A chat with visual artist Andrea Dezsö on her work, motherhood and finding one’s voice as an artist

“Halloween night is my favorite holiday, because that is the time when we can trespass across the barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead.”

—from the Haunted Ridgefield catalogue

Andrea Dezsö is a visual artist who works across a broad range of media including drawing, painting, artist’s books, cut paper, embroidery, animation, sculpture, site-specific installation and public art. Dezsö’s large-scale permanent public art has been installed in two New York City subway stations, at the United States Embassy in Bucharest, Romania and at CUNY BMCC Fiterman Hall in Lower Manhattan. Community Garden, Dezsö’s mosaic in the New York City subway was recognized as Best American Public Art in 2007 by Americans for the Arts. Dezsö is an award-winning illustrator whose work has been featured in many books, magazines, and CD covers, and by The New York Times, Sony Music, Harper’s, Princeton University Press and Candlewick Press. Dezsö exhibits in museums and galleries around the world, and teaches widely. She is Associate Professor of Art at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. Dezsö is represented by the Nancy Margolis Gallery in New York and Pucker Gallery in Boston. To see more of her work, visit her portfolio.

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When we were dreaming up featured moms for Halloween week, Andi immediately came to mind as a perfect fit. Then we saw her quote above from the Haunted Ridgefield exhibit and knew we had to ask her. She’s a visual artist whose talents lie across a vast list of media and scale from painting, illustration, and mosaic work to embroidery, paper-art and large scale sculpture and installations. Despite her amazing range, in each of her work permeates the richness of her beautiful, mystical, and oftentimes eerie style. Many may recognize her work from the interiors of the NYC Subway stations or her New York Times illustrations. We were both lucky enough to be at Parsons while she taught there and enjoyed both her classes and insights into design. We were excited to be able to reconnect and ask Andi about her experiences as an artist and a mom.


Although you use many media, I feel like you have a very unique style and theme to your work that makes it instantly recognizable. Whenever I run into your projects going about my daily life, I can always spot them immediately. How did you cultivate that as an artist?

I did not. I have done what comes naturally and turned toward projects I found inspiring. I work with my hands and even when my drawings or sculptural models are scaled up for public spaces the work is always based on something I made by hand. It’s not unlike handwriting – everyone has their own recognizable style even without cultivating it.

DEZSO-Comunity Garden2
Andrea Dezsö: COMMUNITY GARDEN – Community Garden is a glass mosaic mural that fills the entire mezzanine wall at the Bedford Park Boulevard subway station.

Nature Rail, created by Andrea Dezsö, is a stainless steel sculptural work installed in the railings of the station’s transfer areas connecting the D with the N line.

You had your son when you were still an art student. Many creative types put off having kids until they’re mid-career. Do you think balancing motherhood and a fledgling career in the arts earlier changed your perspective and your artwork? Did that have an effect on your career path?

Having children and having to support oneself and one’s family always takes time and effort and I did it through trial and error. I chose to become a mother when I was still an undergraduate in college and that came with its own specific challenges like getting assignments done for classes, creating a Thesis project, applying to, then completing graduate studies and starting out as an artist. In my case it also involved emigrating to the US, moving to New York, getting remarried and working full time while slowly building my artistic career. There was a lot of juggling and not enough sleep, a tiny apartment in Queens and no studio. Everything in my life has ultimately contributed to my work and I know I couldn’t have done it all without my husband Adam’s unwavering support and generosity of heart.

Dezso-white tunnels
The Day We Changed Our Lives Forever, 2005 – Hand-cut and sewn paper, tunnel books with superbrite LED lights. Exhibition view from First Cut show at Manchester City Gallery, Manchester, UK, 2012

Sometimes In My Dreams I Fly, 2010 – A monumental tunnel installation at Rice Gallery, Houston, TX. Inspired by imaginary travel to the moon.

ME-9Her Kingdom Under The Sea, 2012 – site-specific tunnel installation and vinyl murals. Tides Institute & Museum of Art, Eastport, Maine. Dezsö created this installation as a tribute to the child laborers who worked in the area’s sardine canneries at the beginning of the twentieth century.

I know your son is grown now, but when he was younger how did you manage the day to day process of making your art?

I often worked late into night. Having a quiet personal space in the house was wonderful. Working by artificial light and not having enough hours to sleep was challenging. I have always drawn during meetings at work or while waiting. I also drew on the subway during my commute to work, sketching out ideas, embroidering, even making miniature pop-up book models – although that only worked if I was lucky enough to get a seat.

Cover art for The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition

Forest-strolling Demon, sand-blasted glass panel

Which of your work are you most proud of and why?

It’s always my latest work I’m most proud of – right now it’s In The Air, comprised by six large mosaic murals including one that’s almost 80 feet tall at CUNY FIterman Hall in downtown Manhattan; a body of work in glass completed last summer during an artist residency at the Pilchuck Glass School; and the cover and twenty illustrations for The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition, recently published by Princeton University Press.

In The Air, 2014

Thanks so much to Andi for taking time to share her experiences and artwork with us!

For those of you in New England, Andi has a Halloween book signing at Grey Matter Bookstore in Hadley, MA on Friday, October 31st from 7-9pm: “A chilling evening of readings from the newly published ‘Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition’. These early versions are much darker and weirder than anything we’ve seen before.”

And for those of you in NYC, mark your calendars for her upcoming show at the Nancy Margolis Gallery opening February 2015.