Mixed Media Artist
Alina “Abstract” Drufovka is a Colombian-American painter who creates thru-hiking art.
We were first introduced to her work with her “Nostalgia Series” in which she transforms hiker silhouettes into a visual representation of their journeys in the wilderness. More recently, she’s begun using circular shapes and the concept of “portals” to transport other hikers back to their outdoor adventures.
As a self-taught artist, Alina embraces freedom to experiment. She also embraced the challenges and constraints of life during the COVID-19 pandemic by diving head first into painting as a creative outlet.
We love her bold use of color and we marvel at the way an expansive experience is distilled inside surreal contours and shapes. Alina’s work blurs the lines between memory and imagination, and the trajectory of her creative practice is guided by her intention to increase representation of hikers of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds—in art and in the outdoors.
Find out more, in Alina’s own words:
You have many passions. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how your various passions play into your art?
I am a Colombian-American Painter and Thru-Hiker from Center City Philadelphia. I’ve been passionate about long distance backpacking since the first day my hiking boots landed on the Appalachian Trail (AT) at the age of thirteen. Some kids dream of growing up and going away to college, becoming an astronaut, or traveling the world. When I grew up, I knew I wanted to walk from Georgia to Maine.
It was a peculiar life goal given that I do not come from an outdoorsy family or a place where spending time in nature was valued. No one around me seemed to understand why my bookcase kept growing with “How to Hike the Appalachian Trail” books, why I watched “Into the Wild” on repeat, or why I kept bothering my high school’s administration to let me graduate early so I could go hike the AT.
My mother assured herself it was “just a phase,” something that I would eventually “get out of my system.” But hiking isn’t dying your hair purple, it is a fundamental part of what it means to be human for me, an integral part of my being. It healed and invigorated my spirit, while providing me with the ultimate test of resilience and grit.
That one trip on the AT at the age of thirteen changed my entire life trajectory. I went on to hike the Appalachian Trail one and a half times, 1,800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Negev desert section of the Israel National Trail. I also went on to work in Outdoor Education. I led trips in Maine, Colorado and Wyoming, and worked as a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow for the company NOLS. I wanted to instill a love for the outdoors in other people, while also guaranteeing that more people from diverse backgrounds, such as myself, would have the chance to experience the sublimity of the natural world.
Hiking… is a fundamental part of what it means to be human for me, an integral part of my being. It healed and invigorated my spirit, while providing me with the ultimate test of resilience and grit.
I spent most of my early 20s in the cycle of work, hike, repeat. I always created art on the side, but it wasn’t until COVID-19 that life slowed down to the point where I could fully explore this other passion that had taken a backseat to my backpacking adventures.
I had left for a trip to Costa Rica before COVID was a household name. Within two weeks of my arrival the whole world had shut down, all returning flights had been canceled and I had no job to return home to. With nothing but a small set of watercolor paints, one brush and a pad of paper, I began to paint. It is not surprising that what emerged from my quarantine art is a celebration of the long trails that I’ve called home and the simplicity of living out of a backpack.
What are your mediums of choice, and what informs your color palette?
I have always been a mixed media artist. Most of my current works are a combination of watercolor, acrylic, ink, and illustrator markers on paper. In the past I’ve also enjoyed painting on salvaged wood and crafting abstract collages. I like the challenge of repurposing materials and using up every last drop of the paints I have before purchasing new ones.
While my style has shifted tremendously over the years from making large, sensual abstract nudes, to landscape paintings on wood, to hiker art, all my work explodes with color. I often challenge myself to incorporate as many colors as possible, colors that often invoke the surreal.
Especially with landscapes, my choice of color is often more vibrant and groovy than reality. I am not interested in recreating a photo with paint. Rather, I hope to create a new, more fantastical world inspired by the splendour of nature.
My favorite part about being a self-taught artist is that I am not constrained to any rules. I feel that I can experiment with color, perspective and form in unique ways due to my lack of traditional training in the field.
We love your hiker silhouettes. In these pieces, so much is included inside a contour shape. Do the images reflect memory or imagination? What goes into these colorful amalgamations?
My hiker silhouettes are part of my “Nostalgia Series” where I fill the shape of a hiker’s silhouette with the flora and fauna of their trail journey.
What started as a simple exercise I came up with to teach my significant other how to paint, evolved into a challenge of how I could fit a journey of over 2,000 miles into a single hiker form.
I love making these silhouettes to include a protruding hiking pack. If you have spent a considerable amount of time on trail then you can probably relate to the notion that a backpack starts to feel like an extension of your body.
My silhouettes are meant to capture this wonder and contain the beauty we experience when living out of a backpack.
My first silhouette painting is filled with my memories of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). From an artistic standpoint, I love painting the varied climates of this trail. The PCT is unique in that you walk from the dry prickly desert of Southern California into the verdant and mossy landscape of Washington. The contrast between these ecosystems visually inspires many of my pieces. For paintings of trails that do not have such a diverse climate, I create contrast by depicting day, night and sunset within one image.
When I close my eyes and think of life on trail it is often with “rose tinted glasses.” I think of budding wildflowers, grazing bears, shooting stars and divine sunsets. My silhouettes are meant to capture this wonder and contain the beauty we experience when living out of a backpack. They are a visual depiction of the memories that shape and transform us physically and spiritually.
One concept we love is the way your paintings act as “portals”. Can you speak a little to this?
The concept of my paintings serving as “portals” is very much related to the current reality of COVID and quarantine. As I shared my hiker art through social media, I realized how many of us longed for the trail this summer. So many people had thru-hikes and section hikes disrupted due to the pandemic and had to make sense of life with trail closures. They also had to make sense of life without the catharsis of hiking that so many of us desperately needed to recharge from our bustling technological world.
I started to paint in order to cope with the disruptions of my own life plans and create my own portal to the trail during these unprecedented times.
This notion became more literal with time as I began to take on commissions and create circular “portals” that opened up to the awe-inspiring landscapes of people’s past hikes. It fills me with an incredible amount of joy to imagine my art in the homes of other hikers who can look at their own personal portal to their fondest trail memories. While nothing can take the place of actual time in nature, I hope my paintings can capture just a fraction of the magic.
On Instagram you wrote that one pillar of your mission as an artist is to promote diversity in the outdoors. What role do you hope your art plays in this?
Diversity in the outdoors has become a hot topic in the current political climate. This is really exciting for someone like myself who has always been passionate about this issue.
I have cumulatively spent years of my life on the long trails of America, and during that time I could count on two hands that amount of BIPOC hikers I saw. As someone who graduated with a degree in Quantitative Sociology (with an emphasis on Racial Inequality), I always believed that the lack of diversity in the outdoors is grounded in a lack of access, not interest. I feel very fortunate that my first job out of college was as a Diversity and Inclusion fellow for an outdoor education company where I had time to reflect on and study this issue in more depth.
Despite my background, I didn’t initially foresee the role my art could play in promoting diversity in the outdoors. As I painted more hiker designs I eventually had to ask myself why a Latina thru-hiker such as myself still saw a scrawny, bearded white guy as the “prototypical” hiker in her mind? I also had to take a critical look at the first batch of my trail designs where I noticed that all my characters were fair-skinned and the majority men.
I realized that when I started making this hiker-inspired art I simply wanted to capture the thru-hiker experience, an experience that is still very much dominated by white men. I wanted my designs to be relatable and to be a reflection of the hiker community.
While art is very much a reflection of society, art also serves a pivotal role in shaping it. One of the most beautiful parts of creation is that an artist has the freedom to not just recreate the world as we know it, but to craft a portal to a new world. Perhaps a better and more equitable one. And that is exactly my intention.
What is one thing you’re working on now (or hope to create soon) that you’re excited about?
I am really excited about expanding my art to include more “vanlife” illustrations. I, somewhat accidently, ended up becoming a vanlifer myself over the past month in the Pacific Northwest. I have found many parallels between the vanlife and thru-hike lifestyle and am excited to depict this new journey artistically.