Art conquers cancer

painter who tapped talent while ill featured at Sierra Arts Festival

PHOTO/SIERRA ARTS FOUNDATION: Andrea "Drea" Kitchen poses in front of some of her early paintings on canvas.

The cancer diagnosis that came after several other setbacks in Andrea “Drea” Kitchen’s life six years ago nearly tipped the 36-year-old Reno mom over the edge of despair.

That’s when art, her long-time hobby, emerged as an overriding passion.

“I’ve always been an artistic type of person, split between art and music, but I didn’t really focus on either,” said Kitchen, who is now in remission from the disease. “But then, when that cancer diagnosis came, I started painting again just to find some joy in life at that dark moment. I did my first piece on canvas just for fun.”

A friend suggested she sell the painting to help pay for her cancer treatments. It sold, and Kitchen got commissions for more paintings that now hang in homes and offices. “It just took off through word of mouth,” she said. Kitchen’s first public display of her works came at the Sierra Arts Festival in Reno in 2019, where she was named “Judge’s Choice.”

Sierra Arts Festival June 26

The annual sale and entertainment event was cancelled last year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 2021 Sierra Arts Festival will return to Reno City Plaza, 10 N. Virginia St., on Saturday, June 26, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The event, sponsored by the Sierra Arts Foundation and Artech, will showcase dozens of local artists. The festival combines an art sale with entertainment, including music, food trucks, a Hula Hoop Jam, hands-on kids’ art activities, and fire spinners in the evening. Parking is free.

IMAGE/SIERRA ARTS FOUNDATION: Featured artists at the 2021 Sierra Arts Festival include: Annie Walker; Jill Colbert; Nick Noyes; Dale Slingland; Naomi Di Vine; Teresa Loera (aka TerAsso); John J. Hasenau; Russ Lambert (Nevada Woodchucks); Rossitza Todorova;   Sheyenne Taylor/ Lunatrix Art; Andrea “Drea” Kitchen; Linda Kay; Hardie Reenie McMains; Richard Sheriff;  April Kasper & Brooke Levy; Samantha Pollard; Leilani L. Davis; Pan Pantoja; Vincent Cascio;  Pitch Black Printing; Kendel Leslie; Amanda Wirtanen; Marie Navarro; The Generator; Olivia Costin; Dana Garrett; Margie Enlow;  Kristin, Susan, and Andalyn Moffitt; Roger Floren; NaturAli; Salem Stark; Natalie Durante; Bernardo Mxkt; and Chris Conant, who will be painting portraits live at the plaza.

Kitchen will again be in the midst of the festival.

“It’s exciting to be at this new step in my life,” she said. “What started as a flame instilled by artistic parents has become a bonfire… If you would have told me six years ago that I’d be creating and selling art today, I wouldn’t have believed you. Sometimes you have to get to a low point to be able to discover yourself again.”

One canvas led to commissions

She works with acrylic paint on canvas or wood. She had been looking forward to participating in more shows and sales after the 2019 Reno festival, but COVID-19 derailed those plans. Even so, she was able to create commissioned pieces including paintings, mandalas, and painted ukuleles.

PHOTO/SIERRA ARTS FOUNDATION: Andrea “Drea” Kitchen’s booth at the Sierra Arts Festival in 2019.

Those pieces are commissioned as gifts and are themed for specific people. The mandalas (the three circular paintings shown in the above photo), for example, incorporate imagery drawn from the lives of the recipients. One, at far right, has a VW bus in its center and a beach theme; the other, on the left side of the photo, has atom as its central image, and incorporates celestial constellations and “Star Wars” characters in its design.

“The space-themed one was for an astronomy teacher,” Kitchen said. “I always ask clients ‘tell me about the person who will receive the gift, their interests and their passions,’ and then I try to get those things into the piece to tell their stories.”

‘Let go and re-grow’

She works with bright colors and often textures her artwork with layers of paint to give them a three-dimensional aspect. Her early paintings often incorporated images of octopuses. That animal, she said, also relates to her battle against cancer and the anxiety and depression that are handmaidens to the disease.

“Octopuses are my spirit creature,” Kitchen said. “I painted a lot of them at first. They are amazing animals, both smart and resilient. They lose a limb and grow another one. I feel like I can understand that need to survive and letting go of things. I think you have to learn to let go and grow, otherwise you’ll die.”

And octopuses, she said, can be incorporated into many themes. “They aren’t like horses, which are majestic. With octopuses, you can get more creative; that guy can do a lot of things in a painting.”

Artist as entrepreneur

Kitchen had worked in a pediatrician’s office for 10 years, but now devotes her time to art and planning a business. She is customizing a mobile beer truck that will travel to parties and other events.

“I loved working in pediatrics, but my dream is to be my own boss and start my own business,” she said. “I don’t want to be 90, sitting on a porch sipping lemonade, and wishing I’d done more with my life.”

 Her goal of being an entrepreneur began with her pivot to art during the darkest time in her life.

The company of artists

“Painting was so beneficial in terms of recovery,” Kitchen said. “It showed me I was worth something. I felt that I wasn’t alone after finding that piece inside myself that I fell in love with and that others appreciated.”

After a year of isolation, she said, the Sierra Arts Festival is a perfect way to return to the company of artists and art lovers. “Everyone has been like hermits for a year,” she said. “I’m excited about the festival and especially seeing other artists and their work…  I’ve never had any formal art training, but I’m always trying to learn and always in awe of everyone else. Art is always in the process of growing.

“I want to get out there and mingle and just see everybody.”

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