Briefly describe the work you do.
My artistic practice serves as a way to make sense of our current global culture. Painting becomes an act of meditation or a means to transform unruly information into beautiful states of order and interconnected compositions. My work resides in the category of symbolic abstraction. The compositions are visual records consisting of personal symbols on a single plane that are reminiscent of woven tapestries.
I call myself an image-maker who utilizes painting, drawing and printmaking to explore universal themes of service, soul, life force, breath, instinct, survival, nature, time and ritual. My interdisciplinary interests lead to academic research with science, design and peace studies faculty. I am committed to building community through artistic collaboration.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
My identity as an artist has always been present because I was born into a family of artists. Leading a creative life was a given and I was raised attending museums, galleries, art festivals, operas, symphonies and the like. I am a Midwesterner at the core having lived in Omaha, Laramie, Iowa City and Milwaukee. I am drawn to the open landscape and changing seasons, including the cold and snow. The pattern of the seasons allows my studio practice to have similar stretches of change, studio seasons for hibernation and heavy work versus play and exploration in the world. The periods of play inform the stretches of hibernation.
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.”
I collect observations when I travel, read, and learn, which generate the drive to create in the studio. The observations tap me and remind me to be present as I move through daily experiences. Once in the studio, I find it is important to listen to the outside world while creating, so NPR or On Being act as my studio soundtrack. Listening to the research and stories of the guests on the radio helps to distract my attention just enough so I can suspend my literal mode to allow the work to develop on its own.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
As an artist that is also a peacemaker. I am currently in contemplation and searching about the way an isolated studio practice can be an active role in peacemaking and what this pursuit means for my personal studio practice. As an academic, I am involved in the Wisconsin Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, which is an engaging group of faculty from diverse disciplines that meet annually to explore peace education. Teaching my students through artistic collaboration, to encourage direct involvement with one another, is one way that I engage in peacemaking within an academic setting.
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?
When I am specifically inspired to participate in an exhibit or when I have stumbled upon exciting observations that I want to capture quickly in the memory of my compositions. I am one that might stay up all night to finish something before it gets way from me when the demands of the daytime return.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
A few years back I needed a new direction. I was bored with what I was doing and I decided to complete the same assignments I was giving to my two-dimensional design students. At the time, they were working on deconstructing and reconstructing black squares on white paper. This prompted me to start drawing with positive shape stencils and it really opened up my compositions, providing new ways of seeing into the work. When I look at my work from the last five years, I can distinctly see the evidence of that decision in the timeline of the work because there is greater transparency, layering, and mixed media present. I have always worked in a controlled, labor-intensive manner within my imagery, but this shift in drawing with stencils allows for faster speed of mark and chance interaction for color or contours.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
People impact my work by creating the content within it. I honor the legacy of others by weaving their presence into my symbolism. For example, I have a series of works subtitled, Hex Signs, which stems from observing the hex signs on barns in the rural Wisconsin landscape. I find it endearing to have the identity of that family speak to me from across a field. The inaugural poem of Elizabeth Alexander, Praise Song for the Day, read for President Barack Obama, was an influential work that I used for awhile in personal work and collaborative work with students.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
Only when I was following the false notion that life as an artist would be too large of a burden, so for example, I did not declare a major in college until the end of my junior year. I was avoiding the inevitable. For other career interests, if you put realistic ability, likelihood and talent aside, the two other career choices I would be interested in are goat farming or being an opera singer, though I do not sing, nor do I know much about raising goats, but I connect with both pursuits in an instinctual way.
Currently, Acker Anderson lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she serves as Associate Professor of Art and Department Chair for Art and Graphic Design at Mount Mary University. She graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting. She did her graduate research at the University of Iowa in Painting and Drawing, receiving a Masters of Art in 2006 and a Masters of Fine Arts in 2007. Her award-winning work has been exhibited internationally, with recent venues including John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Museum of Wisconsin Art, Anderson Arts Center, Cedarburg Cultural Center and Walker’s Point Center for the Arts.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.