Brilliant Illusions: Cover Artist Andrea Mistretta
by Leah Draffen
ARTIST ANDREA MISTRETTA’S LOVE of visual art first bloomed as a young girl while listening to music with her grandfather. She reflects, “My grandfather was a music afficionado who loved it all—classic operas; European folk music; American Jazz, especially Louis Armstrong. He would frequently challenge me to draw pictures of the composers’ busts he had in his music room. I would draw them on the stiffener boards from silk stocking packaging my grandmother would save for me.”
It was without hesitation that Andrea knew she wanted to be an artist, even at 3-years-old. Her father’s screen print shop, which was right behind the family’s house, was an endless source of paper trim. Andrea would use it to draw on and experiment with. As a teen she began helping her father with hand-cutting films, printing and sometimes designing, all while the likes of Louis Prima and big bands blared in the background.
After high school, Andrea became interested in theatrical costume design. She attended the Traphagen School of Design in New York City. As she studied historic period dress, she soon discovered her passion for fashion illustration, advertising, and graphic design. Fast forward 40 years, Andrea has made a career of commercial illustration and art licensing and is responsible for the longest running commemorative Mardi Gras poster series.
Thirty-seven years ago, well-loved New Orleans socialite and French Quarter denizen, Margarita Bergen discovered Andrea’s Mercredi Des Cendre and wanted to publish
it as a 1986 Mardi Gras poster. That she did, and because of it, Andrea’s 2019 The Enchantress painting is inspired by Margarita.
Andrea says: “My first poster’s original painting, Mercredi Des Cendre, was on exhibit
at my solo show at New York’s Society of Illustrators. In February of 1986, Margarita flew to New York to give a Mardi Gras reception that the Society had never seen before. The day after the reception, Margarita flew me for my first time to New Orleans. I stayed at Margarita’s lower Pontalba third floor apartment across from Café du Monde where I signed 500 posters that sold out from her three galleries. I stepped onto her corner balcony and took in the panorama from the Mississippi River to Jackson Square over layered sounds of the calliope, horse-drawn carriages, and smells of coffee and spices in the air. My own feelings of enchantment from back then still inspire me 36 years later.”
That enchanting inspiration has kept Andrea’s poster series alive and beautiful. Her gals in makeup and masks display vibrant colors and the brilliance of Mardi Gras. She hopes that her viewers and collectors find joy in her paintings and posters. She says, “I have a theory about the dynamics of color. I used to experience Season Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) in the winter months of the Northeast, but when I started working with brilliant intense colors, especially those that I use in the Mardi Gras posters, I don’t feel that lull in spirit.
“I believe the working lights I use and colors I paint with mimic the full spectrum the sun brings us. Blend that element with the exuberance of Mardi Gras and it’s a sure formula to radiate positive vibes and feelings.”
Andrea prefers acrylics on canvas. She sometimes adds mica and metal leaf, as well as airbrushed layers. With deep experience in commercial illustration, she can’t help but find a goal or story to tell in her works. “I ponder images and ideas to solve potential ways to convey my messages and intentions through my art. Then, I start working them out with pencil on tracing paper. Layer upon layer, I refine the drawing with each tracing.”
Andrea’s inspiration can come from a myriad of things: fashion magazines; nature; movies; random occurrences; a children’s book; traveling; and everything in between. Her latest three Mardi Gras works touch on current times with the titles 2020 Visions, Masked and Front Porch Parade. Front Porch Parade, which is this issue’s cover art, includes one of Andrea’s exquisite Mardi Gras ladies with beads and a mask in hand. A traditional shotgun home sits in the background.
Another well-known work of Andrea’s is her 2018 Tricentennial painting that can be viewed at the Cabildo’s We Love You, New Orleans exhibit until 2024. The painting disguises a womanly figure behind a shield of the escutcheon crests found on French Quarter street name tiles. The colors are just as vibrant as in her first poster in 1986.
Andrea hopes to one day bring all the originals of the commemorative poster series “home” to New Orleans for an exhibit. But until then, she will continue painting and working on contemporary works all the while paying it forward. “My good fortune to create art and imagery for a livelihood all my life gives me the sense of thankfulness and the desire to give my time to the community like I have for St. Michael Special School, Louisiana Museum Foundation, The Oral School for the Deaf, and Art Against AIDS (NO/AIDS Task Force),” Andrea says.
After her successful career in illustration, she’s eager to focus on her contemporary pieces through private and corporate commissions. “I love to tell customized contemporary stories in an illustrative way! I’ve been in ‘training’ so to speak. I’m ready to fly with my contemporary artworks that I feel will top my continuing Mardi Gras imagery. More color, textural dimension and subject matter is in order for my new life’s works.”
See more of Andrea’s works online at andreamistretta.com.
Read the story in the digital edition of Inside New Orleans February-March 2022.