by Tina Engels
I visited the studio of Anne Harris and had a peek at the some of her new paintings and a glimpse of some drawings that did not make the cut for her last exhibition. We discussed her process as she pushes further and deeper into what she feels is true in her painting, excavating and digging into the various stages until a physical palpable physical reality emerges.
Anne Harris has exhibited at venues ranging from Alexandre Gallery, DC Moore Gallery and Nielsen Gallery, to the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute, The Portland Museum of Art, the California Center for Contemporary Art and the North Dakota Museum of Art. Her work is in such public collections as The Fogg Museum at Harvard, The Yale University Art Gallery and The New York Public Library. Grants and awards received include a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and an NEA Individual Artists Fellowship. Harris currently teaches in the BFA and MFA programs at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is vice president of the board of the Riverside Arts Center and chair of its exhibition committee. She also is the originator of The Mind’s I—a collaborative drawing project designed to investigate the complexities of perception and self-perception through drawing. The first iteration of this project took place at Julius Caesar Gallery in Chicago, Nov.-Dec. 2012. Harris lives with her husband, the photographer Paul D’Amato, and their son Max, in Riverside, IL. —- from Anne Harris’ bio on her website
Tina: The early work makes it clear you are a gifted observer. How has your work changed over time?
Anne: I don’t think of what I’m doing as observing. That implies an objective point of view. Painting for me is subjective—interpretive, felt out. But regarding the early work: I’d fallen in love with northern Renaissance portraiture. I was trying to understand how subtlety led to intensity, and how detail and description could be used in a meaningful way—not as illusionistic indulgence, but as something essential. I also was trying to understand how those paintings were invented. Rhythm, simplification, the character of the light (luminosity emanating from inside the painting) figure/ground tension, the compression of form—all those things are fictitious inventions.
Since then, my paintings and drawings have gradually opened up, become softer edged, with areas of focus shifting. Lately, sometimes, the figures are translucent or transparent, functioning more as ground than figure.
Tina: How is the perceptual in painting relevant to your work?
Anne: I think painting is fundamentally perceptual. It’s experienced in a sensory way. I don’t mean just seeing. Touch, movement, memory, imagination and emotion—all can be understood as perception, and all are involved when making paintings and looking at paintings. Painting from life, which I do, is another aspect of this. We each perceive the world differently: information passes through our senses to our minds, through our bodies to our hands, which then touch a surface to make marks that are specifically ours. That said, when I’m painting, I’m always looking at something. It may be that I’m just staring down the painting trying to figure out what it is, what belongs there, what’s next; or I may be looking at myself, or at a model or at other drawings or paintings in my studio.
Tina: What role does drawing play in your art and what is its relationship to the painting?
Anne: I draw a lot. I tend to have periods, particularly after finishing a body of paintings, when I only draw—drawing binges. Drawing is more natural for me, it tends to be in front of my painting, pulling it along. One of my ongoing struggles is trying to figure out how to paint more like I draw, to allow the painting to grow naturally, to evolve rather than be knocked about… painting is just really hard.
I have a definition that I use for drawing—an organization of marks that transform a ground. So a mark on paper transforms that paper into light, air, weight, movement, etc. A mark can be anything and the ground can be anything. This can apply to a broad range of media, to any subject, representational, abstract, 2-D, 3-D. The key is the transformation. That’s the magic. It’s what I look for in art.
So, I think about drawing all the time. Lately, I’ve been using paint on paper, but have been thinking of them as painted drawings. I’m paying close attention to how the mark transforms the ground it sits on, thinking less of the paint as an overall skin. I’m trying hard to set a mark down and mean it, to not think of it as something that will disappear under layers of paint. This is different for me, difficult.