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Andre Rochester: Artist Spotlight

Andre Rochester, founder of Rochester Fine Art, is an influential artist motivated to create meaningful works. His preferred mediums are acrylic paint, charcoal, and colored pencils, and his work consistently tells poignant truths that pull you closer. From painting colorful, detailed portraitures to capturing community and culture, Andre Rochester constructs intentional images with impact. Whether spotlighting systemic injustices or cultivating Black joy onto canvas, Andre produces beautiful, bold, and vibrant messages with movement.

An Introduction to Influential Art

At seven years old, Andre’s father, an artist in his younger years, bought him a sketchbook. At first, between the blank pages, Andre began drawing cartoon characters. Before long, it seemed natural — scribbling and scratching his pen across the paper — and Andre’s art steadily advanced.

Setting up still lives in his childhood bedroom, Andre would line up and draw everyday subjects — sketching his deodorant, a hat on his dresser, or a shirt hanging from a dumbbell.

Even then, in the seemingly ordinary, Andre saw the opportunity to create something more. At nine, Andre saw a Salvador Dali painting, “Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach,” at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.

“I just thought it was one of the coolest paintings I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and I still do,” Andre shared. “That was the piece that inspired me to want to make art. It has so many details, and it was masterfully painted. There’s a story within a story within a story — I got lost in it, and that piece just stuck with me.”

A Caregiver Creates

When Andre was ten, his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). For the next six years, Andre forewent key memories, milestones, and much of his childhood to care for his mother.

“My mom was super independent and did everything for herself,” Andre explained. “She was a strong woman, and suddenly, she needed crutches to walk. Then, she was in a wheelchair; she couldn’t use the bathroom or shower on her own, then bedridden and unable to feed herself. That process of watching her lose her independence and mobility is a part of my journey.”

Caring for his mother before becoming a teenager, Andre’s self-esteem suffered — until he started to get excellent feedback in his high school art class. Andre found purpose and solace when drawing, and beyond his after-school responsibilities, his art made him feel as though he had something to offer the world.

Andre’s mother passed when he was only 16 years old.

With few people he felt he could talk or turn to, Andre dusted off the sketchbook his father had given him years prior. Once again, Andre found comfort in covering its pages. Grief-stricken, he poured himself into his art, using the creative channel to cope and express himself.

“I needed art as an outlet,” Andre affirmed. “When my mother got sick, it became so much more than a hobby. It became that thing that I needed that would get me through.”

Growing up with Grief

Although it took Andre a long time to openly discuss his caregiving experience, he now advocates “telling your truths” — encouraging kids going through similar life experiences to share their feelings and emotions.

“I’m open about what my experience was like now, but there was a time I wouldn’t even talk about it,” Andre admitted. “The experience with my mother was the toughest time in my life; it was intense. My mother’s passing affected how I saw myself, the people I involved myself with, and how they interacted with me. In my young adulthood, I had experiences I could have avoided. I didn’t have any sense of value. I wanted the things I missed out on, those moments I couldn’t get back. I felt a void that needed to be filled — which can stick with you for a long time. I had to come to grips with the fact that I can’t dwell on what I missed, and I have to continue to live my life — because when you dwell on what’s missing, you’ll miss out on even more.”

A Persistent Passion: Postsecondary Pursuits

After graduating high school, Andre attended the University of Connecticut’s School of Fine Arts. At UConn, Andre discovered that touching a more concrete medium further connected him to his work. With no interest in sitting behind a computer screen to create, he knew he had to switch his initial graphic design major. Ultimately, Andre decided to pursue illustration, as the program allowed him to apply design principles to a more substantial art style.

“During the senior show at UConn, instead of what a traditional illustration student would have done, I chose to paint three portraits of my mother,” Rochester recalled. “I depicted times that she was in my life from when I was a baby until she passed away. All the canvases were the same size, but her portrait would shrink throughout the series. After the show, one of my classmate's parents approached me. She was bawling and so emotionally affected by my work that she had to come up to me and say something. I never forgot that. That was when I realized that I, as an artist, have the power to get people to feel things — it was memorable.”

Crediting UConn for teaching him the technical skills associated with becoming an artist, Andre left a semester shy of graduation in 2007. In 2014, he continued his education and earned his bachelor’s in studio arts from Charter Oak State College. In between attaining his art degree, Andre also worked at an art supply store, and the position jumpstarted his journey onto the Greater Hartford art scene.

Next, Andre worked for corporate America, developing skills like continuous improvement, handling customer feedback, production, supply chains, and trending sales. He later used the funds from his corporate role to pay for his first studio space. Alongside his corporate career, Andre obtained his graduate degree in organizational leadership from Quinnipiac University in 2019, further advancing his business acumen.

Art and Activism: Painting Part-Time

Andre’s longing to paint continually lingered throughout his postsecondary and professional career. Rather than ignore his calling, he leaned into his passion part-time, participating in art centers, colleges, exhibits, and galleries throughout Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York.

Audacious Agency Exhibit

From November 2018 to February 2019, Andre participated in a traveling art exhibit where Black and brown artists expressed their unique experiences, engaging audiences and enabling inclusive connections. Exhibit locations included the Sarah Smith Gallery at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Torrington’s Five Points Annex Gallery, and the Windsor Art Center (WAC).

Andre considers his partnership with Audacious Agency one of the top three exhibits he’s done. His acrylic, charcoal, and pastel work included “Libertad Para Los Bebes | Freedom for The Babies,” among others.

Art and Equity

Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Andre was one of 16 artists to create the “Black Lives Matter” Mural in Hartford. The same year, after Windsor declared racism a public health crisis, the municipality wanted to create a public art mural that could connect communities. The mural read “End Racism Now,” and within the letter “O,” Andre painted an equal sign, the scales of justice, and people of different races.

By 2021, Andre was a Quest Program alum for Leadership Greater Hartford. He also served as an inaugural Artist of Color Accelerate fellow, where he partnered with the Amistad Center for Art and Culture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

During the fellowship, Andre’s dream of becoming a full-time artist was affirmed.

Andre’s Future in Art: A Full-Time Focus

Amid growing concern over corporate layoffs and budget cuts, Andre prepared to bet on himself and invest in his dream. Starting in 2022, he began his full-time entrepreneurial journey as an artist. Even with a formal business plan and lessons learned, Andre admitted the professional leap was still one of the scariest decisions he’s ever made.

“I had to step away from my corporate career because it wasn’t who I am,” he explained. “I wasn’t walking in my purpose. I wasn’t fully living out the dream I had put into the universe. My calling was getting louder and louder.

I had to be honest with myself, and I realized it was time to do what I really love, and I’m glad I did because, stepping into this world full-time, I know I’m living the life I should be.” “Street Civic” Solutions: Conversations to Close Resource Gaps

In February 2022, Andre participated in Unapologetically Radical “Street Civics” Conference, three virtual discussions addressing extreme resource disparities for Black and Latinx communities.

With inequalities even further exasperated by the Coronavirus pandemic, the conversations included a call to action on essential issues, such as access to:

  • Affordable education

  • Black-centered mental healthcare

  • Community safety

  • Food

  • Jobs, and

  • Trauma-informed healing

hArtford Love Public Art Project

In the Spring of 2022, Andre was the lead for the hARTford Love Public Art Project.

A creative organization headquartered in the state’s capitol, the initiative put out a call to artists with a special connection to the Albany Avenue neighborhood.

Thirty-three artists would be selected among all applications, and their designs would be printed onto weather-proof wraps. The wrapped art would later be installed on nine bus shelters and 21 electrical boxes throughout Albany Avenue.

Giving voice to Hartford's homegrown talent, the hARTford Love Public Art Project commissioned Connecticut painters, photographers, poets, and mixed media creatives. Ranging in age, ethnicity, gender, race, and style, the youngest artist selected was seven years old.

Public Art Prime Real Estate

In 2015, Andre originally met Matt Conway, Executive Director of RiseUP, when Matt brought his youth mentorship program to a volunteer FoodShare event Andre was attending.

A few years later, Matt and muralist Corey Pane approached Andre about collaborating on a mural in downtown Hartford, and Andre agreed to contribute.

“RiseUP gave me prime real estate,” Andre illustrated, “— allowing me to create a section right in the middle of the mural, so there was no missing it. In my first solo project with the non-profit, I did an abstract piece for the Mural Paint Jam off Park Street. Within the next couple of months, I’ll also be painting a mural on one of the pool houses in East Hartford.”

“RiseUP is a great opportunity for artists to get out there and do public work,” Andre promoted. “The artist application process is easy, and Matt has projects all over different parts of Connecticut. To see how much the RiseUP murals have grown within a relatively small amount of time — it's pretty cool to watch.”

“Anyone who connects with RiseUP in some way, whether to work on projects, to teach a class, create a mural — or anything like that — I think they’ll be happy with their experience; I know I am.”

Leading and Legacy Building

Present day, after continually working at his craft, Andre consistently does what he loves full time and can put his friends in places to do the same.

His current projects and titles for 2023 contain the following:

• Board Member, Connecticut Arts Alliance

• Community Councilmember, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

• Connecticut Representative, The New England Foundation for The Arts, National Leaders of Color Fellowship

• Graduate and Program Manager, the Artist of Color Accelerate Fellowship, and

• Program Manager, 224 EcoSpace

In addition, Andre is also UConn Health Center’s Art Curator, managing over 2,500 works in the Center’s collection.

“There’s a connection between health and wellness, and it’s going to be a part of my job to highlight that,” the caregiver-turned-creator stated.

“I’m interested in impactful artwork and being very intentional about what’s being placed in these treatment areas. If we’re going to make it a wellness initiative and try to get patients' minds off of their ailments, even for just a moment, there has to be meaning and purpose on the walls.”

Artist. Mentor. Mental Health Advocate

With empathy, Andre’s art expresses to audiences that they’re not alone, connects people, and catalyzes progress.

“Over the last few years, through counseling, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable being open about caregiving and sharing my story,” Rochester disclosed.

“I know it’s going to help somebody. It's good to remind people going through it or those in the middle of it to know that there are people who understand their emotional journey, and hopefully, I can give some inspiration to hang in there.”

Andre’s Art: An Evolving Expression

Andre’s current artistic endeavor seeks to define, explore, and understand Black joy — rallying for Black celebration, expression, and love.

With previous work tackling deep-rooted injustices like the school-to-prison pipeline and unlawful police shootings,

“I wanted to paint something that wasn’t so heavy,” Andre enlightened. “I’m on my own pursuit of happiness now, and I continue to move toward things that give me joy. As a Black person who faces certain challenges — and can still experience joy regardless of some of those challenges — the term ‘Black joy’ has a significant meaning for me.”

Passing the Sketchbook: Advice for Young Artists

As a mentor for young artists, Andre intentionally plants seeds of possibility early on — assisting emerging creatives with consultations for exhibits, curation, and portfolio development.

A proponent to “never stop creating” and a promoter of “owning your story,” Rochester recommends that developing artists should really consider how they can make their passion a business, strategize their skillset, and capitalize on the unique value they bring to the world.

“Your calling will only get louder if you ignore it,” Andre advised.

“And with every step forward,” he reminded, “we must make room for one more to join us.”

A Family Tradition of Talent

Like creative clockwork, Andre’s father, who gifted Andre his first sketchbook, has picked his pencils back up and started drawing again.

“My father didn’t pursue art professionally, but he has a talent, and I get that from him.” Andre credited. And in spirit, Andre says that, sometimes, when working on a piece he really loves, he can still feel his mother’s presence with him.

Today, Andre lives with his wife and newborn son, Andre Jr., in East Hartford. “My son is definitely an inspiration to me,” Andre said.

With the intent to introduce his namesake to art at an early age and maybe even hand down a sketchbook to his son one day, “For now, he'll be right there with me in the studio while I’m creating.”

Are you an artist, community organizer, or company

with a sketchbook of ideas you’d like to see come to life?

Take your vision from page to public art — connect with RiseUP for Arts today!

All images provided by Andre Rochester

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