Sunday, April 05, 2009

Art Space Talk: Fanne Fernow

Fanne Fernow is an encaustic painter. She uses copious dots and shapes to make her paintings. Fernow suggests that art should be experienced slowly. She has stated that a work of art should engage a viewer for more than just that first split second look that we all have when we look at art. In a sense, she strives to open a window of exploration with her paintings-- so that viewers can discover the meaning for themselves while reflecting on their own individuality. Fernow was recently selected for representation at the NYAXE Gallery in Palo Alto, CA.

Mantra Series No. 24: Oh No. 2. by Fanne Fernow

Brian Sherwin: Fanne, you were selected for representation at the NYAXE Gallery in Palo Alto, CA. As you know, NYAXE Gallery is operated by the founders of and and serves as a way to bridge the online and physical art world. Why did you decide to submit your work for consideration?

Fanne Fernow: First, I want to say that I am so pleased that I was selected. My entry in the competition, for lack of a better word, was totally a freak accident. A friend of mine was on the site, saw the announcement, and sent it to me. I had been entering a few shows, mostly encaustic shows. So when I saw the announcement, I entered really without thinking about it at all. To be honest, I didn’t even know what or were.

When I was selected, I … well, I had to look into it more, thinking that it might be one of those vanity situations or something. Since then, I have done a lot of exploring on both sites. A lot of it is pretty amazing. When I got the letter saying “Congratulations!” I was amazed. I know tons of people who enter everything and never hear a word again. I was so happy!
I have been a big believer in the idea of internet art marketing for a long time. I know that having a website,, really helps people who are following my career. This is a few steps more advanced than that.

mono10 by Fanne Fernow

BS: You are an encaustic painter-- you use copious dots and shapes to make your paintings. My understanding is that you call these dots “mantras“. Can you discuss the thoughts behind your paintings?

FF: Sure. When I am asked to describe myself, I say that I am a “theologian, artist, writer,” in that order. My education is largely in theology, and I am very interested in the spiritual journey. A long time ago, an Episcopal priest named Jennifer Phillips asked me to describe my own piety. I had not really thought about putting it into words before. Subsequently I wound up in divinity school, and really started thinking about my own personal vision of holiness.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg tells a story of a Buddhist teacher telling her that her writing, which she did every day, was meditation. Reading that was a big moment for me. I began to look at my studio, which is always a mess, as a holy place, and my paintings as an extension of what I was experiencing on my spiritual journey. I went through a period of time where I wanted to be a Buddhist, but I am not a Buddhist, I am a painter.

At first, I used words in my paintings to express what I was feeling. I was working in oils then, and I developed my own iconography: a funny little toothy dog named Fearless who was always standing on mountain peaks, great little women with what I call flower heads because of their hair who wanted to give advice. I was letting them say things that I wanted to tell people. I think they were more of a simplified intellectual approach to a spiritual journey.

This took a serious turn for the better after I switched from oils to wax. The wax, maybe the smell, or the sensuality of it all… I think that my paintings have become my image of holiness, or at least, what I think holiness IS. They are expressions of feelings themselves, not my explanation of what I feel. That is the best way I know to describe it. I have to be careful here, because it has always been important to me to not push my understanding onto other people. I want the people who experience my work to bring their own stories.

I have been incorporating my spiritual journey into “art” for as long as I can remember. Working intuitively is spiritual. I have always made intuitive art. I made things out of rocks and mud as a little girl in the woods behind our house in East Aurora, New York. I used to knit sweaters without patterns; bake bread without a recipe. I used to say that making bread was “a feeling, not a recipe.” And now I basically start with a wooden panel, perfectly made by a man I know to be on his own spiritual quest, and let the rest happen. As I ponder on with my work, this idea becomes safer and safer.

Working from the soul is a lot scarier than working from the brain, but the results are so much fun. I feel like my work is growing in leaps and bounds right now. Mantras, which I am supposed to be talking about right now, are still there, but they are now in the background, while before, they became the whole painting.

Metaphorically, I think that means that my journey with the holy is integrating with my practical walk. Now that is something really great. It is the idea of BEING peace or BEING holiness. People who know me would be surprised to hear me say this, I think. I don’t talk about it a lot. But in the core of me, that is who I am, and I think it has begun to shine through in my art.

The dots have a history. I have always loved circles and dots. I discovered the idea of the swirling dots a number of years ago when I was looking for a way to do a good background on a painting I was doing. I decided to do the dots. It was a big deal since the painting was 50 x 60 inches. I got bored just making rows of dots, so I started improvising, and before the painting was over, the dots had taken on a life of their own, and the painting had a totally new dimension! It was one of those great breakthrough moments that I will never forget.

The dots in that painting sang me to sleep that night. They climbed inside of me the way that I had climbed inside the dots that very day. I have had other moments like that as an artist, but that was a day my life as an artist took a whole new turn. Art was life. Life was art. Art became an expression of how I felt, not how I think.

Soon after that, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, lived 111 more days, and died. I had gone to Scottsdale to be with her and did not make any art during that time. When I returned home, I was not able to paint. I was working, but not taking any risks, not doing anything new.

Ultimately, my friend Anita Elliott invited me to take a class with encaustic artist Daniella Woolf. I took the class, felt like a bumbling idiot the whole time, did not make one painting in the class, and left feeling like I would never be doing that again. And when I was not even thinking about it, I realized that I wanted to do more of it. And I figured out a way to make my dots and keep going. Ultimately, I gave up the oil paint and worked exclusively with wax.

Making art to me is about having the courage to put down on the support what ever pops into my mind. And my evolution as an artist has happened because of this every once in a while, and I mean every once in a WHILE, I have courage.

So, the “copious dots” you asked about … each dot is a prayer, You might call it a wish, or a hope. Some times the mantras are about peace and other worldly ideas. Sometimes they are about my own evolution. I have to confess that some of my mantras are about wanting to win the lottery, or create bounty through my work! But the dots are filled with hope. I think that is the main thing.
Hall of Mirrors 4 by Fanne Fernow

BS: What about other influences? For example, are you influenced by any specific artists?

FF: I love artists who have been courageous leaders …. Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol, Jean Dubuffet. In the modern world, I love Squeak Carnwath, Marlene Dumas, Jenny Saville. In my own life, I am really inspired by my teacher Daniella Woolf, who really has inspired me to “play” in my studio, to take more chances. And my friend Roberta Lee Woods, whose studio is right next to mine… well, she is a waxer too. More of an asemblage, collage waxer. We are always bouncing ideas off of each other. And that is a great thing. I have my studio in an old grain warehouse called 17th Avenue Studios in Santa Cruz. There are about 40 of us in that space. The place has a great art vibe, and there is a lot of support there. I think I would have to say that just being a part of that group has been the most influential experience for me.

So many people I have known along the way have helped me. Sometimes by telling me to keep going, some have bought me paint, and given me money when I really needed it. People who buy my paintings, and keep coming back to see what I am doing now. My mom, who never discouraged me from making art.

waiting no one by Fanne Fernow

BS: So what is the specific message you strive to convey to viewers?

FF: I don’t know. I want their experience of my work to be an evolution. Art should be experienced slowly. There should be enough there to engage a viewer for more than just that first split second look that we all have when we look at art. Right now, I just want to invite people in, let them climb around in a painting, one at a time. Where does the painting take you? What is your “hall of mirrors”? I hope people want to wander in and search out all the nooks and crannies.

People often ask me what my paintings mean. I am often hesitant to tell them for fear that it will alter their own personal experience of the art. I don’t’ mean to be rude when I don’t want talk about it. I want to give people something to think about. But I want it to be about what they want to think about. Because that is more important for them, though they don’t always know that.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

FF: Right now I am doing a series called “Mantra Series Redux.” It is a re-consideration of some of the early Mantra Series paintings that didn’t quite work. I go back into them with encaustic medium, a little paint, and dry pigment. The dots, and the holes that I create when making the mantra paintings are persistently present. And so the paintings get a new dimension. They become translucent and dimensional in a whole new way. I am having blast.

mantra Series No. 10 by Fanne Fernow

BS: What are your thoughts concerning the internet and utilizing the World Wide Web in order to gain exposure for your art? In your opinion, why is it important for artists to embrace the internet?

FF: One of the really hard parts of experiencing art is that art is very intimate. For the true art lover, there is a relationship that must be established with a painting. The internet lets us hangout with art work that we might have only been able to see for a few moments at best. Maybe if a painting calls out to me enough, if I keep going back to it.. well, that might be the painting I want to own.

I had that experience myself while looking at the website of the Conrad Wilde Gallery in Tucson. I saw a painting by an emerging artist named Elee Oak. I kept looking at it. I called them, and we had a lot of back and forth about it. I asked a lot of questions about how the painting was put together. They were very patient with me, and finally I made a decision to go for it. I love that painting. We have been given a new way to find artists and art that really touches us.

One thing that is really important to consider is that a computer monitor is not the best way to see art. There is nothing like the real thing. I think that some prints are amazing – I particularly like “Iris Prints” which are water-based Giclees. But they give a painting, at least my paintings, a whole different personality.

BS: Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?

FF: I don’t have any concrete plans right now. I am still entering shows, and competitions. I think that the NYAXE experience has really given me the push I needed to be able to send my work out more. One of the great things that “internet galleries” do is help artists expand our geographical limits. I know I will never be able to really make a living as an artist if I just sell in Santa Cruz.
My studio complex is having an open studio event May 2 and 3 in Santa Cruz. I suspect that will be my first public showing of the new work. I’ll also be participating in Open Studios which is sponsored by the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County.
Red Sky Before Rain by Fanne Fernow

BS: Do you have any concerns about the art world at this time?

FF: Of course. I am concerned about what the economy is doing to artists. I am concerned that public projects will not include art as a way to reduce costs. I hope that there will one day be more federal funding for artists and public art projects. I am worried about censorship. FEAR NO ART.

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

FF: Yes. I would like to say that I am so grateful to be an artist. I think I am very lucky to have figured out that I am artist. And I am lucky that people actually pay money to have my work, either on original paintings or on three-dollar greeting cards. It doesn’t matter. On some level, I know that my work has touched people. How cool is that?

You can learn more about Fanne Fernow by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- You can learn more about the artists selected for NYAXE Gallery representation by visiting the following page,
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
New York Art Exchange
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