
(Born: 1959, Châteauroux, France) 

Artist Andrew Lakey is best known for his 2000 paintings of Angels, created between January 1, 1990 and December 31, 1999. Lakey is a painter, focusing on original works which include Angels, Hearts, Language, ButterfliesPortraits, and flora and fauna color studies titled "Brilliant Nature" or, as this cycle is collectively called, "Unencountered."

Without any formal training Andrew Lakey began a prodigious artistic odyssey, painting original works in a variety of media. Over two decades, he has produced thousands of paintings, sculptures, and drawings. In 1999, Lakey began to suffer chronic health issues from overexposure to toxins in paint, resulting in multiple and ongoing surgeries, and took a hiatus from his painting while focusing upon other outlets developing the "Unencountered" characters, including books of abstract art-poems. He still continues to paint, but wears protective gear for health reasons. Other projects that will take him out of the studio soon will include sculpture, drawing and directing films.

In 2010 Andrew Lakey has now begun a seminal endeavor - a new, two-stage painting cycle in his studio. The cycle consists of Studies, the preparatory work which is his current focus, and Paintings, the eventual art works that will result from his Studies.

Unless otherwise noted, all images © 1990 - 2011 Andrew Lakey. All rights reserved.


Andrew Lakey (Andy) Drawing
Andrew Lakey


Andrew Lakey News & Info: Study #26
"Study #26" (2010)
Andrew Lakey


First of all, how did you get started as an artist? What marked your journey from “doodling” as a young person and hobbyist – into Fine Art as an adult?

Andrew Lakey: Well, that’s a loaded question. I could take you down many paths… but how did I become an artist?

I always liked drawing, as a “doodlist.” I took art classes in high school, but I was the only student there that never painted. I normally sat back and I did my “high drawings” because I was pretty “loaded” in high school… This is one of the reasons in the early 90s I went to schools and spoke to kids about my story and how drugs almost killed me.

At the age of 26, I had a drug overdose – and then I quit doing drugs cold turkey after that experience. I would go home from work and draw the journey that I saw during my overdose…

Now I don’t know if it was a “real” experience or if I was hallucinating, but to me it was real. And after drawing for three years, from 1987-1990, doing these drawings of the “other side” – these poles of light – I thought I got pretty good. It’s like golfing for three years; after a while, you start swinging that golf club a little bit better… I didn’t realize I was not ready,” but I have the type of personality that if I want to do something, I’m going to try.

So I started to create art, and I finally sold a painting… for $100.00! I got “Helga” (my first collector) to buy one, and the next day she wanted her money back. So it looked like I was going back to selling cars.

You know, interesting things happen. I’m not a reader, but I bought a book on how to become an artist – and since I don’t have any formal art training, and I didn’t know any other artists at that time, the book said you had to take pictures of your art and submit slides. And so, for the few paintings that I had, I submitted slides, and– received 17 rejection letters. So, it didn’t look very promising.

I went to the bank where I cashed my “car” checks. I asked my banker if I could hang my painting in the bank, and she allowed me to! I was really surprised and I brought it over and hung it, and something happened… A Canadian collector/art critic came in to the bank, saw the painting, and he thought I'd studied with an aboriginal tribe. This critic then contacted Pierrette Van Cleve, who in turn came in to see the painting. That became a key for Pierrette to unlock a promise that she had made. The next day she arranged the local ABC network to visit my studio, in my garage. The only painting I’d ever sold, I’d also had to give the $100 back! – But I did meet Ray Charles, the week before, through another strange twist of fate, and so I did the ABC News broadcast for “Art For The Blind”… One week before, I never knew I’d become the “Artist For The Blind”… And Peter Jennings just happened to be recording ABC News Tonight that evening from San Diego, and of all the things, he said to run the story nationally, and make it available to all the ABC affiliates.

So they ran it – this little crazy-sounding story – about this artist that paints for the blind.

Because of this little introduction, Pierrette’s story – that she’d helped a blind boy who was her student, create art, and when she saw my work thought it would have been a good technique for Brian. She saw how the textures in the paintings were raised, and so it was a way for her to extend the work she started for the student.

So, one thing led to another, and I was kind of “stuck”…! I was on TV. And organizations started contacting me, wanting me to donate paintings. I was a starving artist for sure, I had no money, and I would make paintings and donate them. And eventually, it caught on, and I still donate paintings when I get a request. It actually took me 17 years to really figure out how to paint. It took about 17 years for me to get comfortable with creating art... Today, 21 years later I feel confident that I am an artist.




Andrew Lakey (Andy) Angels With A New Language (1994) from Gallery of Angels from the "20 Year Retrospective"
“Angels With A New Language” (1994)
Andrew Lakey

Andrew Lakey (Andy) Angels 1409 & 1410 - Meditation Boxes (1995) from Gallery of Angels from the "20 Year Retrospective"
“Angels 1409 & 1410 – 
Meditation Boxes” (1995)
Andrew Lakey

Andrew Lakey (Andy) Angel 999 (1994) from Gallery of Angels from the "20 Year Retrospective"
“Angel #999” (1994)
Andrew Lakey

Andrew Lakey (Andy) My Seven Angels (1990) from Gallery of Angels from the "20 Year Retrospective"
"My Seven Angels" (1990)
Andrew Lakey

Andrew Lakey (Andy) Angel 840 (1990) from Gallery of Angels from the "20 Year Retrospective"
“Angel #840” (1994)
Andrew Lakey


Is there any work you’ve done where you feel, in hindsight, that you were personally innovative; namely where you gained new insights after you were done?

That’s tough, because to me, my art process has really been measured from day one. Except for when I’ve had surgeries, there’s never been a day that I haven’t created art. So really to me, it’s a really big curve… or maybe it’s like a long string. Everything along that string had to exist for me to be where I’m at today.

So I don’t think there’s any one moment along that string where “Wow, that was a defining moment..!” I think it was more an accumulation of creating art all of these years, and that whole string had to exist to make that possible. Right now could be the “middle” of the string, going forward. But all of the practice over the last twenty years is what brought me to where I am today.




The artwork you’ve created over the years has shown range in your color palettes, textures, and the balance between figurative works in relation to abstract work. Yet there is one “Lakey-esque” quality present in nearly every piece, and these are the little “energy lines” that often surround the subject. Tell us about those...

I have no idea what these lines mean. They just come out. In fact, when I started to paint, my mud paintings of October-December 89, I was painting with palette knives, just getting paint and making a mess. It’s when I “accidentally” mixed two paints together in 1990; that was when I discovered that together they formed this ridge, and I started putting them into tubes and squeezing them to form these lines.

Why do these little curves, lines and runes come out? I absolutely, to this day, think it allows me to relax and think. Even if you look at the “crude” work from 1990, you can see the same field of lines. Maybe they’re not as defined as today… but the same feeling; the patterns… it almost seems like a jigsaw puzzle. I don’t know… maybe it’s in my subconscious somewhere I picked it up, where I have to create this balance of these “balanced lines” that don’t appear to make sense.





Andrew Lakey (Andy) SR 2 (2005) from Portraits cycle aka Silhouettes & Shadows
"SR 2" (2005) from Portraits cycle
Andrew Lakey


Would you say you had any fine art influences growing up? …Or even today?

I had an art teacher in high school named Karen Lesser, and it was really funny – ten years after I became an artist I contacted her because the media wanted to do a story on me, and she was surprised that I had become an artist! She always said I had raw talent. I always enjoyed doodling, because that was a way of getting my energy out… but I really don’t have any influences.

Now that you ask that question. I would like to see what would happen with my art moving forward if I did get some solid influences. I would like to work with some trained artists… or maybe go to art school… and “figure it out.” You know, maybe I’m doing things completely wrong!

And not saying that influences would or wouldn’t change my art – I think it would help me get to the next level. I would like to, now that I feel confident with what I’m doing… I’m actually a little bored because I feel like I have mastered my own technique, with which I started out. I think I’ve already taken it as far as I can take it, and I think I need to learn more… I think being a self-taught artist, you can only experiment and do so much. So I think it would be really great to absorb some more influences, and that’s really what I’m planning on doing moving forward.




"72 Hours" – Process Video
(2009) Andrew Lakey

What would you like to share with students and any new, un-schooled painters about making the journey into fine art?

There are a couple things for students to know about my work… Number 1, I’m a very prolific artist, but even if one is not prolific, I think they should understand that chemicals and studio materials in general can have a detrimental effect to your health.

I can remember when I first became an artist and I was mixing paints, I really used to get dizzy. This is back around 1990 when I began combining the paints. But, I think I built up a tolerance to it, a bit like working in a chemical plant. Eventually, you just get used to it. And I started to have sinus surgeries in 1992, then 1993, and it’s just gone on… even currently, 21 years later, I still have sinus issues and I had my 6th surgery in December 2010.

I think one of the things I would teach students is that with all the technology available, and with the internet today, is that when they go paint, they need to use the proper precautions, to make sure they have a well-ventilated studio, use proper masks, because in the long run, if this is going to be their career, this can have a cumulative effect that can impact their health.

I started to study the history of other artists who got really ill, and it’s quite common apparently. People who work around print shops a lot or are around chemicals, it can have this cumulative effect, and so one thing I would teach artists is to protect their health at all costs.

Number 2, I’d love to see if there’s an interest in these “thin lines” that I create. And see what other artists can do with the techniques that I’ve developed. I do believe that I have a “technique” – I mean, there are a great many steps to try to create the kind of paintings that I do, and I’d love to see what others can do with these techniques and then, maybe other artists can also donate paintings to the visually impaired, who knows where it can go for them?

But I do have a defining technique, developed through trial and error over the years, and I’d love to share it with other artists. If you laid down the texture by itself, the texture would get discolored, and it would peel off, but once you apply multiple coats of paint over it, it won’t change. There’s so many little techniques that I can teach somebody so that they could create art that would last a long time.



Andrew Lakey (Andy) Studio

Andrew Lakey (Andy) Art Studio environment

Andrew Lakey (Andy) Art Studio environment


Andrew Lakey (Andy) TM (2006) from Portraits cycle aka Silhouettes & Shadows

"TM" (2006) from Portraits cycle
Andrew Lakey


In the "85 Steps" video (as well as the "72 Hours" video), we see you working in a very precise and organized way, very focused, like a person driving with their eye fixed on what’s 2 miles down the road. Is that a true statement?

No, actually it’s the opposite. I have a general idea of what I’m going to do. For example, when I create an image, I’ll draw it, but I have no idea what’s going to surround the image with the lines that I place next. So, that’s all spontaneous and automatic; that’s not planned.

I can start in different areas, and they will all come together. The main thing that makes me feel comfortable when I create these lines and helps the painting flow… the lines all feel like the’ve come from the same family of lines. The lines aren’t too close on one side of the paintings and too far on the other; they’re almost the same distance, and they almost look like sand moved by the wind, so to speak.




"85 Steps" – Process Video
(2009) Andrew Lakey


After 2000 you completed your initial Angel cycle (of 2000) and since then, you’ve gone into numerous (and diverse) painting cycles – the Shadows (aka Portraits), Hearts, Butterflies, the Studies & Paintings. Would you say that is just the restless nature of being an artist; always wanting to do something fresh, or is there also an arc that follows you from cycle to cycle that you can explain?

Well, actually when I started painting, I didn’t just start painting Angels. I also painted dinosaurs, all sorts of creatures. In fact when you look at Ray Charles’ painting (“Toxogon 200 Million BC”) that was created in 1990. My very first painting was called “My Seven Angels” if you look at that ABC News broadcast, you’ll see that painting and five abstracts.

It just happened, around 1992-1993, that I was doing these paintings, that people picked up on it, and they wanted Angels. I wanted to create monsters and dinosaurs because as a child I was fascinated with them, but the Angels seemed to be the choice that people wanted.

So, maybe I don’t know, perhaps I am restless. That’s actually something I started very early on. I couldn’t sell the dinosaur paintings or the monster paintings! I also used to create these “doors” with abstract textures that would not sell.

I would be absolutely happy doing nothing but these textures and doing nothing but that for the rest of my life; that’s what makes me feel comfortable.



Andrew Lakey (Andy) with Ray Charles, feeling the surface of Toxogon 200 Million B.C.
"Toxogon 200 Million B.C."
(1990) Andrew Lakey

Andrew Lakey (Andy) Heart (2011)
“Untitled Heart” (2011)
Andrew Lakey

Some of the collectors of your Angel paintings claim they have had healing experiences, keeping your paintings by their bedside, carrying small paintings inside their purses or backpacks. Do you have any ideas about that?

Well, I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that; I’ve heard some stories too. I think if you take a random group of 10,000 people that ate hamburgers on a particular day and saw that maybe 200 of them also got lucky. People might attribute that if you ate hamburgers you would get lucky. To me I feel uncomfortable with it, because… I’ve had some health challenges, and my own art hasn't helped me. You can't be healed, or cured, or have things happen because of a painting. It’s just wood and paint. Otherwise, if that weren’t the case, I would be healed. I’m the artist and I’m around more paintings than anybody. I don’t feel it, and I think it’s just that people want to believe in something. If you take 30 to 40 thousand collectors of mine, you know maybe a few of them have had experiences. But then they might have had those experiences anyway without these paintings. So to me, it’s paint and wood.

I used to call my Angels a “reminder”… reminding people to focus in on what they needed to focus upon. We know that the mind is very powerful. A painting can’t be powerful; a hamburger can’t cure you. But your mind can do some amazing things, and there have been books written on the power of positive thinking, and so maybe instead my paintings are a reminder for people – to take their medications, or to have positive thoughts in their mind and so on.





Andrew Lakey Untitled Angel (2011)
"Untitled Angel" (2011)
Andrew Lakey

Health risks have come up and yet you brave on, and even continue to subject yourself to exposure, obviously under much more controlled circumstances today – paints, the studio environment… to making new work. What goes through your mind each day when you wake up? How do you approach the idea of doing new work each day?

I have to create art each day. Even when I had my surgeries, in between the recovery time, I would draw. I always want to create something, make something, do something. My doctors have put me on a restricted program where they only allow me to create paintings for up to 5 hours a day, with rest in between, and I have to do a lot of medical regimens everyday. I need to take different medications and treatments – it's worth it because I will never quit creating art.

Intel Corporation sent me a “bunny suit”, and DuPont built me a Hazmat suit… but it’s unrealistic to put on all this big gear to create a painting, the way I paint. Right now I put on the masks and oxygen, and it helps… I ventilate the studio, and I still get sick, from time to time.

So the way I look at it when I get up in the morning is I prepare the tables in my clean room studio, making sure the environment is clean, the ventilation systems are working, I have special air that is filtrated… but what really bothers is I’m so sensitive to chemicals, certain turpentine and paint thinners. Many things in my environment, even with all the protection, swell my sinuses and it gets to the point you can’t breath. I'm currently experimenting with organic paints and different types of materials to help. I’m always experimenting… and that’s why I’m going into other types of media; sculpture and making things out of clay, where I’m not exposed to so many chemicals as I have been in the past.



Andrew Lakey Painting in Hazmat
Andrew Lakey painting in studio in hazmat

Andrew Lakey Painting
Andrew Lakey Studios– (detail) Environment

Do you have any strategies that help you start your day? Tell us about a typical day in your studio...

There’s no typical day. I might wake up in the morning and do nothing… And then, I might wake up at midnight and paint for several hours straight. So it’s really just when I feel inspired. I’ll work for two hours, take an hour break, take a shower, get the chemicals off, work another hour… and it’s not like I’m entrenched in chemicals, but just being around it with all the surgeries over the years have made me extra sensitive.

I’m inspired throughout the day. Sometimes I’ll draw, sometimes I’ll paint, but there’s really no set regimen like going in at 8 in the morning and leaving at 5 at night… no, it’s really just whenever I want to create the art, and then all the materials are there to be able to do that.




Andrew Lakey Painting in studio
Andrew Lakey creating
"Angels - Family of 9 (2008)"

It doesn’t sound then like you ever hit the artist’s equivalent of “writer’s block”…

I have and that’s why I started other projects, because I did get the artist’s block – also the Studies project and the Paintings project is new . Actually, I enjoy this new period the most – the Studies. Experimenting with new shapes and forms, and colors, and how it works. I’ve had blocks where I try and finish something, and I get frustrated too. Sometimes I end up destroying the boards or canvases – I shred then recycle them – because I can’t figure out what to do. Today I’m even more critical, because I don’t have the time to paint like I did in the past, so for every hour I spend in the studio, I have to make it work. Time is precious and I can’t capture that hour back again.



Andrew Lakey Study #24
"Study #24” (2010)
Andrew Lakey

Your artwork is rich in detail. Yet there was something I found interesting, where you claim you have an easier time painting a large painting than a small one?

It is easier to create larger than smaller works.




Andrew Lakey Studies & Paintings - Painting #1 (2010)
"Painting #1" (2010) from the
cycle Studies & Paintings

Andrew Lakey

What role does Language play in your work?

What do you mean by language?




Andrew Lakey Language (2009) Arbre
"ARBRE" (2009)
Andrew Lakey


The communicated language, whether it’s in the written form, you’ve done the studies referred to as the Andrew Lakey Language cycle, but sometimes artists who paint think perhaps that visually the question of language doesn’t necessarily come up for them. Do you think language becomes a significant part of what you see in your mind’s eye when you paint?

Not really. I can’t even figure out my own paintings, so it’s a little difficult sometimes to convey to someone else how I feel sometimes. Sure, I created a series where I put words on paintings, maybe to communicate, but when I look at that series of paintings, it doesn’t fully make sense. I think I’m still at the halfway point in this project, and maybe I’d be able to answer that question in a few years.



I’ve seen the Process photos of your studio and everything looks quite layered and organized. What is for you the significance of deliberately designing a structured environment for the creative process? Or is almost any setting (public, private or otherwise) a potentially suitable launch pad for creativity?

I could create anywhere. You could put me in a garage, anywhere in America, you give me my tables and my paints and I could create. That’s not my problem; my studio is designed for me because I know where my paints are, it’s also organized that way to ventilate, I could create anywhere, and I have. For years I created in a storage facility (where people put their belongings) when I didn’t have a studio. I’ve combined 3 or 4 different storage units together.I don’t need fancy lighting, or fancy couches in the corner.




Andrew Lakey Painting in studio, 2008
Andrew Lakey creating
"The Color of Angels #12" (2008)

Video: "Andrew Lakey Studio
Diary #17" (2011): In Studio


And music.

And music. I have to have some music. Normally it’s seventies music; Paul McCartney, the Beatles, and some times I’ll listen to rock n roll, but you know, surprisingly enough I’ll listen to Frank Sinatra or classical music sometimes, music has to be part of the process.



Have you ever investigated a new direction after reading about a favorite artist, or communicating with others in the field?

I’m curious what other successful artists are doing in the field like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, and I’ve looked at Picasso… it’s kind of interesting you said that; Picasso created ceramic plates and other original pieces out of clay, and I’m actually exploring that now with a new art assistant; but it’s another art form I’d like to try.

But everybody has his or her own style. It’s inspiring to see what other artists are doing… but I haven’t really “investigated” – I don’t really have the skill set to do everything I want, so I’m going to using more art assistants moving forward in the future, I see how the big artists i.e. Warhol, have lots of talented art assistants, where the artist almost becomes like a director. They conceive the idea in their mind and direct how they want certain pieces made. What I’d like to do is keep a talented group of artists around me, and with what I’ve learned over the last twenty years; maybe we can collaborate and do some interesting works together. And so that’s probably more how I plan on moving forward; finding artists who know what they’re doing to help me with some of the visions that I have that I’m not able to really do, technically or physically, by myself.




Andrew Lakey Painting
Pablo Picasso –"Still Life" (1953)
ceramic plate


Using this moment as a snapshot in time, Is there any work you’re most proud of, and if so, do you tend to find that it’s the most recent… or a moment of personal happiness?

It hasn’t happened yet… but sure, I have works I feel are good enough to send out but I’m never “satisfied”. I haven’t found it yet. I think I’m still a long ways away… I’d say in 1990 when I started, I was at 0.1 on a scale of 10,000… and maybe today I’m at 4,000. Meaning I have a long ways to go. And hopefully in the future I’ll be satisfied with my art; even today I’m still not. There’s not one defining moment… I think a defining moment is outside the art, how people have responded to it, but when you look at the art, I’m not sure what there is to say, it’s the textures and the lines. So I think I’m still growing.

Now sure, there are moments when I say “this works” or “that’s better than before…” – but it’s still not quite there.




Andrew Lakey (Andy) - Painting detail from "Celestial View" (1990)
"Celestial View - Detail" (1990)
Andrew Lakey


I think that touches on something quite interesting, which is also related to music, which is that for music to be most successful, it technically doesn’t “mean anything” – it doesn’t have an overt message spelt out, it’s not trying to communicate something, it only just “is” – and art, compared to design which must communicate with very deliberate purpose – art is something that is good because it can just “be.” And without such benchmarks and signposts, this can be liberating to the artist for the sake of driving on with their craft.

I think I’m happiest with my art for the things the collectors don’t see; for example, I may lay a painting out and create a thousand lines of textures on it. There might be one texture out of place or out of balance, just a little bit… I’ll spend an hour scraping that texture out and then re-doing it, which nobody would ever notice but me. Visually I think the paintings look OK, but it’s getting those textures and lines to be in harmony… So for me, being satisfied is a part of the artwork that others don’t see.



You started a Twitter account featuring thought provoking quotes from the art world. Is there a particular quote that you feel best describes you?

I like to see what other artists are thinking, so I created a Twitter account to share art quotes (@artquotes)… I’ve ventured into trying to create some of my own quotes (laughs) you know; they’re not very profound. I think it helps me as an artist, continuing to create, to see what some other artists were thinking or going through. And some of them were quite thought provoking. But I did come up with this one…

“Every time I watch the History Channel, I realize how insignificant I am.” – Andrew Lakey

…That’s it, that’s probably my favorite quote. My favorite TV network is the History Channel and every time I watch it, I don’t get depressed but instead I realize – I’m just a spot on this rock called earth.




Andrew Lakey Butterfly (detail) "Chocolate" 2011
"Chocolate" (detail) from Butterflies
cycle (2011) Andrew Lakey


Andrew Lakey (Andy) paints WR from the Portraits cycle, aka Silhouettes & Shadows (2005)
Andrew Lakey
creating "WR"
from Portraits cycle

Are there any few words that might sum up your approach to life, to painting, or who you are as an artist?

Oh, I think we could spend three or four interviews on that. I certainly want to continue creating art; it’s what makes me happiest, but I think my art hopefully puts a positive impact out there for some people.

I’m just somebody here on this planet creating art, and I just want to do as much good as I can. And if the vehicle for my doing that good is with the art, so be it.