In dialogue with Anne Peabody
A few weeks before the Corona pandemic assumed an overpowering presence in our daily lives throughout the whole country, Art Spiel has scheduled an interview with Anne Peabody on her upcoming solo exhibition at Moremen Gallery in Louiseville Kentucky, where she was born and raised. In that interview the artist discussed her unique technique and the thought process behind her landscapes that are filled with a subtle spirit of longing, memory and loss. Anne Peabody’s images are fine tuned to our Zeitgeist, the ghost of our time. She will participate in the Virtual Dumbo Open Studios 2020, that was scheduled for this weekend, June 4-7 and postponed in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives matter (TBD).
AS: Our interview was conducted a while before the Corona pandemic. Life has changed since. How are you coping these days and what are your thoughts about the road ahead?
AP: As a person who loves order and knowledge, I have great difficulty coping with uncertainty. My art making practice is like therapy and is based on breaking down my need for perfect outcomes. Instead I focus on my own labor, and on working with nature to help determine the way each piece turns out. During this time of unpredictability, I try to think more about the things and people I love, and to do the work that is before me one day at a time.
AS: You are Kentucky native and Brooklyn based. Tell me a bit about your art background and your work in general.
AP: I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky and have been making art for as long as I can remember. When I was in first grade, my neighborhood was destroyed by a tornado. Everything I had previously known was blown from existence while my mother, sister and I waited in our basement for the storm to end. When we emerged, our house was one of few left standing in my neighborhood, and looking out from the hilltop where it stood, I could see nothing but rubble for miles. I remember feeling happiness and guilt colliding for the first time. Many of the toys I always wanted serendipitously landed in my front yard, while my friends and neighbors were left without homes, or possessions to take with them. This experience taught me about man’s inescapable connection with nature, and about the fact that there are no guarantees in life. Later, it taught me about the ability to overcome tragedy and rebuild. My work is deeply informed by this incident in particular, and by the lessons I learn through studying plants, animals and the ramifications of climate change in general. I left home to study printmaking at Washington University in St. Louis, then worked at a variety of art related jobs for about ten years before earning my MFA at SVA in New York.
AS: The press release says that viewers see themselves reflected in a hall of mirrored images related to “disappearing Southern landscapes.” What are the genesis and ideas behind this exhibition?
AP: For this show, I decided to focus on areas of landscape that were special to me in some way. The work titled “Sunspike” is a rendering of the sun cutting through a clearing in the Smoky Mountain woods where my husband and I loved to hike. A few months after making the work, the entire area was destroyed by wildfire. I began incorporating reflection and mirrors in my work after reading an architectural study that determined people will wait three times longer for an elevator without complaint if they can see themselves in a mirror in the waiting area. After years of making oil paintings, I thought that perhaps if viewers saw themselves reflected in the images I rendered, they would look longer, and develop a more personal connection with the pictorial landscape. Working in metal has the added benefits of reacting to light and air and changing over time as nature would.
AS: The body of work in Sunspike includes around 20 works made over the last three years. Please elaborate on your process.
AP: At first, my idea was to use daguerreotype as a reflective tool, but found it too expensive and the format too small, so I experimented with adhering silver or gold leaf to glass and scratching into it with a stylus to simulate the look.
I began to use very old leaf in my glass drawings when I realized it would disintegrate as it reacted with the oils on my fingers, and break down further when exposed to air. This technique allows me to incorporate fate into my works: I roll a pair of dice and leave the glass plates exposed to air for the days allocated by the numbers rolled. This aspect of production leaves the drawings to luck and takes the outcome out of my hands. Over half the drawings I make are ruined in this process, but a few disintegrate in ways more beautiful than anything I could have predicted. It is impossible to show this with a camera. The drawings change and sparkle as the viewer stands at different angles and distances from them.
In my newest works, I painted swatches of landscape in small dots and brush strokes, using a combination of acrylic medium, watercolor, and gilding size, onto silk traditionally used to make Japanese screens. After the paint and glue mixture cured, I adhered sheets of silver, gold, and platinum leaf to each mark and then brushed away the excess.
I left these unsealed, allowing the atmosphere to oxidize each piece. Moisture, chemicals, and other impurities in the air will darken and discolor the silver and white gold marks, changing the image and revealing the scenes in greater detail over the passage of time. Despite the labor involved, the silk is left loose and raw instead of stretched onto a frame so that each work is more fragile and susceptible to the environment.
Every piece in this show is an ode to the meditative quality of nature and to working with the changes that are beyond our control.
AS: How do you think the work in this show fits within your overall work?
AP: Susan (Moremen) graciously gave me free rein of the space and the time to really create an environment that encompasses my past works as well as my interests moving forward.
AS: This exhibition seems to be based on a visceral experiential element. What would you like your visitors to take away?
AP: Especially now, during the Covid-19 crisis. I would like my visitors to take away the notions that although nature is more powerful than we are, we all possess the ability to learn from it and work with it, and we may relinquish our desire for control in order to appreciate the beauty of each moment as it comes to us.
Anne Peabody, Sunspike: The show ran from March 20 – through May 31st (by appointment).