Meet Artist-in-Residence
Vanessa Michalak

March 31, 2017

Posted In: 2016 Artists in Residence, Blog

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Cumberland, Maine, a suburb of Portland.

How did you find out about Anderson Ranch Arts Center?
A roommate of mine had mentioned that her friend attended and had an amazing experience.

What are you working on during your residency?
I tend to work on multiple bodies of work simultaneously. I am making figurative paintings that loosely depict moments of a relationship from its beginning to end. Some of these works are self portraits that represent expressions of joy and love as well as pain and vulnerability. I am also working on a series of landscape paintings that include arctic, desert and mountain terrains. The landscapes are expansive, desolate and isolated. I am thinking about what it means to be an adventurous and independent woman in the world, the act of exploration, both geographically and psychologically and the concept of escapism into nature as a refuge.

Has your residency at Anderson Ranch affected your practice at all? How so?
The uninterrupted time allows me to indulge in my creative process. The large, well lit studio space has affords me to work on multiple paintings, of different stages of completion, simultaneously. The space, alone, has expanded my work physically and conceptually. I’ve also enjoyed access to the print shop and making monoprints.

How do you describe your artistic practice?
Process is extremely important to me as well as loose narrative ideas. I am restless by nature and like to allow room for exploring materials as well as different concepts and emotional states. I don’t always start my paintings in the same way. In fact, I like to invent, so I look for new “paths” or processes to achieve outcomes. Sometimes I’ll start a painting with a more specific plan that is representative of a photo I have taken or found. Other paintings begin with the intent on conveying a specific, emotion or feeling. And still others having seemingly arbitrary beginnings, like a leftover color on my palette that I can’t bear to throw out. It’s truly painful for me to waste paint, so usually I’ll either make a quick painting or allow of the “leftovers” to become “beginnings.” My works involve spontaneity and gesture. There is emphasis placed on economic mark making. Generally it is quite physical. It is important for me to be alert and aware during the development of the painting. Usually the painting knows when it’s finished. My job is to keep my eyes open so I don’t miss that moment. Also, I love listening to music when I paint, and even singing if the space allows. Music keeps my mind in the creative sphere. It keeps me in the present moment.

What role does art play in your life?
When I was a small child I wanted to be an artist. My Mother is an artist, so I grew up with some exposure to different materials. During my high school years I was more focused on sports, and during college I studied nursing. I felt in some ways, during these years I lost a part of myself, the artistic self. I realized that making art, thinking creatively was an integral part to my identity. Through painting I seek the philosophical idea of “freedom, “ while concurrently perceiving art as my anchor. I experience art as my vehicle for expression and connection with others. Sharing my love of the painting process, through teaching, gives my life meaning and purpose.

When do you make art in your studio?
While at the ranch I have been painting most of the time except for meals. However, I do love being outside, especially right before sunset, so usually I’m walking or hiking around this time. Also, I try to paint whenever I am most alert and awake. Lately this means mornings, but my routines tend to change. I generally struggle when I am tired, so late nights in the studio are not productive. 

How do you spend your time when not working in the studio?
I enjoy exploring my surroundings in new places. I spend my time hiking in the mountains nearby, cross country skiing or running. I like creating opportunities for “mini adventures.” We are lucky that one of the other residents is a yoga instructor, she’s been teaching some amazing classes. Also, I spend time looking for and applying for other art related opportunities such as residencies and teaching jobs

What intrigues you in the art world today?
The idea that artists, themselves, and their work ought to be neatly packaged as far as the type of work made. I mean this in terms of the gallery setting. I don’t see creativity as a linear process. For me it’s circular, tangential, and messy. I guess I am rather rebellious and anti establishment in this way.

What art do you most identify with?
I am a painter, so I really am attracted to paintings, but even more specifically, paintings from the Modernist movement. Many of my works involve elements of representation and abstraction. I am particularly drawn to Expressionist paintings. I also love works that exploit paint’s full range of material capacity as well works that exhibit inventiveness and in the process of image making. My favorite contemporary paintings to look at are works by Angela Dufresne, Peter Doig and Cecily Brown.

What is your favorite part about Anderson Ranch?
The sunny winter days, the thin mountain air, painting lots, and hanging out with residents and staff.

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