Briefly describe the work you do.
Within me is a yearning for self-discovery–to uncover the meaning and motives behind the things I think and feel. Here is where I take the abstract and make it concrete. Literally. Apart from our minds, our hands are what set us apart from every other living creature, not only physically but also socially. Our hands pray, gesture, and comfort. To render an emotion into a physical form, I use concrete to create life-size replicas of my own body, most often my hands. With scavenged wood, rusted metal, wallpaper, and bullet casings, I give these hands a spiritual environment, representational of Christianity rooted in the Deep South. It is in this place that I can learn about myself and lay to rest emotions, and in return, I am given peace.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I grew up in a small town in central Alabama, a town so small it didn’t even have its own post office. As an adolescent, I was always creating–drawing, building clubhouses, writing poetry and stories, and even making short films with my mother’s video camera. With so little to do and so little required of me growing up, I was free to run wild, create, think, and pursue religion as I pleased. I often incorporate touches of “the South”– peeling floral wallpaper, old wood, and bullet casings– into my work to represent my youth and the strict Southern values that I willingly acquired, and eventually abandoned, as I got older.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
On average, I spend very little time in the studio. I often begin working on a piece, and lose interest in it later. I spend most of my time coming up with ideas, concepts, titles, drawing on little pieces of paper, and making notes for future works. Although this isn’t a traditional practice, I find that when I have a solid idea, I am able to produce art that I am excited about.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I first started making art, I never expected to learn how to use saws and power tools. Growing up, I thought of saws, drills, and sanders as tools for men, as I had always watched my father use them. Knowing how to use these tools has given me the potential to make three-dimensional art without restrictions.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I prefer to work in solitude, and as I share a studio with my boyfriend who is also an artist, I try to take advantage of any opportunity I get to work alone in the studio. Although, late afternoon is when I usually work.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
In the past few years, my art has taken a dramatic turn from cutesy to conceptual. At first, my work largely consisted of animal portraits and concepts that I couldn’t relate to. Nonetheless, over time, I’ve worked to develop the very personal and unique work that I had always wanted to create yet couldn’t figure out how.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Until my junior year of college, I’d never taken a studio art class from a female. My first sculpture class was with a female professor, and I feel that I owe a lot of who I am as an artist and what I may become to her. She pushed me to create, showed me new techniques, and taught me that never have to limit myself as an artist because of my gender.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Before I pursued art, I desperately wanted to be a classical violinist and worked very hard with the intention of getting into my college’s music program. After spending an entire summer practicing for thirty hours a week, I realized that classical violin was not for me. I still play violin and take lessons; however, now I stick to jazz, contemporary, fiddle, and occasionally play at weddings.
As a junior in college, Angela Isbell fell in love with the art of sculpture, particularly mold-making. Using old wallpaper, metal, mixed media, and wood from her childhood home in central Alabama, she gives her sculptures a southern touch that alludes to Christianity in the Deep South. In 2015, Isbell graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Studio Art with a concentration in Sculpture. She currently resides in Alexander City, Alabama, with her boyfriend, Great Dane, Labrador, and two cats, Layla and Clapton.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.