For our next show, Slow Culture is proud to present Adam Harteau’s Terra Incognita. Inspired by 2 years on the road with his family exploring Central and South America, this new body of work exhibits photography, collage, painting, drawing, and mixed media. Adam and his family have also built a dedicated following by documenting the family’s journey on their blog, ouropenroad.com, in what began as a 1-year journey, and has since turned into a nomadic life on the road. I stopped by Adam’s studio last week to check out everything he was working on for the show and talk a bit about the inspiration behind it all.
Terra Incognita opens tonight, October 10 at 7-10PM @ Slow Culture Gallery - located at 5906 N. Figueroa St. Los Angeles, CA 90042. We will also have a free custom pizza menu by one of our favorite shops, Pizzanista, and limited T-Shirts from The Quiet Life. Hope you can join us!
FRED GUERRERO: Tell us about yourself and what you do.
ADAM HARTEAU: My name is Adam Harteau. I have lived on the road for the past 2 years with my family in our VW Westfalia camper van. We left Los Angeles in October 2012 and have since explored Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. At the end of October 2014, we returned to Brazil to meet our van and continue our adventures south, into areas we have yet to visit like Uruguay, Southern Patagonia, and Tierra del Fuego on the very tip of South America. We have been traveling a long time, and I have been taking inspiration from the landscapes, cultural experiences, and regional textiles along the way. All of my new artwork is inspired by our adventure. In the past I was making collages with other peoples photos... I am very fulfilled that this new body of work is made from my own experiences and images - it is something I have dreamed of for a long time.
When you are on the road, how often do you work on things?
I originally planned to work from our “mobile studio” and produce art on the go, but once we got out there, I realized it wasn’t as easy as I imagined. There is some free time, but when overlanding, there is so much to see and absorb you don’t want to stop and look down. I have used the time to catalog the experiences and inspiration, constantly shooting photos and gathering images to use later on. I did find time to make small collages, sketches, and moquettes for larger pieces I have now made for this show. On the road, I also have been collecting maps, stationery, receipts, and peeling wheat-pasted adds off of walls in all the countries we passed through- anything really that I could put into the flat file I built in the van. For the past 4 1/2 months, I had 2 different studios I have worked out of to produce this show. We lived in a little house on the beach on the island of Florionopolis, Brazil for 2 1/2 months, where I turned one of the bedrooms into a studio. And for the past 2 months, I have worked out of my studio here in LA.
Are you conceptualizing as you are out there driving? It seems like it could be frustrating at times - being out there and not being able to just walk to your studio and work on an idea.
I am constantly inspired by the incredible visuals along the way so I write, sketch, and take photos to use later on. It can definitely be frustrating at times, finding a big enough space to work large inside the van, so I set up a camp table outside to work on. Our new daughter Sierra just joined the family, so the space in the van just got tighter! I like the idea of stopping from time to time to find a studio to work in. I have a dream of an old barn on the beach with a perfect wave right out front - I hope to find that place.
Was the trip originally based on creating a new body of work?
There were many different reasons why we left, but, for me, a big part of our departure was to create a new body of work inspired by an adventure into the unknown.
There is such a rich story behind all of theses pieces. Can you tell me a bit more about this piece?
This is a pretty heavy piece... I started this after we witnessed a fatal accident in mainland Mexico about 5 weeks into our trip. We saw this plume of smoke coming out of the jungle as we turned a corner, there was a young boy standing on the side of the road crying and screaming, so we pulled over. We were having a problem with the heat temp sensor so I couldn’t turn off the van. I looked over the hillside and saw a white pickup truck bent in half, with the boys father lodged in-between the steering wheel and the windshield; blood everywhere and smoke rising fast. He was already dead. Two men were trying to pull him out and as I worked my way down the hillside, the the truck burst into flames. At this moment, I realized there was nothing I could do to save the boy’s father. Later that night in San Blas, I painted this paper at camp as an emotional release.
How did you get started wanting to live out on the road?
I was born in LA, but my family left when I was about 2. We bought a school bus and lived it in for 3 years, driving through the Pacific Northwest and California. My dad ripped out the seats in the bus, put in a wood burning stove, and built us a house on wheels. After that, we moved to the Angeles National Forest and lived in a tent for a year while my parents built a cabin by hand. We lived like that until I was 15, using kerosene lanterns for light and cutting firewood in the summers for warmth through the winters - completely off the grid with no electricity. My upbringing was definitely a diving board into the way we are living now. For the past 13 years, Emily and I have traveled all over the world and have dreamed of an extended adventure. We have made our dreams a reality we share with our daughters.
What would be your advice for someone who wants to do what you guys do? What is the best way to start?
The hardest part, for us, was making the decision to leave. You can talk and dream all you want, but nothing is going to happen if you don’t make a decision. Emily and I sat down and told each other we were driving south across the Mexican border in one year. We left only a week later from our original date, which felt like a great accomplishment. Once we made up our minds to leave, everything started falling into place: we ate rice and beans, started to sell off our material possessions through many yard sales, and also put together a successful Kickstarter campaign pre-selling my art work. Every waking hour was spent discussing and planning our great escape. There is no secret recipe to how to do this, one must think outside the box and forge their own path.
How do you guys sustain on the road and make money?
Our original plan was to be gone for a year, but after 5 months on the road, we decided to slow down. We wanted to travel indefinitely, but we didn’t have the money to sustain it. We discussed juggling at stop lights, turning the van into a mobile kitchen, and I even considered an underwater cinematography job at a dive resort in Ecuador. We have always had a dream to travel around the world, collect cool things, and open a store, but that would require being in a brick and mortar building much of the time; we wanted to stay out. Then we came up with “24 Hour Bazaar,” where we host flash sales in areas with rich artisan culture. We work directly with artisans and curate unique items such as rugs, blankets, bags, art, clothing, and more and offer them directly to our growing mailing list of people for a limited time. If you would like to receive the PDF catalog and be on our mailing list, please send your info to email@example.com. This is only the beginning, we see ourselves doing this all over the world! This is very fulfilling work because it finances our travels, while helping the communities we are encountering along the way - and our customers get an amazing deal on very unique items.
How does it feel to be home right now?
It feels great, but I had a little bit of culture shock when I first got here. I went to some club in Hollywood and was walking around thinking, “Oh man, I can’t handle this.” Then I had to remind myself that I was the tourist now. I started to people watch, admire the architecture of the place, and then I felt more comfortable. People talk about all the crazies out there in the world and ask if we are afraid of all those bandits and cannibals. I was at a gas station last night in Echo Park and there were 2 guys there who freaked me out more than anyone I encountered on the road. I love the energy of this city plus our friends and family are here. We have roots in LA.
So what is next?
When the show closes, we fly back to Brazil to do a little bit of work on the van, then head into Uruguay, and back into Argentina to spend the South American summer in Patagonia and surrounds. We are talking about spending the snowy winter in Chile because we have been living an endless summer for the past couple years and miss the snow. We will eventually make our way back to North America, but it will most likely take us a few more years, then we are thinking Africa!