I remember when I first read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, a novel about a vampire who tells his 200-year-long life story to a reporter. I was in my adolescence at the time, a voracious and at times impatient reader, and after the first few pages I was completely hooked. I savored every word, allowing myself to fully feel all the apprehension, horror, and awe in that story. My brother and I used to talk about that book for years and years.
That same book also left a big impression on Anna. When we visit her in her Portland studio, tucked downstairs in the basement of her home, she mentions a longstanding fondness for Interview with the Vampire. And certainly, vampires are a subject Anna knows well. Over the past three years she has been working on a large body of work that has evolved around the theme of vampires. Anna’s series is inspired by the old photographs she finds of people at the Oregon Historical Society; photographic figures that she then reinterprets as vampires living extraordinary, mysterious lives. When she uses a photograph for reference, she enlarges it on a copy machine and then transfers the image by hand using chalk paper, giving her the freedom to draw, distort, and change the image as she pleases. Anna says, “I am most interested in creating a myth surrounding these characters of the past.”
What I find most interesting about this series is the act of elevating and exaggerating the realities of the figures in these old found photographs— it’s such a big expression of Romanticism, such a big embrace of the exotic, the unfamiliar, and the distant, and an eager attempt to tap into the readiness of our imaginations to envision and to escape. Like the Romantics, Anna seems to legitimize the individual’s sense of intuition and imagination as a critical authority, and gives merit to the idea of the misunderstood, would-be-heroic outcast. The figures in her work look haunted by their own inner workings, they seem to struggle beautifully, and their shadowy expressions communicate a distinctive faraway-ness. The vampire is one of the major mythic figures given to us by the English Romantics and in terms of cultural influence, the vampire seems far more important, prolific, and enduring than any other archetypes… and given the modern aesthetics of the current resurgence, I really appreciate that Anna has brought some much needed mystery back to the vampire.
Anna Fidler’s Vampire and Wolf Men exhibit will be at the Boise Art Museum until May 25, 2014.
How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
I have been working on a large body of work over the past three years that has evolved around the theme of ‘vampires.’ I’ve made a series of nearly thirty works on paper—ranging from the monumentally scaled 99×72” portraits to smaller intimate pieces of eerie mansions and their inhabitants. My vampire series is inspired by the photographs that I find at the Oregon Historical Society that depict mysterious, haunting and at times beautiful individuals that once lived in this state. I am most interested in creating a myth surrounding these characters of the past.
While working on the vampire series I decided to depart from the theme yet still work in the genre of portraiture. I recently completed a series titled, Cherry Bomb, which depicts eight internationally recognized female musical icons from the seventies: Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, Heart, Joan Jett, Nina Hagen, Kate Bush, Patti Smith, and Karen Carpenter. My selective process was twofold: women whom I felt were important to their era—iconic, strong and visionary, and formally, those whose facial features inspired me enough to engage in the process of making a portrait.
It was fascinating to compare and contrast facial structures from different eras (the nineteenth century versus the 70s) as well as the famous and the unknown.
What mediums do you work with?
All of my works from these two series are composed of colored pencil and diluted acrylic paint on paper.
You have a process that often uses photographs of real people as reference material, can you tell us more about this choice?
The process of using photographic material for reference and inspiration began after I took a trip to The Pittock Mansion. The Pittock Mansion is a well-known property in Portland that once belonged to a prominent businessman and owner of the Oregonian newspaper. The house was turned into a museum and I visited the mansion with my friend and photographer, Holly Andres, as well as two models dressed as if they were late nineteenth century vampires. My concept for the photo shoot was that the Pittocks were a family of vampires residing on the hillside overlooking Portland. Although enamored with the idea, I shelved it in lieu of a photograph I found on the mantle of the mansion that depicted Henry Pittock at age twenty-five, looking absolutely handsome and vampiric. I later used a version of this photograph that I found at The Oregon Historical Society as a catalyst for the series.
When I use a photograph for reference, I enlarge it on a copy machine to the scale I find suitable and then transfer the image by hand using chalk paper. This way I have freedom to draw, distort, and change the image as I please.
What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
I used to be in a band. I enjoyed the social aspects of making music, recording and performing it. For years, I missed this aspect in my art practice as it seemed inevitable that I would spend long hours by myself in my studio. About five years ago, I decided to expand my practice to make a series of large, ambitious pieces for a show at Disjecta in Portland, which is a huge art exhibition space—formerly a bowling alley. I was working with the subject of basketball—specifically the Portland Trailblazers—and my studio was near the Rose Garden where they play. I assembled a team of seven interns from Lewis and Clark College to assist with the body of work. We would meet once a week to work all day on the basketball works. Coincidentally, these interns were all female and we had such a great time working together on the pieces—discussing which player was the cutest as well as more conceptual aspects behind the work, which was supposed to reference eighteenth century history painters such as Jacques Louis David. From then on, I have always had assistants in my studio. I enjoy the energy of working with others and even the difference in ‘hand’ pertaining to the making of the work, which is different than my own.
What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Four years ago, I became pregnant with my now three-year old daughter. I had been working in a large studio outside of my home. It was at that point that I realized I would need to move my studio to my home as it would be more likely that I could fit studio time in during naps and after bedtime. I dry walled a room in the basement and began working on the vampire series there. It was funny because my old studio had skylights and fifteen-foot tall ceilings; my basement had eight-foot tall ceilings and no windows, which actually seemed more appropriate when considering my subject matter. My daughter now has a studio set up next to mine and my future goal is to have her work on her art in tangent with my practice in the room next door.
Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I recently completed the vampire series. All of the pieces are on display at The Boise Art Museum through May 25, 2014. It has been great to see the work in one room as in the past it has travelled extensively from Johansson Projects in Oakland to the Portland Art Museum to the Everhart Museum in Pennsylvania, but has never been shown all together.
I am currently working on a series of gouache paintings on paper that explore figures in forests. I am interested in taking individuals from my previous series and situating them within a landscape. I take walks in Portland’s Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge almost daily and photograph what I see—imagining a different bygone era. My new body of work is manifesting as a formal exploration of color, space and time.
Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
Most of my favorite artists are outsiders or self-taught artists like Adolf Wolfli or Eugene Von Bruenchenhein. I am most inspired by the strange and visionary worlds defined in their artwork. I also like contemporary painters such as Allison Schulnik and Laura Owens. I spent three years living and working in Los Angeles and I was inspired by a lot of the painting that I saw while living there.