Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fresh Produce: Ali Herrmann

This time of year, the season's bounty is a treat for the senses. Ali Herrmann has taken this a step further with her latest collection 'Fresh Produce.' Her interpretations of fruits and vegetables evoke a feeling of nostalgia in their familiarity, and her unique representation will captivate you.

Below is my interview with Ali Herrmann.

What was your inspiration for creating your most recent collection of work, 'Fresh Produce'?

My inspiration for creating 'Fresh Produce' was based on the summer season, which locally hosts farmer's markets around the region. Continuously inspired by nature, I find beauty in the local colors and flavors of garden fresh fruits and veggies and try to create that simplistic beauty within my paintings. As such, I have developed a body of work for this show using watercolors and pen and ink, oil paintings, and mixed media acrylic pieces using photographic transfers, which create highly stylized pieces.

What other work do you have at Anchor No. 5?

At the store, I also have a large series of oil paintings on canvas, some inspired by nature, and others (the red ones behind the counter,) inspired by electron microscope scans of human blood...so nature and biology, I see it all having connectivity. I also have a large series of encaustic paintings at Anchor, which seem to have been very well received there. For my encaustics, I use the traditional encaustic medium, a combination of beeswax and damar resin Link(sourced locally from R&F Pigments in Kingston, NY). For my colors I use a combination of hand drawn/hand cut paper pieces to build texture and color, while also layering in seed pods, leaves, and dried flowers at times. I feel they all relate to each other under the influence of nature and color, so much that I bring the color palettes into the jewelry pieces that I make simultaneously. And yes, Petra has many of these jewelry pieces so you can see the continuity/connectivity. I have often been told that the works (jewelry and art) as a whole look like fabulous eye candy.

Tell us more about your process...

My process generally starts by taking a walk and just looking at the botanical environment that surrounds me seasonally. I take in the shapes, colors, textures, and forms of repetitiveness that nature offers. Then when I get home, I make black and white fingernail sketches in these little books that I keep. It's a way of documenting what I see and am inspired by. Then I try to work with one or two of these fingernails to make works such as oil paintings and watercolors, something more substantial, more permanent. I often go back to these books to look, see, and be inspired all over again to see what new elements I can bring into my work. I guess it's like collecting and saving data for future reference. While I am painting, I see color palletes that I feel would work within my jewelry, so while something is in limbo or is drying, I then work on some jewelry pieces, hoping to utilize the same feelings, emotions, and colors that come out of my artwork.

The color combinations you use are beautiful. Do you plan this out before you start, or does it evolve as you are painting?

If I am painting from nature, I try to use the same colors that I see. This is most noticeable in my watercolors, which have a still life/natural feel. The oil paintings tend to get a little more opaque in their colors and some abstractness starts to appear, so I feel I have a little more leeway in their color elements, since that is one of the beauties of oil paint! The transfers are taken directly from newspaper/magazine photographs, so they are inherently graphic, but I do try to add a little acrylic spin into them for nuance. With my encaustics, I definitely try to map out my color combinations, once the wax painting process occurs with them, the papers sometimes change their colors a bit as a result of how they react with the wax, so in this case it changes, but I try to keep my instincts open to this, keep working at it, and go with the flow. I try not to get too discouraged when something unexpected happens, because it may ultimately lead to something new, fresh, and beautiful. Or it can be an entire failure that I learn from. I just try to let it feed the next painting.

Tell us about your artistic background...

My artistic education started with laying on the floor with coloring books, the 48 Crayola color box, and Sesame Street on the television in the background. I always wanted more than just crayons, so getting cray-pas one day was a big step forward!!! I remember taking an art class in junior high school, but don't remember much of what I made. High School's curriculum did not offer any opportunities to make art, so I dove into all things science and graduated with a four year scholarship to attend Colgate University. I took a broad range of classes the first semester, but soon found myself unhappy with my choice of college, and really just wanted to leave school. I stuck it out for a year though, so that in the event I might actually change my mind, I wouldn't have to start all over again. Second semester I took an art class, and it was there I thought, 'yes, this is what you need to do...be creative.' As soon as I realized I wanted to study art, it was clear that I did not want to stay at Colgate, so I began my quest to transfer to other schools. Long story short, I ended up at Bennington College in Bennington, VT, at a time when the college was in a bit of turmoil, controversy, and rumors of losing their accreditation, but I didn't care. I was there to take art classes. And boy did I ever! So much so that my plan committee criticized me for taking too many art classes...but I didn't care. It was my education and I was paying for it, so if they wanted to fail me for that (this was still a time when Bennington was non grades and gave out written comments), so be it. In the end, it all worked out and I graduated with a BA in fine arts, but not with a lot of struggles and harsh criticism along the way. I guess it was just preparing me for the art world outside of college.

How long have you been creating these types of pieces? What led up to the work you create now?

While I have been creating both art and jewelry since I was a kid, the particular styles of work I am currently creating started back in 2007, while I took a leave of absence from my day job to spend a month residency at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT. While in residency, I had the opportunity to lock myself in the studio and just focus on painting. What it taught me was that I had a natural affinity towards great color combos, but that I did not have a particularly significant painting style or subject matter...and that I was just making these individual, unconnected paintings, sketches, woodcuts, and even jewelry pieces. I could hit a great piece, but it had no connection to anything else I made. It was frustrating and struggling, but the reality was that this type of work was bound to continue as long as I held a full time job, because I really wasn't putting all my focus on painting...it was full time job/part time painter. The residency changed all that...for a month! I just took leaps and bounds and didn't worry about creating good/bad work. Up until that point, I was just so scared to say that I was another artist inspired by nature. I thought there had to be some mysterious grandeur in painting. So, instead of trying to hide that fact, I just fully embraced it and went with it...and man I made some really kick ass paintings!!! Not to say that I didn't struggle with some of them, but I just opened up and had fun for a change, and I think that really showed in the finished pieces. I had people stopping by my studio telling me that looking at my work made them feel happy.

And what happened after this stage in your life...

After the residency bubble ended, I had gone back to my full time job, which if I haven't mentioned yet, was working at the local art supply store, ordering and selling supplies. I kept the painting momentum up for a while, but eventually it dropped off to sketching here and there. I was excited about some sketch books that were stocked at the store, so I bought one as if it were some little gem I could keep and hide in. From these, I began creating the thumbnail books I keep today and eventually got more and more inspired by what I was drawing, but realized that I still had no paint time. I picked up a part time restaurant job so that I could earn a little income while I painted, created a website and opened an Etsy shop to see if I could actually sell work online. It was all scary and risky, but not getting my ideas out was slowly eating at me. I wanted to paint and be the artist at the store buying supplies, not selling them.

Do you have any other projects that you're working on?

Always! I just don't know what they are until I cross that road. Right now my biggest goal is getting out in the public for the season at various markets, shows, and outdoor venues...organizing that is a full time job at times. I just recently closed a three person, encaustic based show at Albany Center Gallery, so I am glad to have this time to get back into other painting styles for Anchor No. 5.

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