Most of us wouldn’t think twice about throwing out any spare pieces of paper lying around the house, however for NYC based artist Alana Dee Haynes, it’s where her work begins. Bringing art to life that is deeply personal to her, and given reality by the depths of her own mind, she is what you would call a true go-getter. Ignoring bad grades and the wrath of her art teachers, Alana believed in her work and wasn’t going to let anyone else tell her any different. She tells IDOL why her art is her dreams transferred into reality.

How did it all start for you?

I was always interested in art. I carried around a moleskin sketchbook everywhere. I was always drawing faces, and animals, made up of dots and patterns. When I took my first photography class at the age of 15, I ended up with so much extra paper, and messed up prints. I had never experienced an art form with so much waste before.  I was pretty broke, and it calculated out to be over a dollar per piece of paper. I started turning my extra photos into art. I was making collages, and drawing on them. It was really satisfying to bring these things that I loved so much together. It felt like I was making the photos better, and showing my vision of life to the world.

Growing up in NYC, how did that influence your path?

In NYC, or at least where I was hanging out, everyone I met was artsy in one way or another – visually, musically, and theatrically. It was pretty sweet, getting tons of different perspectives through my friends’ art. It was also a great way of getting feedback. At the same time, NYC can be pretty crazy. My art was a great escape from the world. It became a meditation for me.

Have you faced any challenges along the way that has shaped you into the artist you are today?

I had art teachers that despised me, for personal reasons, and they also just hated my art. I think getting a ‘D’ grade on a piece of work really motivated me. I understood that by getting a bad grade, it seemed like I wasn’t trying at all. But I was. I was making my vision come to life. There were times when I considered conforming to what they wanted. But that only lasted a second. I decided to make what I loved and now have a fire under me. I continued to get bad grades, but I would walk away from the class really digging what I had made. It was the first time I felt rebellious in the art world. And it was pretty fun.

Are there any particular pieces of work that are personal to you at all?

All of my work is hand drawn. I like to get very close to the paper when I draw, and there is something about being an inch away from a nude model or portrait that makes me feel very intimate with them. They become personal. Some pieces that I have spent days with feel like old friends. I know the shapes of them so well. A piece can also become very special to me when other people like it. There will be one or two pieces that I’m not crazy about – that people go nuts over! And it will make me re-examine it.

Would you consider yourself a surrealist?

For me, it’s not that surreal. What I draw is what I see in the world. I have always witnessed patterns and faces in everything. My work is my life.

Is NYC the city for art? Or is there anywhere else in the world that has a stronger art value?

I’ve only truly experienced the NYC art scene. I think NYC might be getting overly saturated in art. The fact that Banksy can sit in central park selling his work, and no one bothers to recognize it. That says a lot. It’s easy to get lost in the massive amount of artists in NYC. It’s a great motivator if you don’t let it overwhelm you. And with all that said; I totally love it. I think there are other cities with great art communities that would be great fun to be a part of. I think New Orleans is still raw enough to do big things, and obviously Europe. But it might have similar challenges to New York.

Illustration has influenced fashion a lot lately, what do you think about this?

Illustrators have always been around in the fashion industry, usually helping designers sketch their thoughts for garments. I love that the roles are reversed now, and if not totally reversed, just more symbiotic. It’s great to see fashion soaking up so many different art forms.

Do you ever portray a story behind each piece of work?

Photographs really inform my illustrations. Those mental connections, that are happening so fast, piece together a story in my mind. Sometimes it’s so fast that I am unaware of it. The photographs usually seem to have a story of their own; and through my own eyes it probably means something different. I am really interested in hidden symbols. I love that a symbol is just an image that we assign a meaning to. There needs to be some story behind it, for it to feel natural, even when it’s surreal.

Define in your own words ‘mixed media’

Bringing together different elements of the world, and then combining them to create something new.

Art certainly influences fashion heavily. Do you agree?

Yes. They go hand in hand. When I was at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), I was not as interested in fashion. I thought that I should be able to make art that was relevant to my life, and not just focus on what is strictly ‘fashionable’. When I left FIT, and had more room to breathe, I realized that my art was relevant to fashion – just more of an alternative approach to fashion.

Do you reference any artists from the past or present?

When I’m making art, I’m not intentionally referencing anyone. It’s something that is really just about the process for me, because it’s meditative. I try not to bring outside references into it. There are definitely things getting in, but its subconscious. It’s like a dream. Anything you see in a dream is what you have seen before, and your mind melds them together.

Are you a fan of pop art?

It seems like I should be, but I’m not the biggest fan. I enjoy it when I go to galleries, but I wouldn’t hang it in my house. I really love Yayoi Kusama’s work. I can really relate to her obsession with dots. But I love art that is totally different than my own. I love abstract messy pieces.

Do you research any kind of cultures before beginning a piece of work?

My room is full of patterned works from India and Africa. I really love the mandalas from the Tibetan monks. There is a lot of patience and love that goes into cultural art.  I also collect a lot of religious art, for its patterns and symbolism. The placement of symbols in an artful cross really tells a story. And ultimately, that is what I strive to do with my art. Create a story through patterns and symbols.

What next?

I am working on a fashion line. It’s still in the beginning stages, but I have a ton of designs and can imagine it fully – which is a big part of creating anything. It’s really different from anything I’ve done before. I’m also starting to do more collaboration with photographers. It’s really great working with new people. I always learn so much.

Where do you plan to take your work?

Ideally, I would like to take my art all around the world, and really embrace the mixed media elements of it. Along with the fashion line, I have been making sculptures and murals. I really want my art to transcend into every medium.

Do you think it’s important to dream?

Most definitely! When you dream, you are playing with reality. Your mind can wander and experiment. I like to dream in terms of sleeping, because it’s pretty uncontrollable – unless I’m lucid dreaming. Dreaming while awake is very similar, but there are a lot more feelings of doubt and reality that you have to overcome with problem solving.

Who are you idols?

I really idolize successful artists who have given back to their artist community. The founders of Eyebeam, Johnson & Johnson, have really created a hub for creativity and innovation. Similarly Dustin Yellin, who founded Pioneer Works, created a beautiful space for free artistic expression. Artist residencies are such an amazing thing to give back to the community. People like that, who have taken their passions, and spread the fruits of their labour with the art community, are my real idols. They are the real dreamers. Taking a building and trying to make an ideal world within it.


Interview by Darrell Larkin
Images courtesy of artist herself