Catching up with...Fernando Orellana

Publication Date

Originally from San Salvador, El Salvador, Fernando Orellana and his family migrated to Miami, Fla., as political refugees. “My first memory of the United States is of Geoffrey the Giraffe, the Toys-r-Us mascot. I didn’t speak English, but I knew that stupid giraffe was where the adults kept the toy paradise, so I hunted for it daily.”

Aside from his Toys-r-Us obsession, as a child he always had a knack for creativity, especially drawing. Eventually, when Orellana was 14, he declared he was going to be an artist, “something that now sounds crazy coming from a kid that age. My parents, I’m sure, figured it was a stage I’d get over.”

Using Wonder AI, Fernando Orellana created an image collaboration depicting three guests he would invite to a dinner party: Jesus, Albert Einstein and Robin Williams.

Using Wonder AI, Fernando Orellana created an image collaboration depicting three guests he would invite to a dinner party: Jesus, Albert Einstein and Robin Williams.

But the declaration stuck. He studied art and technology at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and then again as a graduate student at the Ohio State University. Right after graduate school – 18 years ago – he joined Union. Orellana became a full professor last spring. He and his wife, Mindy McDaniel (who is also an artist), live in Albany with their two insane dachshunds, Pbo and Boli.

“Beyond continuing to make art, my main responsibilities at Union are to instruct the digital art curriculum and manage the digital art studio – keeping it humming along as one of the kick-a** creative production spaces on campus. As an artist, I am one of the fortunate people in this world who doesn’t see a separation between my work and my life – they are one and the same. It is true that if you love what you do you will not work a day in your life!”

Orellana’s favorite music is anything in the house and techno genre, though he’s a huge fan of Pink Floyd, Spaceman 3 and Frank Sinatra. He likes all things edible, but if somebody twisted his arm, he’d say his favorite is sushi, specifically from the Sai Cafe in Chicago.

The Windy City is also home to one of the most memorable and crazy experiences Orellana’s ever had.

Catching up with...

Each week a faculty or staff member is profiled. Answering a series of short questions, the profiles are intended to be light, informative and conversational.

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“Laurie Anderson once watched my first robotic installation accidentally catch fire. It was in Chicago while I was an undergraduate at the Hybrid exhibition during the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA). At the time, I didn’t know who she was, but she was the only person in the gallery and apparently was taken by my artwork because she stood staring at it for a long while. That is, before my amateur electronics exploded and caught fire right before her eyes! As smoke started to fill the space and I rushed to put it out and rescue my art, I saw her giggle a little bit and casually walk away. To this day I am certain that she doesn’t remember my name, but I’m willing to bet she remembers the time when art almost burned down a gallery she was visiting.”

FIRST APP YOU LOOK AT IN THE MORNING: If I’m being honest it’s Instagram. Most visual artists that I know and don’t know are on the platform so I’m sort of hooked by association.

GO-TO BREAKFAST: Like all caffeine junkies, coffee comes first before all things in the morning. Once that fix is settled, lately I’ve been keen on bagels and lox. Can’t get enough!

LAST GREAT BOOK YOU READ?: During the pandemic, I read “Don Quixote.” Excellent read that has stood the test of centuries. It’s dangerous and delusional protagonist reminded me so much of a certain orange fellow that keeps creeping up in the news.

BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED:This will sound odd, but I recently received some “advice” in a dream. While sitting in a hole on a stage, a dream sage relayed to me, “The film in the electric tower, that is the dominant display!” What the advice means, well, I’m still trying to figure that out.

The other advice that really helped me as an artist is what my woodworking professor said to me in regards to production: “Your craft should be through and through.” Meaning, even though someone may not see what you have created, you should still strive to make it the best you can. I think that advice applies in all aspects of life, not just art making. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

FAVORITE PLACE TO VISIT: There is a property in southern Costa Rica called Tres Palmas. It’s located on a cliff in the middle of a rain forest, overlooking the Pacific. It is nothing short of paradise. Beyond the howler monkeys, ocean sounds and perfect temperatures, the most magical part is the pool. In the middle of the night, when there isn’t a light on for 50 miles in all directions, one can float in this pool and look up at the sky, witnessing our galaxy and endless universe. It’s what I imagine the doorway to the other side must be like.

WHAT ARE YOU WATCHING RIGHT NOW?: Season 7 of “Fear the Walking Dead,” which is surprisingly good-ish. There is something about apocalypse narratives that I really enjoy. Not sure why, but it really sparks my imagination. I guess it lets me consider what reality would be like if all the comforts of modern life were removed. As Regina King once said, “Comfort zones are where dreams go to die.” Even though things feel hard in contemporary life, we still have it crazy good. At least there are working toilets, Hot Pockets and not one zombie horde trying to eat your face.

ONE SKILL YOU WISH YOU HAD: Voice impressions. I’m terrible at it, but it is a skill I wish had. Especially doing a solid Christopher Walken! That is my dream.

THREE DINNER PARTY GUESTS (living or deceased): Jesus of Nazareth, Albert Einstein and Robin Williams. I figure since Jesus is really God in disguise, in general, that would make excellent dinner conversation. Albert would help us ask God all the right questions, instead of the stupid ones like, “why does chicken taste like itself” or “do you want to pull my finger?” Robin would find a way to make everything funny. After all, he was great at impressions, which I think everyone would really enjoy, especially the almighty.

FIRST CONCERT: Technically, U2 on the Joshua Tree tour, which was amazing. However, my mom forced my older brother to take me (I was a kid), so in my mind it doesn’t count. The concert I like to think of as the first one was the Beastie Boys at the Six Flags Atlantis water park in Hollywood, Fla. I still can’t believe I got to see them live and then immediately go splash around in the wave pool. Take that, Bono!

LITTLE KNOWN FACT ABOUT YOU: I am a direct descendant of Francisco De Orellana, the Spanish Conquistador that unfortunately ravaged the new world looking for El Dorado (the city of gold) in the 15th century. He didn’t manage to find the city, but did get super crazy lost in South America. Consequently, he “discovered” and named the Amazon River. By some miracle, he navigated the river to the Atlantic – avoiding being murdered by the locals, starving to death, being shot by his crew or succumbing to dysentery.