Annie Vought

Artist, Oakland // January 2012
I believe handwritten records are fragments of individual histories... A letter is physical confirmation of who we were at the moment it was written, or all we have left of a person or a period of time.

Often on our way to studio visits or coming back from them, Klea and I will get into big, questioning conversations about life. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but it’s true. In part, I think it’s because we are either warming up for or winding down from encounters that frequently take on a philosophical, ruminative tone. It’s also just how we like to talk to each other. As we drove across the bridge to Annie’s North Oakland home and studio (where she lives with her lover, performance artist Scott V.) we were having one of these conversations— specifically about secrets and how everyone has them. Our car-ride conversation wasn’t about Annie’s art, but about halfway through our visit with her it dawned on me that unintentionally it was a very apt preface to her work. Annie takes fragments of written correspondence – from handwritten letters to text messages – that she has found, received, or written, enlarges and reworks the text on large paper, and then meticulously goes about removing the negative spaces with an X-acto knife. Because of the precision involved, Annie changes her X-acto blade after every five or six cuts, so she can easily go through close to 500 blades just to finish one piece. When I asked Annie how she goes about choosing her source material, she said she’s most interested in text that reveals “those in between moments” of humanity and language in which she can identify subtext — typical and commonplace communications at first glance, but that somehow express a human frailty and an underlying element of truth. We talked about how personal many of these correspondences are, and her willingness to expose herself and others through them. So much is revealed inadvertently— in hesitant language, in the pauses and empty silences between words, in muddled expressions, and overwrought sentences, and it’s these details that Annie seems to be after in her work. As we sat out in Annie’s lovely garden talking, with her big dog Moses lazing nearby in the sun, I kept thinking about how full of secrets we all are and what rich and complex inner lives we lead. And yet we can’t help but lay ourselves bare through language, in everything we say and everything we leave unsaid.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I say I am an artist, which is then usually proceeded by an awkward conversation about what kind of art I make and my vain attempt to describe it.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I am a full time artist. I am amazingly lucky.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
I work primarily with cut paper and communication through writing. I believe handwritten records are fragments of individual histories– expressions of self that very much bring forth the truth of our inner lives. In the penmanship, word choice, and spelling the author is revealed in spite of him/herself. A letter is physical confirmation of who we were at the moment it was written, or all we have left of a person or a period of time. I also think a lot about the relationship between the public and the private, or more specifically about how the private side of ourselves can be made public. I want to be respectful of people, but I recognize that I’m actively exposing them through their written communications. But in the exposure is a vulnerability we all share. I’m interested in human relationships, overall— the ones we have with ourselves and others.

I have a new collaboration with my best friend Hannah Ireland; we’re called Double Zero. So far we make videos together. But I think there’s really no limit to the medium we will work within. I have not been this excited about the direction of my work before. I think Hannah is a brilliant artist, and working with her is inspiring. For me our collaboration has freed me up to try new things and be courageous in both subject matter and medium. We’re working on a website for Double Zero, or I should say Hannah is working on the website.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I listen to books on tape all day long. So, I literally have hundreds. I listen to a lot of mysteries these days. I listen to anything from the Sookie Steakhouse adventures to lectures on neurology. Sometimes what I am listening to will inspire me, but mostly it just helps me with my very slow process.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
I have a lot of self-doubt. I am my biggest obstacle. I don’t think I am smart enough or good enough…blah, blah… So whenever I get rejected from something (which is a lot) it’s confirmation of all my personal insecurities. Sometimes I feel like my work isn’t conceptual enough, but my hope is that the source material and the visual aesthetics draw people in enough to take time with the work and discover that there’s complexity and meaning that might not be as readily present. I do my very best to ignore the negative voices inside my head. Otherwise I’ll give up. I try and remind myself that there are so many different art worlds, and art touches everyone in such different ways. It’s such a challenge; one I know I am not alone in experiencing. The other thing is that there’s really no map that guides artists on how to navigate through the many art worlds. We just sort of have to wing it and follow people we admire. Art school taught me nothing about how to be a working artist. For me, the Internet has been my biggest tool. Somehow, the Internet has been a great promotional tool for me— I’ve gotten more attention from just having a website than any other form of networking.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
If I don’t have a studio I don’t make art. I am very good at finding excuses as to why I should not work, and not having a studio is a very good excuse for me. But right now I have two (!!!) studios. This little back house used to be storage for my landlords but now I am using it as my home studio, which I love because I can roll out of bed and spend the day with my dog. This studio is a wonderful luxury, but when I’m working a lot here I never leave my house or talk to people. The result is that I get very irritable, and put way too much pressure on my husband as my only source of contact.

Currently, I also share a studio in the city with Andy Witrak, Mike Arcega, Hannah Ireland, Jesse Houlding, Anthony Ryan, and Josh Warren . It’s a new studio and I have not fully moved in yet. But historically I have always shared studios, and have actually shared a studio with many of these people in the past. This new studio is going to be my primary studio, were I get honest feedback and support. I need to interact with people more, be a part of circulating ideas and good conversation. I’m looking forward to long and real dialogues with my studio mates that will force me to grow, and I’m hoping my work takes a new turn. I really admire everyone that I share this studio with; they are all very inspirational.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
My collaboration with Hannah is definitely a new thing. She and I have been friends for over 20 years but have not lived in the same place since we were 15 years old. Having the opportunity to work with her is very exciting. It is freeing me up. I am excited to branch out and try many more and different ways to communicate what I am trying to say in my art. A lot of my work is autobiographical— I use letters from friends and family, and my life and feelings directly affect my work.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
Besides the work with Hannah, I am very excited about transitioning my cutout work into cutout drawings. I want to make a series of dream journal drawings. I have really dark and graphic dreams and I want to make a series of sketches and turn them into cutouts. I love the way the hand comes through in these loose, kind of messy, imperfect sketches I’ve been doing, and then it’s so different to turn them into cutouts because that work is so laborious and takes a great deal of precision. I am also starting a website video project that I will reveal in the near future. It’s a secret so that’s all I’m going to say.

What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my relationship with my husband.

What do you want your work to do?
I would really like to shine a spotlight on all the billions of different ways we communicate with each other— the very subtle and the not so subtle. Also how we reveal ourselves intentionally and unintentionally, and what we keep entirely to ourselves.

What advice has influenced you?
“Feel the fear and do it anyway.” That is my motto right now.

How will you know when you have arrived?
I just want to keep going. I do put together a year by year plan but it’s long and the overall gist of it is just ways to keep going. I have goals I would like to achieve, like get in Bay Area Now and get nominated for a SECA. But mostly my goal is to keep making art until I die.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
Affordable Art Fair: Los Angeles: January 18-22, 2012.
“In Other Words” at Intersection For The Arts: Feb 1st-March 24th, 2012.
A solo show at Unspeakable Projects in October of 2012.

To see more of Annie’s work: