One thing you could never say about Andrea Hooge's art is that it takes itself too seriously. Kittens begging for treats, a doll barfing rainbows and detailed renditions of Bill Murray characters are just some of the things she's brought to life. Her body of work is diverse, prolific and reflective of her high level of skill. Part of its strength lies in how she shows us that art doesn't need to be sombre to be deeply considered and layered with meaning.
Childhood and religion might not sound like the most lighthearted themes but they're prominent in Hooge's work, particularly her vibrant, humorous oil paintings. The artist's other favourite medium is scratchboard, which involves scratching a black coating off of a surface coated with white clay. Often, she combines both art forms and the contrast of her bright, delicately shaded paintings against the monochrome linework of her scratchboards is attention-grabbing and unique.
Hooge has had three solo shows at Main Street's Hot Art Wet City. Her first, Dolly, explored her fascination with 1950s childhood culture, including vintage dolls like Saucy Walker and the work of Eloise Wilkin, the painter behind Little Golden Books. Scratch, in 2014, demonstrated her mastery of the scratchboard medium. For her most recent show, Menno Kitty, Hooge played with the symbols surrounding her Mennonite heritage and challenged herself by working exclusively in oils.
"My work is full of secret jokes and themes," Hooge says. Though many of her pieces might seem merely pretty or cute, every detail has been carefully chosen. Bandit, Predator, and Prey are three pieces from Scratch. All show female faces on a background of plants and animals. They're gorgeous, sure, but Hooge included the smallest elements of each for a specific reason. "These flowers are an invasive species and then there's squirrels and raccoons," she says about Bandit. Likewise, Prey features a vulnerable woman's face, head tilted back and eyes closed, while eagles and bunny rabbits form part of the wreath around her.
Similarly, one of the most recognizable paintings from Menno Kitty draws the viewer in with fun and sweetness, then plays with our expectations and invites us into an inside joke. "The kitten begging for treats? It's the sweetest picture in the world!" Hooge laughs. "And then, I do a little thing that turns it on its side. It's a very cute painting, it's a kitten begging for treats but they're Mennonite treats! The joke is that the treats are maybe not what you're expecting." The painting takes its title Plaska! Pluma Moos! Platz! Roll Kuchen! from the treats shown, which wouldn't be familiar to those not of Mennonite heritage.
Always at work on something new and exciting, Hooge already has lots on the go for the coming months. Together, she and her husband Steve are launching Deetchprints, a line of tees and tanks they're producing out of their brand new backyard print shop. The shirts feature screenprinted versions of Hooge's popular scratchboards of animal heads and quirky characters. Hooge explains, "Steve and I have always wanted to do something creative together, and we've been talking about screenprinting for a long time. Steve has such good attention to detail, and at the end of the month, we'll be doing this full time."
She's also part of Infloresence, an all-female group exhibit happening Friday, June 12 at Gastown's Ayden Gallery, for which she'll be getting back in touch with the scratchboard medium. In keeping with the show's theme, which means "the process of flowering." the work will involve nature imagery, plants and animals.
A common thread through Hooge's remarkable body of work is the way she's constantly snowballing subject matter, coming up with new themes and bringing back old ones she's dealt with before. The toys from her Dolly show were still present in Menno Kitty, for example, and eggs, a theme that first came up in 2013's The Postcard Show, also made an appearance in her painting Yolked, in the form of cats crying tears made of raw eggs. "I love to bring things from the past with me," she says. "It's fun, because the more work I do, and the more I expand what I'm doing, the more new themes I come up with, and the richer the next show will be."