Four years ago when Andrea McKenzie lost her job she was distraught and in tears.
But looking back, she is thankful because her firing led to her pursuing her passion for art and becoming a full time artist with clients in the United States (US) and Europe.
The US-based artist is back home Trinidad after spending time in Washington DC. She is currently putting things in place to go to Los Angeles and plans to feature her work in shows and art fairs in Beverly Hills.
As a full time artist, McKenzie does commissioned pieces where people contact her via email or on her website and let her know what they want, whether it is for their homes or businesses. She recently completed two pieces for a mansion in Atlanta.
Her clients send her their measurements and let her know what they want and together come up with a concept. Some clients have specific colours in mind and others allow her to do what she wants; McKenzie prefers the latter.
“You tend to feel too stifled because it limits your creativity.”
Her preference is bright, vibrant colours as she likes to “pop walls” and use colour to brighten spaces. But she is versatile and can also work in black and white.
McKenzie, who is in her 30s, explained she is good at using colours people would never think of for a particular area. Her style is a mix of abstract and impressionist.
One of her favourite pieces is Purity, which shows a woman bathing, her eyes closed, and the colour of her skin, the water and her gold neck piece are all vivid and bold.
McKenzie sells all of her work and even in her free time paints pieces for sale. Depending on the time of year, like Christmas, she would receive a rush of commissions. She had one piece her mother really liked but someone made an offer and she said, “Sorry mom.” She did promise to do another piece for her.
“Some artists get attached to their work and it is difficult for them to let go. But you have to understand that art is also a business and you treat it like a business. That’s how you make money.”
McKenzie would love to keep some of her pieces but prefers to sell them to someone who would appreciate and love it just as she would. She has received messages over the years that she inspired people based on her story about how she got started, pursuing what she loves. In 2013, McKenzie was working at a company doing event marketing. She was in her late 20s, trying to come into her own and make sense of her life, and at that point she thought a regular job was “it.”
But she received a shock when she was bypassed for a position and was out of the company.
“Walking out of that compound crying and bawling and wondering, ‘what am I going to do with my life?’ I decided to follow what I really want to do and not really care what other people want to do. People would say that is very difficult in this time but I believe once you put God first in everything, things will work out. I think I am testimony of that. Because nobody would believe that I actually would be…making money off of this. Making a living off of this.”
McKenzie always wanted to be an artist but doubted she would be able to make money, but being let go from her job pushed her to where she is today.
Her grandmother was an artist and although McKenzie did art in form five she is basically self-taught. She has been painting since age 13, especially when she felt down. After she was fired, her father saw some of her work and thought it was really good and came up with the idea to stage an exhibition. McKenzie, however, was not sure how she would be received among other artists who had been working for years.
“And that’s where I learned it doesn’t matter what age you started. Whatever you want to do it will work out, once you want it to work out. So I promised myself I would never work for anybody ever again and I never did.”
Her first collection, Pieces of Me, was held in Trinidad in 2013 and featured 25 pieces about her and life experiences, including first love and first disappointment. It was well received as about three quarter of her pieces were sold and she was shocked by the response.
After that McKenzie started to develop as an artist and began travelling, meeting different people and artists, working on her craft and she got better and better. She wanted to be known internationally because this country is too small for her goals.
“I just wanted more.”
McKenzie had an exhibition in New York and went to different states in the US and networked. She eventually developed a clientèle from countries such as the US, Sweden, England, Scotland and a couple from TT. She found it remarkable she could reach these clients from just marketing herself on social media. She pointed out that social media is free advertising and recommended artists embrace its use.
“To me social media is an excellent tool for artists to put themselves out there and be noticed.”
She receives positive messages about people who love her art and this keeps her going, even on a bad day. For the few negative messages, she said one has to have a strong mindset and believe in oneself.
The early years were mostly good though there was a month or two where there was some downtime. Sometimes she may get a huge job, then get nothing for a few weeks, but, said McKenzie, “I was never a starving artist for a year. I have always been able to live off my work.”
Her family and friends have been supportive and have been amazed by her development as an artist.
Depending on the size and detail of a piece, McKenzie would take a couple of days to two weeks, and sometimes she would lock away with her music and work around the clock. Her friends know if she is missing for a few days she is painting.
She does about 75 to 100 pieces a year, working primarily with acrylic on canvas or wood board. She has also done murals using spray paint.
McKenzie does not know any full time artists locally but she met many successful artists abroad. From them, she learned what to and what not to do and one of the most important lessons is to always value your art, to get up and get and not wait for success. As an artist it is important to be able to talk to clients and sell your work.
“It certainly has been a journey. Sometimes you question yourself like ‘What the hell am I doing?’ But you have to focus on the end result.”
Her dream is to have her pieces featured in the set decoration of successful television shows and box office movies and showcased all over the world.
“That is the mission.”
McKenzie encouraged artists to broaden their horizons and to travel and meet people from different cultures. She loves her country but said to reach different heights she had to put herself out there.
Reflecting on her decision, McKenzie has no regrets and thanked her ex-boss for firing her.
“I am living my best life.”
To see more of McKenzie’s work visit her website www.annieunique.com, on Instragram @dredredoll and her art page on Facebook Andrea’s Unique Art.