Astronauts do not usually become artists. But in the case of Atabey Sanchez-Haiman (ASH) – a Brown alum who was once certain of her fate amongst the stars – the transition from dreams of galactic exploration to a reality of bold lines, bright colors and playful subject matter seemed almost instinctive. Now, ASH creates bright pieces featuring fun images under the name Giraffes and Robots, and while her science-based career path may have taken an abrupt turn, a love for the scientific is obvious in her artwork.
ASH spent her early years surrounded by the natural beauty of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and it is there that her love for science – and things that are visually stimulating – was born. “It is easy to become a scientist and an artist when you have lizards, parrots and amazing trees as your daily visual input,” she explains.
At 14, ASH and her family moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and after high school she pursued a degree in Planetary Geology at Brown. “I wanted to be an astronaut and a degree in Planetary Geology seemed like a very direct way to get there.” But after spending time in the laboratory assisting Professor Ted Goslow with his study of bird flight, ASH’s future plans began to change.
Instead of applying to NASA after graduation, ASH spent a brief period in veterinary school in London before traveling around Scotland, Ireland and Spain. It was in Barcelona where her artistic adventures began. “I fell in love with the way the city lives and breathes art,” states ASH. After spontaneously picking up a canvas, some paintbrushes and an acrylic starter set at a corner art store, ASH was hooked. “I painted constantly... sometimes, I would be so into a painting that the sun would come up and I would realize I forgot to sleep. After two years spent painting daily in Barcelona, I became an artist.”
The art that ASH creates is full of life and an innate positivity that practically jumps off the canvas. She began her creative career painting giraffes – SCUBA diving giraffes, giraffes in love, giraffes on a boat. “[Even though] I know that birds are the closest relatives to dinosaurs, giraffes give you a feeling of awe and I imagine dinosaurs to have been like that,” she explains. After many giraffecentric years, ASH started to paint only robots. Thus, her artistic livelihood was born. Currently, ASH is in the middle of her dinosaur period, but more recently, her work has been inspired by all the new scientific research that is emerging about happiness and empathy.
“There are whole academic departments studying happiness nowadays. And happiness boils down to a few quite simple things: be grateful, be mindful, be kind, be empathetic. I have been making a series of illustrations and paintings for classrooms and playrooms that emphasize these principles. I am using my el tigre (tiger) character to teach these concepts in my artwork. They all focus on choosing kindness.”
You can find ASH’s work directly on her website and at many spots around Providence. Better yet, meet ASH in person at the Providence Artisan Market in Lippitt Park or at the Providence Flea. ASH is also participating in Providence’s first International Art Festival this June, and in September will have a show of large format print at Julian’s. She is also in the process of opening her own studio at the Hope Artiste Village, where she plans on launching a gift delivery service of her work, called GoGoGiraffe.
“I started hearing the most beautiful stories and memories from customers. From Dr. Fox, the pediatrician, who has my el zorro (fox) and el doctor prints in his exam room, to the doctors at Hasbro who bought my Sana Sana print for their office, to the little girl who wants a big 24x36 Superhero T Rex print in her room and the old man who got teary eyed telling me he remembered his grandmother singing the Pio Pio song to him.” These varied reactions, while different in execution, all come from a place of pure happiness.
“I now realize how powerful art can be in eliciting emotions and therefore my artistic philosophy now is to make art that makes you smile. I make art as an antidote to unhappiness.”
1005 Main Street, Studio 2219