When a debilitating spine disease forced Andrew Reach to retire from the architectural career he loved in 2005, he feared his contributions to the Patricia and Philip Frost Art Museum in Miami might be his final creation ever.
Thankfully, he was wrong.
The fruits of Andrew’s new artistic journey are showcased in an exhibition as part of the museum’s grand opening. Titled “Full Circle,” the exhibition features intricate digital paintings Andrew creates using a mouse as his paintbrush and Photoshop as his palette.
To call it a dream come true would be an understatement.
“I’m so humbled and so honored to be featured in the building I helped create,” he says. “It’s a homecoming of sorts for me. I’ve definitely come full circle – from being an architect to giving art back to people who will visit the building. The whole thing is very overwhelming and very special to me.”
Andrew’s journey definitely hasn’t been easy.
Two surgeries, mobility limitations and constant pain initially plunged the former HOK Miami project architect into a deep depression.
“I felt like my profession had been pulled away from me,” he remembers. “It was a very difficult period, and I had way too much time to indulge in feeling sorry for myself.”
He credits his long-time partner and caretaker, Bruce, for helping him emerge from this darkness.
After setting up a “studio” in their living room, Bruce encouraged Andrew to work on materials from Bruce’s paper ephemera business. Andrew taught himself Photoshop and began tinkering. It was his creation of a Valentine’s Day card that unleashed an “explosion of creativity” that launched his artistic journey.
“It brought me out of the depression, which was great, but then it also became my therapy,” he says. “The pieces mesmerize me, for brief moments, allowing me to get outside myself – and those brief moments are worth gold.”
His diverse inspirations range from Buddhism to the healing process to Islamic architecture to “whimsies” (carefree and unencumbered beings free of the constraints of gravity). Occasionally, his pieces incorporate political themes, but they’re always approached with humor.
“I have so many things in my mind and a backlog of ideas – an internal rolodex in my brain,” he says. “For the most part, it’s all about freedom, breaking free and transcending,” he says, “which, of course, has been my story.”
Exhibiting Andrew’s work at the Frost also has been a dream of Design Principal Yann Weymouth, who worked closely with Andrew during the design process and has become one of his biggest fans.
“Andrew’s talent as an architect contributed to the quality our team was able to embed in the design,” Yann says. “After being stricken further by his progressively worsening spine disease, he refused to accept his life as a tragedy, continuing to express his talents now as a digital painter. The recognition of his work in the museum he helped create is a very bright moment for him, his partner and all of us at HOK.”
Soon, Andrew will be expanding into the healing arts realm, showcasing his artwork at hospitals in Cleveland (where he now lives) and organizations in Washington, D.C. His long-term aspirations are to engage in much larger public art: 3-D sculptures. He also plans to help develop healing arts programs that incorporate computers as tools to promote mental and physical healing in healthcare.