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In Andrea Durfee’s mystical art, people are at one with nature

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"I Listen to the Sky" by Andrea Durfee. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • "I Listen to the Sky" by Andrea Durfee.
While taking in one of Andrea Durfee’s vibrant watercolor or acrylic paintings that seamlessly, almost imperceptibly, blend human forms with landscapes, it’s hard to believe she just wings it. No preliminary sketches. No color studies.

“If I have the impulse, then I'll sit down and just sketch on the actual canvas or the paper and go from there,” Durfee says. “The first thing that's laid out is the figure, and then I build the landscape around it. So it's very much paying attention to the body positioning, and what emotion that is communicating.”

"Unfold the Earth" by Andrea Durfee. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • "Unfold the Earth" by Andrea Durfee.
The human figures are subtly embedded into sweeping backdrops of nature. A reclining woman becomes a mountain range. A woman curled up resembles a boulder. A woman lounging dissolves into the dunes around her. They are sleeping giants, at one with the natural world. She has so skillfully placed the figures that, at a glance, it’s easy to miss them.

In some works, the figure is purposely prominent. She may be a silhouette in the foreground, her frame functioning as a portal to another world filled with lush flora under a starry night sky. One woman stares into a cup she holds, as though reading tea leaves. Waterfalls cascade from the outstretched hands of a woman into a lake reflecting the moon. There’s something sacred and mystical about them.

“I create dreamscapes meshing figures with landscapes as expressions of the journey to wellness,” Durfee says in her artist statement. “My work focuses on themes of personal mythology, power, and dichotomous balance. Figures embody both strength and fragility, and geological processes often serve as metaphor for human experience.”

In March, she is planning to release a new series of paintings titled “Seers,” which she says explore connecting with unperceived energy and strength.



Andrea Durfee in her home studio. - PHOTO BY RACHEL LIZ PHOTOGRAPHY
  • PHOTO BY RACHEL LIZ PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Andrea Durfee in her home studio.
Durfee, 36, studied studio art and creative arts therapy at Nazareth College and works out of a home studio in the South Wedge. But her work has found an audience beyond Rochester.

Paige Stanley, of Washington, D.C., is a collector of Durfee’s art. She bought her first piece a year ago for a friend who was having a baby and says she was drawn to Durfee’s work because it conveyed beauty and strength. Since then, she has amassed originals and prints for herself, commissioned a lake scene, and gave works to friends as a gesture of solace during the pandemic.

One of her favorites is a painting called “Aries” that depicts a woman reclining over a mesa, a pastel sky reflected in a river that snakes toward giant crimson blooms in the foreground.

“It's just a peaceful, very calming sort of focal point with some really beautiful colors, but also has a very interesting perspective,” Stanley says. “It’s kind of an escape, the depth lets you get lost in it.”

Often Durfee’s paintings are accompanied by little poems created “in conversation” with the finished piece, a practice that she credits, along with her intuitive process, to her training at Nazareth.

“I find that it’s a really therapeutic process pulling together your thoughts and paying attention to your own emotional experience, what's going on internally, instead of trying to put your will out onto the paper,” she says.

"The Expanse" by Andrea Durfee. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • "The Expanse" by Andrea Durfee.
Her intuitive approach shouldn’t suggest she isn’t drawing from a wellspring of developed skills. During her undergraduate years, Durfee focused mainly on printmaking, specifically reduction block prints — a technique of alternating carving layers of shapes from a single block of linoleum and printing a color for each layer, until the block is depleted and the print has layers of colors that form a picture.

“I loved seeing this piece of linoleum go from a full sheet to nothing,” Durfee says. “And the physical labor of working that out was really gratifying.”

Durfee only took one painting course, but says she rediscovered painting later on when she no longer had access to a printing press. Recently, she started experimenting with digital art. She uses the Procreate program to create digital paintings; some animated, bringing her beings to life.

“I think that I needed to kind of unearth some different emotions while I was creating, and a medium switch-up is sometimes a really great way to do that,” she says.

Her subject matter stems from mixed influences. Durfee says her mother was a ballet teacher, and that she was a dancer herself in her youth, practicing ballet, tap, and modern dance. She says dance has informed her body awareness and interest in figures. But the hints of the fantastical in her paintings come from growing up obsessed with fairies and mythology.

“I really gravitated towards that kind of internal fantasy or the potential for connecting with something that was not available to our eyes,” she says. “And that's never really gone away.”

Durfee’s landscapes are dreamed up — except in the cases of commissioned paintings of specific places. But some of the blooms in her recent works are referenced from images posted by local flower company Pistil & Pollen. Durfee references her own form for most of the figures, but says she’s starting to ask friends to model for her.

“I think that my depictions of landscapes are really purely internal mode,” Durfee says. “Living in Rochester, we obviously don't have access to a lot of these desertscapes or coastal imagery that I come up with.

“I think it’s probably a bit of escapism that allows me to work through real-life problems,” she goes on. “It's almost like creating just a little manifestation piece that captures that power that I'm trying to tap into.”

Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's life editor. She can be reached at becca@rochester-citynews.com.