Elemental Earthscapes: The Beach Art of Andres Amador

by Mitchell Clute

The art of Andres Amador is a study in contrasts. Created in sand with nothing more than a rake, a rope and a vision, his playa paintings are intricate and full of life. Enormous in scope—up to 90,000 square feet in size—they are also utterly ephemeral, disappearing on the rising tide.

“Some people seem almost to panic when they see me spend so much time making something that will dissolve immediately,” Amador tells Calmful Living. “The art is a metaphor for the bigger picture—that nothing can be held on to in this life.”

Childhood by the Bay

As a child, Amador didn’t dream of being an artist. He was born in San Francisco in 1971 to a Jewish mother from New York and an Ecuadorian father. He was raised by his mom. His father, just twenty when Amador was born, didn’t become a presence in his life until he was eleven, but Amador says he inherited from him his artistic bent.

“From my father, I have a genetic predisposition to inquisitiveness, which has manifested throughout my life,” he continues. “My earliest recollection of that is Legos; I would play Legos all day quietly, creating worlds. I always had this quality of asking questions and going deeper into things.”

This penchant for inquiry initially led Amador not to art but to science. He received a BA in environmental science from UC Davis, made a plan to join the Peace Corps with his girlfriend, then joined anyway when his girlfriend left for Europe and broke his heart. On his return, he worked for his father in a computer business at the height of the dot-com boom and eventually started making good money working for a bank on a contract basis.

“They offered me a full-time position,” says Amador. “I was tempted to do it for a couple years and save up money, but thankfully when I came to that crossroads I decided to step away.”

A New Path

It was 1999. Amador had just returned from the Nevada desert festival known as Burning Man. “It’s an event that cannot be encompassed in any photo or story,” he remarks, “and it really shifted my perspective on what life could be and how one could craft one’s life experience.”

As a result of Burning Man, Amador started doing fire performances with a group of people, and eventually this became a weekly event. He began to manage live music for the shows, and this led to a new job putting together events and performances.

Influenced by the larger-than-life installations he’d seen at Burning Man, he began creating pieces of his own, using PVC scaffolding covered with elastic string in different fluorescent colors. Utilizing these basic materials, he made three-dimensional forms that would glow at night under black light, and he then traveled to festivals to install them.

“As a result of these installations, I started studying the meaning of geometry for cultures throughout history and got interested in crop circles and ancient architecture,” relates Amador.

“Then one day, I was walking on the beach, playing in the sand with a walking stick. I knew from my study of geometry that I could make very complex forms through the intersection of simple shapes like triangles and circles. I saw how those shapes could be drawn in sand; it was like a beam of light coming down and hitting me on the head.”

Playa Art Is Born

In 2004, five years after walking away from his job offer to follow the path of his own journey, Amador began crafting playa art, raking geometric patterns into wet sand in the hours-long window between low tide and high.

Working mostly in Northern California, Amador has been crafting his playa art for ten years now, designing grids, circles, spirals, waves and countless other intricate and interlocking shapes on the blank canvas of the beach. When people encounter his work, Amador says it often evokes a deep response: “Even a mundane geometric design or doodle takes on grandeur and significance in the right scale and situation.” The impact is greatest when people see the art in person, but even postcard-sized images of his designs can have an impact when viewers see a person in the image and suddenly recognize the work’s true scale. “In person, there’s an almost universal childlike wonder and appreciation across all ages and backgrounds. It’s temporary art, so you have to stop and engage it now, because in a few hours it will be gone.”

Although the patterns appear and disappear in the span of a day, people’s appreciation of Amador’s art just keeps growing. This year has seen an explosion of interest in his work. Beginning in January, he says, his number of Facebook followers exploded; after holding steady for years at about 5,000, he’s now at 196,000 and counting.

Only One Moment

This sudden recognition, earned over a decade, isn’t the only recent change in Amador’s life; he and his partner have a new addition to their family, a month-old son. Speaking from his San Francisco home, baby audible in the background, Amador ponders why something so impermanent can have such a deep impact on people.

“There’s not an overt message in my work, but there’s an implied message about being in the moment,” Amador concludes. “Sometimes these paintings are being erased by the water before they’re even finished, and this perspective shows us that life is temporary and nothing will last. We will die, and everything we do in our lives will be erased, utterly forgotten in the tides of time. All stories will fade, no matter how popular; even Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga will be forgotten.

“But what will we do in the face of that awareness? How will we live? So much of how we live our lives is based on fear of the unknown, and death is the ultimate unknown. But in the face of the knowledge of our demise, to express one’s spirit and create beauty is the ultimate victory, the ultimate embrace of life.”

To learn more about the art of Andres Amador, visit www.andresamadorarts.com.