Ana Wieder-Blank is a New York based artist working in painting, ceramic sculpture, installation, and performance to create contemporary feminist political allegory by means of combining, extracting, undermining, and extending mythologies and fairy tales from around the world. She uses characters and narratives that echo each other thematically and recontextualizies these characters into new narratives. Her current project is an Installation entitled The Chronicles of Failure in which she uses stories from her own life, stories she has collected from other people, and current political events to explore feelings of failure, shame, and inadequacy. She is particularly interested in how current events, social media and her own identity as a lesbian, Jewish, differently abled artist influences and is influenced by these feelings. This installation includes painting, sculpture, animation, and performance.
Ana Wieder-Blank has had two solo shows at Honey Ramka Gallery in Bushwick, as well as multiple group shows in venues across the Lower East Side, Bushwick, and the Upper East Side. She is the recipient of multiple residencies and fellowships including a Nancy Graves Foundation Fellowship for her 2016 residency at the Millay Colony. She has been a resident at CalArts, Vermont Studio Center, Alfred University and more. She has received reviews and interviews at The Brooklyn Rail, W magazine, James Kalm Rough Cut, Tablet magazine and more. Ana Wieder-Blank was a 2016 Joan Mitchell Grant Finalist.
My current project is a series of oil paintings, ceramic sculptures, performances, and works on paper interpreting mythology with a feminist analysis These components sometimes come together to create installation pieces. I change, distort, and extend narratives past their end to create contemporary political allegory.
I take narratives from the bible, Greek, Mexican and Indian Mythologies, and fairy tales. These stories are loaded with political, gender and sexual allegories that are as potent today as they ever were. I am particularly interested in narratives that deal with ideas of outsider marginalization, queer sexuality, environmental concerns and issues of rape and consent. I couple womyn characters together and explore dynamics of hidden and overt love, jealousy and escape of patriarchy.
Rape plays a big part in the paintings and performances that combined and explored the similar stories of Dina and Persephone. These characters’s transformation from children to victims to activists is politically and personally resonant to me. Rape is also used as metaphor and allegory for environmental issues like Fracking and Nuclear Power Development that interest me.
I am very interested in the way that myths of different cultures echo each other in theme, and character. I take characters from multiple narratives and extend, compare, and intertwine their stories. Other stories that I have explored are Judith and her lover and the assassination of Holofernes, Miriam and Moses, Dianna and Actaeon and Eve, Lilith and Adam, each of these narratives resonate with me on a personal and political frequency.
I reference events from 9/11 to the Occupy movement, to fracking, and the recent protests against police brutality. As an activist, I have an inside understanding of these protest movements.
My work is visually influenced by artists ranging from the German expressionists to Joan Brown and Elizabeth Murray. Contemporary artists who have influenced me include Nicole Eisenman, Judith Linhares, Dana Schutz, Maria Lassnig, Valerie Hegarty, Arlene Shechet, Allison Schulnik, Vanessa Prager, and many others. I also am very influenced by outsider art, and intentionally incorporate a raw Art Brut influenced aesthetic into my work, though by no means do I consider myself to be an outsider artist.
Whether my material is oil paint, clay or performance I explore the materials and content with a combination of dark humor, joy and tragedy. I am a pronounced maximalist; I love color, texture, gesture and a painterly aesthetic in my work. . Recently I have become interested in bringing different media together in installations that attempt to engage the viewer/audience in a complete work of art, each medium provoking a unique experience in the making and viewing that cannot be replicated in any other medium. Politics and playfulness dance together in my work. I take great joy in experimentation and a childlike inquisitive spirit within the work.
Interview with Ana Wieder-Blank
Questions by Emily Burns
Hi Ana! Can you tell us a bit about your background and what motivated you to become an artist?
I grew up in a Modern Orthodox Jewish home. My parents are extremely modern, educated, and worldly people, but they are also very devoted to their religion. That confluence of modernity and religion became a major source of conflict for me. I am longer observant (the misogyny, homo/transphobia and general patriarchal nature of that culture made it untenable for me) but I identify as a practicing feminist egalitarian Jew. The stories and characters I grew up with make appearances in my work constantly. The myths and characters that populate my work serve as feminist allegory for our political situation, my feelings about living inside a non-normative body, my queer sexuality. They express all the rage, shame, sadness, joy, trauma I can’t express in words
My tradition is all about telling stories, and that is what my childhood was all about too. I spent most of it inventing characters, magical lands populated with Good Witches, Evil Wizards, massive struggles for the future of Ooli Chaana (the name of the magical land I invented). I was invested in all the arts growing up. In addition to the visual arts I was also seriously in love with dance, creative writing, and theater. I could have been a choreographer, a writer, a director if I had the talent and the time. I think I chose the visual arts (painting foremost) because it allowed me to do all those things. I write when I paint or sculpt because my work is narrative, I also dance, sing, (literally) and direct. I often think of a painting as a film still or a page in a comic book. I’m constantly thinking about what came before this and what will come after. I am constantly questioning why I chose this moment to paint as opposed to another. I think ultimately, I chose painting (and later sculpture and installation) because it is tactile. Words are just not as satisfying as the ooey gooey scrumptiousness of oil paint and clay. Even Dance and Theater doesn’t do it for me in that way (though it comes closer). That’s not to say I don’t love words; they’re just not alive to me in the way color and texture is. The magic of art is in the making. There are some artists who would be satisfied thinking about or designing a painting or sculpture. I respect those artists. But I am definitely not one of them.
Can you walk us through the stages of planning and making a painting?
A painting comes out of an idea. I want to place this character with that character and those other characters doing that thing in this setting. Then I just get to work. Most of my paintings start out as abstractions with an image hovering in the back of my mind, or at the forefront of my mind. Sometimes I have a specific idea I want to explore within a specific conceptual framework and sometimes I don’t. I fling paint and throw it and close my eyes and paint until I find an image, one image will find another until the painting comes halfway into view. This is the part of the working process I enjoy the most because everything is still transitional. Nothing is set into stone. I can scrape down, build back up, turn the painting around. I try to keep it open as long as I can. Lately I’ve been trying to fuck up on purpose. I’m trying to make mistakes to expand my range of color, techniques, and compositions. If a color goes into a wrong place, then I’m thrilled because it opens new possibilities. For my paintings that are for the Chronicles of Failure Installation (the Mirror of Disenchantment paintings) and the paintings that have the acrylic impasto paste on it, the composition is somewhat set in advance, but there is still so much room for play within that framework. Play is at the core of my work. This is true even more for my ceramic sculpture; I won’t often know what a sculpture is until its almost finished. In terms of my painting, the composition is only set once the cutouts have been cut out.
Is drawing a part of your practice?
I see drawing as an analogous practice to my painting. Truthfully, even though drawing in the traditional sense of making lines doesn’t really factor into the process of making my paintings I will often make drawings while I’m making paintings to try to understand the paintings.
Drawing factors into my practice more now then ever. I’ve been making stop motion animations with an iPad app. I draw a drawing, shoot a few frames, adjust, shoot a few more frames, etc. etc. The animations are part of installations. I’m no William Kentridge (my animations are a hell of a lot shakier) but I love the process even if the work is shit; which it usually is. It is so labor intensive. It takes about two hundred drawings (about thirty per page) to make a thirty second animation.
I also make artists books (they are not just sketchbooks because they have a narrative component). Lately I’ve been drawing a lot on my iPad. I use brushes, the same app as Hockney. It’s fascinating to watch my process being played back to me.
There are cutouts canvas where we can catch a glimpse of the wall through your work. How are these windows incorporated into the structure of the painting? What is the significance of the cutouts?
I use the cutouts to create special solutions for visual problems. The negative space of a cutout contrasts against the impastoed surface area of a painted area. I also like the way the cutouts add to the sculptural nature of the paintings, underscoring their existence as objects. Lately I am also trying to solve visual problems pictorially, and not just sculpturally. Once the cutouts are cut out the composition is pretty much set, but there is still a lot that can be played around with pictorially. The significance of the cutouts also underscores my belief that a painting is not a window into another world as the Renaissance artists believed, it is another world. My paintings are their own worlds, and they also can be a part of a larger world; which is happening in my installation work. Though I still treasure the process of creating an individual object much of my work is now being made in the service of installation work. Though they can absolutely be shown by themselves, they are made to create an environment. I find I am no longer artistically satisfied by the making and showing of individual objects.
However, I still do paint individual paintings, particularly the big paintings are really satisfying, underscoring my desire to create new worlds. I wish I had the studio space and the money to make even bigger paintings
The surface texture of your work is sharp and very thick—is the texture produced primarily by the oil paint on top of the acrylic impasto? It appears a brush could not create that texture—how do you apply the paint to the surface?
The surface is created in exactly that way, acrylic impasto paste, a layer of gesso and then buttery thick oil paint. I do use brushes to create texture, as well as palette knives, painting knives, collage materials, wax sometimes, all imbedded into the surface. I get cheap stiff brushes; not so stiff they can’t move the paint around, but stiff enough that they can pick up a significant amount of paint, especially working together with a palette knife.
How long do the paintings typically take to make? Is the drying time a significant factor when working with impasto the way you do?
Each one takes about a month to 6 weeks from start to completion. Drying time isn’t much of a factor working in my studio, but when I go to residencies (and I go to as many as I can get into/ afford, about 7 or 8 in total) it can be a big problem. Sometimes at residencies I have to work with Acrylic and Oil Stick, rather than just straight oil paint.
Color seems to really unify your work, across both paintings and ceramics. Can your talk about your use of color?
Color for me is about both dissonance and beauty. It is about pain, rage, shame, trauma, sadness; emotions I don’t have enough words for. There are two aspects of my color use that I can elucidate. 1. I use color in a way that underscores the dissonant themes and relationships in my work. So much of my work is about trauma; rape, exile, loneliness, abuse, self-abuse, self-imposed exile and more. The colors I use are often complementary, or close to complementary: magenta and chartreuse, orange and turquoise, violet, and ochre, rose and aqua, they fight each other, they make love, they isolate each other, they dance with each other. They are violent because my work is violent. 2. So much of what I’m trying to do with my work now is convey, or express the inside and the outside of the body at the same time. Flesh has always been an overarching interest for me. I am fascinated by, and impassioned by the fleshy female/gender non-binary body. This is a fraction of my interest in non-normative bodies in general. Whether it is fatness (my work is very fat positive, I do not view the word as insulting but rather as empowering. I do not shy away from it by using euphemisms like curvy) ability (differently abled figures are actually the majority in my work) gender (many of my figures have both sets of genitalia, and I generally think of all my characters as genderqueer) From Rubens to De Kooning to Ana Mendieta, Cecily Brown, Dana Schutz, Carolee Schneemann, and more, flesh is predominant in all of art history, which deeply informs my work. A more recent development is this struggle to convey the inside of the body simultaneously. Skeletal structures, ribs, arteries, veins, organs like intestines, livers, kidneys, and pancreas fascinate me. The swirling activity of colors and textures inside figures are abstractions of the inside of the body. I do not want to portray anatomy, I want to express a feeling of anatomy. Just as we use the euphemism heart, guts, balls (that one I detest. I urge all feminists to start using vulva in it’s place) for emotions and courage. I want the viewer to be an emotionally active participant rather that a passive spectator. I want my work to elicit deep compassion with these characters.
Many of your titles incorporate political themes—specifically those related to the 2016 election. Can you talk amore about your interest in representing those events?
I must be political in my work. There aren’t enough words I have to express my rage, and my shame, and my anxiety about Trump and the state of our country and world. I don’t have enough money to support every political cause and candidate I would like to. I don’t have the time or energy to go to every single protest and make it to my studio (though I try to make it to at least one or two a month) I wish I could support Planned Parenthood, or NARAL, or Greenpeace, or Food and Water Watch, or the many LGBTQ organizations I love single handedly, but I can’t. My work is where I can do all the things I wish I could do in a larger arena. I hope that my work isn’t just an emotional catharsis. I hope I can spur people towards active resistance with their voices, bodies, and wallets. I hope my work is subtle and nuanced but also powerful, emotional, and painful at the same time. I want my work to scream and dance simultaneously.
I want it to be both timeless and timely.
The way that I do this is by using mythology, biblical narratives, and fairy tales as allegory and particularly as allegorical stand ins for certain narratives and characters. For example, in the Painting Badass Womyn (Judith, Kali, and Lillith) Assassinate Holofernes, visually and narratively Holofernes is Trump. I hope the smirk on his face makes this apparent. I considered adding Trump to the title in parenthesis at the end but thought that might be too obvious. I don’t want to steal the joy of discovery from a viewer, but I do want it to be clear (this is something I struggle with a lot in my work) In other paintings like Trump as Narcissus; Clinton as Kali, and Pandora Opens The Box and Discovers Evil (Featuring Trump) Trump becomes a more obvious feature.
When I’m dealing with themes like police brutality I think I can delve into those issues in depth because my figures aren’t any particular race but rather full of color. Like Bob Thompson I use multicolored figures as metaphor for issues that affect mostly people of color. Similarly, I also use mythological figures as allegory for actual narratives. I’d certainly can’t ever speak for a person of color, but I can speak for the experiences of Jews, of lesbians and the LGBTQ community, of differently abled people, and of rape survivors because I am all those things. And having been arrested twice for civil disobedience in conjunction with the Occupy movement and other political activist movements I have some experience with the NYPD (though certainly different from a person of color in America) In my paintings Dinah Puts Her Hands Up and Persephone Protests I show them during the moment of arrest and mutilations, hoping to incite deep compassion and fury on their behalf. I hope to avoid issues that artists like Dana Schutz has had to deal with. I don’t want to coopt anybody’s suffering at all. But I feel like I need to express and even exploit my own or it will turn into a toxic sludge. I hope my work is more then therapy, more then catharsis, but I don’t deny it is that too. Finally, I want to state that all my work is political, sometimes it is subtly political, and sometimes it is overtly political but the act of making work that is always feminist, always features fat, differently abled, and queer characters doing queer things, then this art will always be political. I also strongly believe that the act of creating art in our time is an inherently political act, whether your work has political content or not.
Are there any overarching themes that you keep returning to in your work?
Thematically rape has played a big role lately. Both rape as rape and rape as metaphor for environmental desecration and catastrophe have been prominently featured. Just for the record; I’ve been making work about this way before #metoo but I certainly capitalize upon that movement. I think it’s amazing even though it was started by a woman of color 20 years ago. The SNL musical sketch Welcome to Hell captures so much of what I want to capture. I’ve watched it at least 10 times. I just wish I could have that audience. Living in a non-normative body is pretty much a theme I deal with in just about every work. Disability, queerness, living on the fringes of society comes into my work constantly. In terms of characters Dinah and Persephone are constantly making appearances. I will often bring together characters from different myths whose stories echo each other. They are both rape survivors who meet, fall in love, and use their queer love to begin to heal each other’s trauma.
What have been some of the biggest influences on your life and your work thus far?
So many artists I could name:
Dana Schutz, Nicole Eisenman, Judith Linhares, Cecily Brown, Ana Mendieta, Frida Kahlo, Rita Ackerman, Allison Schulnik, Amy Sillman, Joan Snyder, Elizabeth Murray, Lynda Benglis, Faith Ringold, Kara Walker, Maria Lassnig, Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, a million others, plus contemporaries Susan Carr, Kate Klingbeil, Katya Grozofsky, Hannah Layden, Rebecca Morgan, Emily North, Hiba Shibazz and Lauren Nickou. I’m constantly looking at their Instagram posts.
In terms of life events? Growing up differently abled, coming to terms with being a lesbian and possibly genderqueer (I’m still puzzling that one out. But I’ve never felt like a cis female even though I present femininely. Am I allowed, or does that take the meaning out of the word? I don’t know.) Being a survivor of adult rape and childhood sexual abuse. I would never wish anything like that on any body ever, but it has shaped me and given me a lot of rage and fuel, for better or worse (better for my art, worse for relationships). I had an extremely lonely childhood and that developed my imaginative powers (and probably hindered my social faculties. Everything is an exchange. Nothing is ever free.) My nieces and nephews influence me, shape me, are the most precious things in the world to me. Mythologies from the Mahabharata, the old testament, the Greek Canon, to fairy tales and Shakespeare have been major influences. And as corny as it sounds Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Hunger Games are influences too, all kinds of sci fi and dystopian fiction, Plus Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood. I’m obsessed now with the Handmaid’s Tale, both the book and the show.
What is a typical day like for you?
That depends on whether it’s a studio day or not. Studio days (usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, plus one weekend day) all start the same way, wake up (and all the stuff that entails; getting dressed, brushing teeth, taking meds) breakfast (I never used to eat breakfast but I’ve lost about 70 pounds recently and breakfast is a big part of that, you get a lot more endurance throughout the day and eat a lot less crap) I leave my apartment by about 9 or 9:30. I’m really trying to get to my studio earlier lately. This is especially true in the Winter when its essential to maximize daylight hours. I always take long walks to get to the subway; anywhere from 2 to 4 miles. I walk from my apt on East Broadway and Clinton to at least W4th street, sometimes 14th street or even 23rd street and 6th avenue. I get to my studio between 10 and 12. It takes me about an hour to set up (changing into my work clothes, cleaning up the studio, putting things away, laying out paint, etc.) I work for about 5 to 7 hours with breaks in between for eating, bathroom, looking, thinking, (I set my alarm for breaks, so I remember to eat, that way I don’t feel ravenous at the end of the day.) At any time from 5:30 to 6:30 I start to clean up. Cleaning entails wiping down brushes and putting them back in the turpenoid filled coffee cans. (It’s not true that it kills your brushes, I’ve had brushes last for years this way. It just takes too much time to wash each one individually.) I also must wipe down my palette knives and put them in their coffee cans. Take off my gloves, clean my whole arms and shoulders and sometimes face and chest and legs with Murphy’s Oil Soap (I’ve tried a bunch of products. Murphy’s is by far the best. It works beautifully; its gentle on skin, nonabrasive and totally nontoxic) get dressed into my street clothes. Then if it’s Monday and on session I go to my Monday night critique group which meets for about 8 to 10 weeks at a time at the Streicker Center. It’s a Jewish artist’s critique group with a text study component and I really really love it. It’s mostly womyn, a bunch of lesbians, and some phenomenal artists. It’s facilitated by a really great artist and person Tobi Kahn (he teaches at SVA) and a kickass rabbi Dianne Kohler-Esses. We also put on a show every spring. I’ve made some of my best friends through this group. Its called Artist’s Beit Midrash. If it’s off session I go to bench time at Brickhouse Ceramic Arts Center. On Wednesday I have class at Brick house. Its about 8 to 10 blocks from my studio and I’ve made some great friends there too. I make sculptures and glaze them there and when they are fully fired I’ll take them to my studio. Fridays are much the same as Wednesdays, unless I’m going to a performance or Shabbat services at Romemu or Shabbat dinner somewhere. (What sucks is that during the winters Shabbat starts very early, so I’ll often lose the whole day. When that happens, I’ll go to my studio both weekend days, or on a Tuesday or Thursday)
Non studio days start much the same, except after breakfast I’ll work on applications to residencies, grants, or shows (I’m always applying to something, but I’m especially busy from end of November to early April what I dub Application Season) I always schedule my teaching, medical appointments, therapy, art supply shopping, and any other non-art activities so my studio days will be free. In the evenings I either dance at a Contact Improvisation Jam or a Queer Tango Milonga, see a dance or theater performance, or a movie (Have you seen Loving Vincent? It’s breathtaking.) It’s is pretty much all the same price if you go to the same places I go to
I recommend Dixon Place, Abrons Art Center, La Mama, Danspace Projects, the Creek and the Cave, Chez Bushwick, BAM, and so many more for amazing and affordable live performances) On Thursdays I will often go to Brickhouse for bench time. I’ll often end my Tuesdays and Thursdays by going to the Pit Loft for Improv Comedy Jams where anybody can perform for just a dollar (three if you’re not a pit student)
On weekends if I’m not at my studio, I’m at galleries and museums, visiting my nieces and nephews, at improv drop in classes at the PIT . It’s a great way to relax, destress, and be creative in a social way. Since I spend so much time alone in my studio. (Not complaining, most of the time I love it) and since I live alone (I love my independence and freedom but it’s a tradeoff for companionship, like I said before; nothing is free.) I am always looking for a way to be creative socially. The same goes for Tango classes (I prefer queer tango, no assigned gender roles.) Recently I’ve been trying to do as much activism as possible, showing up at marches, planning for actions, that kind of thing.
Who are some of the artists that you look at the most often or most recently?
I think I touched upon this earlier but here goes. There is an amazing Elizabeth Murray show at Pace GO SEE IT!!! Dana Schutz, Nicole Eisenman, Maria Lassnig, Cecily Brown, Allison Schulnik, Michelle Guthier, Kara Walker, Ana Mendieta, Jesse Wine, Joan Mitchell, Joan Snyder, Arlene Shechet, Ken Price, Bob Thompson, Robert Colescott, both DeKoonings, Lynda Benglis, Judy Chicago, Eve Hesse, Ghada Amer, Saba Habib, William Kentridge, Marlene Dumas, Louis Bourgeois (go see the Moma Show) Tamy Ben Tor, Michal Allehas, Rahini Kapul. Amy Sillman, Leidy Churchman, Carrie Moyer, Sheila Pepe, Cyrilla Mozenter, Jessica Stockholder, Dianna Al Hadid, Carolee Schneeman, Judith Bernstein, Mary Heilmann, and about a million other amazing artists. In terms of my contemporaries Vanessa Prager, , Kate Klingbeil, Susan Carr (just for the record there are two, and they are both excellent) Hannah Layden, Hiba Shibaz Rebecca Morgan, Lauren Nickou, Emily North, Salman Toor, so many others. If you follow me on Instagram @AnaWiederBlank and see my likes and follows that will give you a pretty good idea about the contemporary art and artists that move me. In terms of older artists Frida Kahlo, Alice Neel, Chaim Soutine, Oscar Kokoschka, Kirchner, Late Monet, Manet, Late Degas (even though he was an anti-Semitic, misogynist asshole) Picasso (same complaint but without the antisemitism) Gauguin (sooo many issues there, racism, misogyny, abuse, pedophilia, but the work is so good in and so influential in terms of color) Bonnard, Berthe Morisot, Suzanne Valadon, Rubens, Goya, Artemisia Gentileschi, , and all the Venetians, Turner, and Van Gogh. For me it always comes down to Van Gogh. He was the first artist I fell in love with.
Is there anything that significantly supports or destroys your groove or energy in the studio?
Music and phone calls respectively. Because I use my alarm a lot in my studio I always put my phone on airplane mode unless there is something urgent going on.
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc. that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
The Creative Fire by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She uses the myth of Demeter and Persephone to talk about the creative process. What most people don’t know is that there are two versions of this myth, a pre-Hellenic and post-Hellenic version. In the earlier version Persephone goes to the underworld of her own volition because she hears the cries of the trapped souls and is moved to try and help them out of a deep sense of compassion. In the post-Hellenic version, she is abducted and raped by Hades. Estes uses this to discuss the normal cycle of creativity which ebbs and flows, waxes, and wanes, and contrasts it to creativity being stolen or abducted out of its natural cycle by complexes and trauma. This was so influential because it not only helped me identify my own complexes but also ease my anxiety in creative ruts. Whenever I used to hit a dry spell I would feel terrified. I would think to myself, okay that’s it, you’re finished, you’re a hack, a fraud, a failure, a one hit wonder, you have nothing else to offer. Now I just relax, go to a museum, or a gallery, or a performance or all of the above, read a book, play with my nieces and nephews, go to therapy, go to a movie, and wait for the spark to return. Because I know it just went underground for a while. I know it didn’t disappear, thanks to the magic of Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
PS. If you can, listen to her read on audiobook. She is a fantastic storyteller and performer and it brings so much warmth and dimension to her work.
What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of being in the studio?
My iPod. I put it on shuffle. What’s on it? So many things. A lot of Opera and Classical, soul singers (Ella, Etta, Billie, Bessie, Aretha, the works) Jazz, punk, (the Clash, the Doors Tegan and Sarah, the Cure, the Queers, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Ramones, all the classics funk, folk rock, Tori Amos, Dar Williams, a hell of a lot of Leonard Cohen (I think I have every album) Sarah Mclaughlin, Liz Phair Regina Spector, Sara Barielles (Brave might be my anthem, along with Anthem by Leonard Cohen) all of the Riot Grrrls Antigone Rising, Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, the Raincoats everything that Kathleen Hannah and PJ Harvey has ever done, Everything and anything Patti Smith (who sug at my Pratt Graduation) All of Janis Joplin (the love of which I got from my father., from whom I also got my love of Maria Callas, Placido Domingo, Beethoven, and all things classical and classic rock except for anything modern in classical which I often like but he never does.) Some old school political hip hop (before a lot of the misogyny) show tunes, the entire Rent soundtrack, Indian sitar music, Nick Drake, Nico and the Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Lady Gaga, Queen Bee, Jazz greats and a whole lot of really weird shit that I love that just got downloaded because it moved me or made me laugh or was just really weird. I love shuffle on my iPod because I love listening to one thing, and then it changes to something else totally different. I love pandora and Spotify when I’m cooking or walking, dancing, or traveling but I hate the ads and I hate the sameness of it all, when I’m painting I want to be shocked and jolted so I am constantly feeling awake and alive. I also love podcasts like This American Life and Serial and things like that but I can’t listen to that painting because too many words just sucks the momentum dry for me. I get so distracted by words and talking. I love music with words (and without words) but not talking. Podcasts areH for cooking, working on applications, the commute and for ceramics when I don’t have to move so much, although honestly, I’d rather talk to my friends at Brickhouse, but on the rare occasion I’m alone then I love the podcasts.
Can you tell us a bit about your workspace? What are absolute necessities in the studio?
Have you ever seen a picture of Francis Bacon’s studio? It’s a little like that. Paint is quite literally everywhere. There is canvas on the floor and Plastic on the wall, so my landlord doesn’t hate me (just kidding, he kind of hates me) I am like a cliché of a messy painter. When I was in undergrad I had a critique with Elizabeth Murray (who was my teacher’s teacher. She is an amazing painter too. Her name is Debra Kahn.) At that point I was still trying to reign myself in because most of my teachers told me to be more disciplined, self-controlled, organized, clean up my work (all those teachers were male) etc. Murray told me the opposite; get wilder, even less inhibited. If you’re going to be a messy painter than BE A MESSY PAINTER! EMBRACE IT! So, I did.
In terms of the layout it’s pretty rectangular with narrow walls (I wish it were squarer, easier to get some distance. If I need distance I sometimes will take paintings into the hallway or outside) I also wish it were a lot bigger, but it’s not bad, about 250 square feet. I have an easel that faces away from the window. I have two tables with my palettes (I use large Plexiglas ones, 3 at a time, for about 4 to 6 months each) I must keep my window open almost all the time which can make it very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. Otherwise the fumes, which I barely notice will begin to suffocate me. From April or May to October or November I have the fan running. I wish I could have a space heater, but I can’t because it’s a fire hazard. If it gets under 30 degrees or under 25 at the very lowest or over 95 degrees I can’t go because of the risk of hypothermia or dehydration and heat stroke. Therefore, I’ve set up a makeshift home studio. I make works on paper, and ceramic work at home. Obviously, oil painting is out of the question at home, but I do a lot of oil pastels.
How do you navigate distraction or lack of motivation while working?
I’ve mostly covered this, so I’ll be very succinct here. 1. Music, 2. Airplane mode, 3. Alarms so I don’t have to panic about time. 4. One of my biggest strengths is intense focus so once I’m in a flow state its hard to distract me unless you’re calling me incessantly which brings me back to 2. My father hates that I do this but it’s really necessary.
You currently live and work in Brooklyn. What brought you to New York and can you talk about your experience of being an artist in the city?
I used to live in Brooklyn. I currently live in the Lower East Side. Grad School brought me to NYC but I kind of knew I was going to end up here long before that. I don’t drive because I am visually impaired in one eye and so my depth perception is off. That kind of limits where I could live. New York, DC (where I grew up) Boston, Chicago (both too cold for me) Miami, San Francisco and maybe a few other places. Plus, almost all my family is here. I love New York, the culture, energy, and community is essential to my work. This concentration and diversity of museums, galleries, performance spaces, artists, arthouse movie theaters, art classes, dance classes, acting classes, exhibition, and performance opportunities, etc is greater then almost every other city in the world (one could make a case for LA. But I could never live in LA because of the driving problem. I was near there for a residency at CalArts last summer. My Lyft bill was embarrassingly high).
I worked in Brooklyn while I was at Pratt; but for the pasit 7 years my studio has been in Long Island City. My commute from LES is easy- just a quick jaunt on the F train. I’m also close to the M, E, 7, G, N, Q, and R trains in LIC. I love that it’s a transportation hub. That makes me feel safe; especially if it’s late. I also love that it’s near MomaPS1, the Socrates Sculpture Park, the Noguchi museum, the Flux Factory, and other great cultural institutions. ‘
I won’t lie, it isn’t easy living in the city. It can be lonely. People are busy; its hard to find a lasting community. Money is always an issue. Staying afloat financially is always an issue for every artist and every person in New York. I miss nature a lot. Therefore, artist residencies are so important to me. I choose residencies that are in nature rather than in cities, but that also have a town nearby, so I don’t have to bum rides from people all the time (just some of the time?)
How important is the place where you live to your studio practice? This could include geographic location, city, neighborhood, community, etc.
I love living in the LES and working in LIC. I love both neighborhoods. They are both so strong culturally. They have so much going on in art, dance, theater, performance, etc. I like not having my studio in my living space. To me its extremely important to take my walks as often as I can, preferably every day. It centers me, it calms me, it prepares me to harness my energy in the studio. Walking puts a barrier between that studio magic and the bullshit of insecurities, anxieties, distractions, traumatic memories, panic, rage, and just an overwhelming amount of stuff I could and do worry about and obsess over; nuclear war with North Korea, Climate Change, Sexual assault and harassment, internet harassment, Trump, peace in the Middle East, my health, my weight, my parent’s health, my career trajectory, or lack of a career trajectory, feeling like a failure because my career isn’t progressing the way I want it to. My relationship with my family, the applications I must finish, the doctor’s appointment I must go to. It’s endless. Walking helps me put all that behind me, or transform it into new ideas for new paintings, sculptures, and installations. Walking is transformative. I wish I could walk to my studio without taking the subway though. But since it’s a straight ride with no transfers it’s pretty easy. I feel lucky that my life is set up in this way.
At the same time. Its essential to change my surroundings. I need residencies. I love NYC in the Spring, Fall and early Summer but in August and from January to March I really hate it. I don’t do well in really cold or really hot temperatures. My studio becomes uninhabitable above 95 degrees and below 25 degrees. Residencies make finding community and new friends easy because it’s built into the structure of a residency. Magic happens when artists live together, eat together, work adjacent to each other. It’s not always easy, there’s usually one person who you can’t stand, but its so worth it for what you gain.
Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
The advice I got from Elizabeth Murray about embracing my true nature as an artist. I’ve had advice that its about the art, not about becoming famous or wealthy, or however you define ‘making it’. That is something that depresses me sometimes, the possibility that nobody cares about my art and that it’s just a burden on the ecosystem and my family and that its all going to end up in some dank warehouse if I’m lucky, or in a fire pile if I’m not. I rant and rail against the injustices of the art world a lot but truthfully, I do want to make it. Money is a reason but not the main one. Would I like to support myself from my work? Of course, I would, but having lots of shows (solo and group) and being seen and respected matters more to me. I remind myself that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve received variations of this advice from multiple respected teachers and mentors and friends. This career anxiety and frustration is depressing, but also freeing, because if nobody cares what you’re doing, you can do whatever you want.
Do you have any other news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
I have two group shows happening now. One in Long Island City at the Plaxall Gallery, and one in LA at Vacancy Gallery. I also have a group show that was curated by the residency director at Cal Arts (her name is Emma Kemp, she is a marvelous artist and person) that is going to be at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s called Home Bodies and Away Teams and it will be there from January to March 2018.
The project that most excites me and terrifies me is a mural I applied to do. I am painting a mural on Eldridge Street on the Corner of East Houston. It’s technically between Stanton and East Houston, but much closer to East Houston. It’s across the street from 2nd Avenue subway, near the Grand Street Subway, and Broadway Lafayette. It’s around the corner from Yonah Schimmel and Sunshine Cinema. I am doing a Mirror of Disenchantment. This is a dual self-portrait of me looking into a mirror and reflecting all my anxieties, insecurities, trauma, and feelings of failure and fraudulence. It is connected to The Chronicles of Failure Installation.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us!
To find out more about Ana and her work, check out her website.