Monday, October 15, 2007

Art Space Talk: Anne Neely

Anne Neely's art is about nature. However, like nature, Anne's paintings reveal more than one can observe with just a single glance. Under the layers of daily shifts and changes that go on in the natural world there is something more-- something that is foreboding. Her painting language is one of inquiry, working through her imagination as a conduit to the world she perceives.

Anne's paintings convey multiple perspectives-- the chaotic elements of a distant storm-- while embracing the essence of plentiful fields. In a sense, her paintings pay homage to the earth. However, under the layers of her painterly technique one can also discover the many layers of the physical body, with veins and cells connecting us to the earth. With these imaginative landscapes Anne explores the double-sided edge of beauty and the human condition.

Anne's work can be found in several public and corporate collections-- including, The Smithsonian and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Floe, 56 x 72", oil on linen, 2006

Brian Sherwin: Anne, can you recall your early years as an artist? Where did you study? Who were your mentors?

Anne Neely: One of my first visits to a museum in New York was the Frick and I fell in love with Rembrandt because his portraits always followed me around and, at the time, I imagined he was alive within them! I knew I wanted to make an object that was alive like that in paint. The power of a live object, the concept being opposites by nature, intrigued me.

I remember in my teens going to the library and copying De Vinci drawings. Even though I was fascinated by the figure, it was Nature that I drew as it surrounded me and captured all of my attention. I lived across the street from a farm in a rural area and was given lots of freedom to roam and that became the basis for my love of and attachment to Nature as a life force and a reference point for my life. Although art was my passion, I didn't go to Art School or specialize because I had other passions too and, at the time, a liberal arts education satisfied those interests. I have never regretted that decision.

Several people in my life have been an influence, but to name a few. William Holst was a very inspirational teacher at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, NH, who had studied with Hans Hoffman, and taught me about space and structure in a painting. Later on at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. Kenneth Daley introduced me to Printmaking and opened a door into another world of expression that I have used throughout my painting life as a way to clarify or begin a new body of work.

Lethe, 55 x 70", oil on linen, 2005–06

BS: Anne, you are have instructed art at: Maine College of Art, Art Institute of Boston, Milton Academy... and several other educational institutions. Can you tell our readers about your academic philosophy? How do you instruct your students?

AN: Observation is probably the most important skill a student can acquire. I use the word "acquire" because observation is a life-long process of learning how to see and there are several ways to observe. When you are young you "acquire" it, and with diligence you can become a master of both the seen and the unseen, which gives you a lot of freedom.
I teach to the individual and guide them to find their "creative center". Oddly the word "creative" implies something that is beyond knowing which is the opposite of center, being at the middle point and implying awareness of both sides. But I mean exactly that. There can be a core within one’s self that is as personal as a face and as big as the universe. It is the perspective of the self that sits in the middle within the context of an expansive universe. Once a student has discovered something from this place, he/she can develop it in any media. In that moment there is a declaration of self recognition and it’s the beginning of the marriage between wonder and knowledge.
I also tell my painting students they need to be bold when they begin because, the more they paint, the more they know and the more decisions there are to make that go way beyond what they are painting.
BS: How did you find balance between being an art educator and a professional artist creating personal works?
AN: Teaching keeps me honest because each day I talk about what art is, or what seeing is, or drawing, or painting and it lingers when I am in the studio. When I am painting and I reach the moment when I am on the verge of discovery, it is, among other things, fieldwork for teaching. They both compliment each other in my life because each career requires me to always to be in the present and asks a lot of me.

Green River, 64 x 84", oil on canvas, 2006

BS: Anne, your art has been featured in ARTnews, The Boston Globe, The New Art Examiner, The New York Times and several other publications. How do you feel when you have been chosen for publication? Do you see it as a sign of success or would you rather just get back to painting?

AN: Having my work written about gives me some documentation of the moment that I’ve exhibited a group of paintings and set forth an idea to the wider public. It can fix my show in time and space so "some news" is definitely better than no news. But, in the end, the studio is where the action is.

BS: In regards to art world success, would you say that some artists get caught up in the moment after major accomplishments... be it features in publications or prestigious awards? I've known artists-- especially younger artists-- who get caught up in the moment and trapped by the 'art star' mentality. This often causes their work to suffer. How do you remain humble and why do you think so many others lose sight of their work?

AN: Have you ever heard of the saying "one can never be famous enough"? I took that saying to heart many years ago and it freed me up from being caught up in the art world. Being an artist has to be about doing the best work I can because that is all I really have and that’s the big equalizer among all artists. I think artists begin to lose sight of their work when they take themselves too seriously as personalities.

Down River, 55 x 70", oil on linen, 2005–06

BS: Anne, at the core you are a painters painter, so to speak. You are interested in the physicality of paint-- how it can be moved, shaped, or in some cases... provoked. When did you develop this interest (or should I say love?) for paint and how it can be utilized to form expressions of your thoughts?

AN: When I was young I fell in love with the expression of painting. I could make the paint do something and control its’ movement. Painting felt immediate and fast. Now, having lived longer, made more paintings and looked more, I think painting is very hard and gets harder every year. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I continue to do it.
Painting is challenging because I am always learning a visual language. Each time I paint now I am making movement at the hands of the paint, so to speak, just the opposite of my early experience. When problems come up I have to find the chink in the painting wall that will allow me continue to work from that place. In that moment the mark or what I call "the touch" of the paint can guide me and, if I am patient, I might even find my way out of the mess.
Sometimes it takes only days but other times, months or years. I am constantly surprised and grateful for any discovery of new ways to say things in paint. I feel that to paint is to find the presence of the painting and that is really finding out who I am, what I think and what I perceive. I have been consistently amazed at the versatility of paint and, as my work evolves I find myself experimenting more and more with palette and brush.

BS: Anne, you have stated that you seek the visual equivalent of the 'life force' in your paintings. In that, you offer the viewer an alternative vision of the world as seen through your imagination. Can you go into further detail about the world you have created for viewers? What do you hope people find when observing your art?

AN: Aside from the title, my paintings provide a door, for the viewer to enter through Nature. That door usually is some recognizable reference. Then the painting has become a conduit to the heart of the painting and it is in that moment that the viewer is drawn into the presence of the painting or moves on. In those few seconds, hopefully the viewer finds the life force/energy in my work that he/she is hungry for and chooses to linger. It is that energy which sparks the viewer’s imagination and enables them to travel, traverse or go into the painting. I think deep down, all artists want a connection between the viewer’s energy and the energy in the painting. It’s such a visceral, almost physical experience.

Crossing, 45 x 60", oil on canvas, 2005

BS: Your landscapes, or 'places' as you suggest, often appear to be beautiful on the surface. However, further investigation reveals a world that captures a sense of horror or despair. Do these images reflect our reality in that they convey the double-edged sword of life, so to speak? Tell us more about this... about the psychology of your art.

AN: I live in a time that is reflected in what I do as a painter. I don’t think I can disregard the complexity of our present world; in fact, I search in my paintings, for a peaceful passage or a beautiful moment that can be an affirmation of life within all the chaos. So its important to me to straddle the edge of beauty knowing that it stands so closely to darkness. At best I want to convey an appreciation of life amidst a sense of foreboding.

I paint to make meaning, to find meaning or get lost in it, to figure things out (only momentarily), by asking questions while learning how to read the language of space and color. All of these things are part of the process of being in the studio and choosing painting as a life partner. Painting is about exploring an idea through making something and building, changing and transforming forms and space until the magic happens and you begin to see life staring back at you. Each artist has his/her own voyage to this place, the heart of the painting, whether it is working from observation or from imagination. What I know is that there is a merging of what is inside and what is outside and that’s what comes out on the canvas.

BS: Anne, I read that you recently shifted from creating vertical paintings to working on horizontal surfaces. Why did you make this change? Also, how has it helped you create your vision?

AN: I think of vertical orientation as the figure and horizontal as the landscape. Up until recently I was fascinated the relationship between the self and the universe, the life cycle and things seen and unseen ascending into the cosmos. Now that I am dealing with more grounded issues like weather and water it seems to be a natural progression to move onto the horizontal plane where I can paint earth and water from my various strata of memory.

Rill, 24 x 32", oil on linen, 2006

BS: Anne, I've read that your influences range from the art of Piet Mondrian’s floral works to the spontaneous handling of paint by Abstract Expressionists-- such as Joan Mitchell. Can you confirm these influences? Also, who else has influenced your work?

AN: I respond very physically to the bold strokes and color of Joan Mitchell and even though her work is very different from mine, I feel her as a kindred spirit because she is always in the present with her work while she makes it. Piet Mondrians’s floral works are so tender while at the same time being emotional. I think those qualities in an artwork are rare and I admire them.
There are so many ways an artist can be influenced. I love seeing the usual suspects like Goya, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Matisse because, each time I look at them, they teach me what great art can be and how to recognize it. If they had something specific that I wanted I would not hesitate to take from their vision, knowing that the instant I took in the lesson and really "owned it," the lesson would be absorbed, transformed and interpreted into my vision. That is why I tell my students to borrow whatever they want. All contemporary artists owe a debt to the artists who have come before them. We stand on their shoulders holding their accumulated knowledge and experience.
I am reading Matisse the Master right now and author Hilary Spurling refers to a moment during the war (1917) when Matisse talks to a younger artist, Severini, telling him how he has "finally solved the problem of how to dominate and reveal reality through a process of abstraction." What artist hasn’t struggled with that one! It’s a classic problem to even voice let alone act on it: Think about Philip Guston and his struggle.
Although I have been following Anslem Kiefer’s work for a while and loved the expansive quality of it, I was simply taken aback by the grandness of his vision and the use of multiple materials at his recent Monumenta exhibition this summer in the Grand Palais in Paris. It left me so inspired and hopeful about art being in the world and making a difference.

I am influenced by poets, their poems, and reading essays about their process. They paint with words. Recently deceased poet, Stanley Kunitz has some wonderful things to say about poems in his book The Wild Braid and in the following excerpt I could have easily substituted the word painting for poem. It’s from the section called "no maker": " After a certain period, the poem seems to have no maker at all. Poems gather their own momentum and you feel they’re moving on their own. You are part of the world in which they are born and come to maturity, but they have an identity beyond the person to whom they are confiding because the poem doesn’t really belong to anyone, it belongs to a great tradition…"

What the Weather Brings, 24 x 32", oil on linen, 2006

BS: Anne, what are you working on at this time? Also, do you have an upcoming exhibitions?

AN: I just had a show at the Lohin Geduld gallery in New York called "What the weather brings" and I have more to say on that topic so I am currently continuing some of the ideas which has led to focus more specifically on water, the conduit for life. I will be having a show in October of 2008 in Boston at the Alpha Gallery and in the spring of 2009 at Lohin Geduld in New York.
BS: Where can our readers view your art?
AN: My work can be found on my web site, on,, or

BS: Anne, do you have any advice for young painters? Any suggestions about work ethic or the business side of art?

AN: I would say keep painting and believe in what you do. Lead a full and enriching life that you can incorporate into your art because no matter what ideas you are concentrating on, the work will still, in some measure, reveal your life.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the art world?

AN: If I can make something like an object or an idea come alive and have its own presence in a painting, then I will have achieved my childhood dream. I know that I am here on the planet to make art that reminds us of the world we live in. The art world might overlap it’s vision with mine or not, but that’s out of my control. So I continue to do what I do and am grateful to have the opportunity to do it.

You can learn more about Anne Neely by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interview by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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