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Angie Reed Garner

Artist's Interview

How long have you been creating?
I worked a fair amount as a kid and probably that was when I developed the deepest mental connections between creating and happiness (of whatever tormented sort). Still the milestone I usually mark is '93, when I quit my full time job in the social services (with benefits). I loved that work, but I couldn't do both it and push my painting in the way I wanted. I had to choose. I've been working full time since '95.
What is your medium of choice?
Oil paint. I was almost a textile artist and I still love yarn and fabric. These days, I seem to like looking at my yarn stash and imagining what I could make; I don't seem to make much any more. I tried out working primarily in textiles after I finished school. But I lacked the patience to build up an image so slowly, and missed that linseed and turpentine smell. My mother is an artist, and she always works in oil. She made final what might have been only a mild sentimental preference for oil when I was in junior high. I begged her for paints and she bought me acrylics, claiming (rightfully) that they were less toxic and easier to clean up. I hated them instantly and forever.
What are your motivations for creating?
I am trying to paint works that make something about me or my subject understood. It is important to me that I am clear in expressing whatever it is that I am trying to say. This is complicated enormously by not knowing what I am doing until I've done it and maybe a few years have gone by. I try not to be in charge of the paint or the content as that will doom a painting for sure. It is ok to start out with an idea, I just have to give it up without a struggle. I get personally clearer through the process of painting, but that isn't good enough. At least some viewers need to be able to get there (wherever "there" is) too. This thing I have about clarity makes no sense, but on an emotional level I am sure it does. I am convinced there is some possibility for getting outside the box through art. And it makes me happy when I think I've done it and made it possible for someone else too. My partner is my target audience--he is a well-read and an intelligent, motivated viewer--but not overly familiar with contemporary art. He and I tend to want the same things from art, so there is a congruence there that is important. He doesn't need to like all of what I do. If he can't understand something of what I'm after, I revisit the work and try to figure out if it is just him or I'm not so clear as I thought. Of course, he understands my intentions for the work better and better as the years roll by, so he's probably becoming too easy an audience! If I have visually mapped something to my own satisfaction, it will or won't be accessible to others. I hope that it will. In recent years, I have really taken on trying to understand how other people see art. If I've got someone who will let me interrogate them about what they are getting from a painting, I'm thrilled. Of course, most people would rather go to the dentist than get put on the spot by an artist about what her painting means.
What other artists and movements inform your work?
As I mentioned, my mother Joyce Garner is a painter. Her influence is enormous. I get overwhelmed and can't always take her work in. Sometimes I go deeper into her content; other times I study technical aspects of how she pushes the paint like I was cramming for some test. The test is my next painting, when I want to be able to do the cool thing she did! When I was a child, she was still fairly interested in realism. It didn't last, as she could not really describe her inner world while working in that way. She built a lot of painting skills by setting up traditional still lives, painting landscapes, people, me etc. She is self-taught (as am I). I sat for her quite a bit. Our subject matter is quite different, as are our lives--she raised four children and I have only a spoiled dog--but our process at certain points is not so different. I think that what I got from her is great confidence in the possibilities and truths to be found in a personal process as well as an understanding that I shouldn't let anyone mess with my process, however well intentioned they might be. For better or worse, my creative process is what I have, and to abandon it to paint according to someone else's rules is to make painting into a thing not worth doing. I've tried to emulate my mother's work habits. We come from people who always worked hard (Appalachian). It seems important to continue to behave the same way. One consequence is that I produce a lot of work. Right now I'm doing a small quick painting every day, and trying to let that replace a part of my journal-writing habit. These paintings are meant to be as self-indulgent, dramatic, narcissistic or experimental as I want-they are a release from doing larger focused works (which are also ongoing). I post these daily paintings in my blog. As for other influences, Frida Kahlo was the first artist ever to hit me hard. I didn't care for the fruit, flowers, dresses or monkeys, but the scissors, blood and shorn hair? Oh my! I was something like nine when I first saw her stuff and I thought "Now, that is good art, why isn't more art like this and not boring." I still love those paintings of hers that so affected me, and she and Alice Neel continually remind me that it is ok to go in my own direction, if you go far enough there is bound to be good stuff. I have been absolutely, painfully in love with Picasso, Alice Neel, Van Gogh, Rodin, and Camille Claudel. I liked Gauguin but didn't love him except when he painted yellow skies. I always wanted to love Chagall, but I do not. I like Grace Hartigan and Paula Rego. I paid attention to Jennifer Bartlett because she was getting the big buzz during some formative years, when I first became aware of the art world as a kid in the 80s. Given my love for creating huge installations out of small panels, something of her exhaustive process must have sunk in. I studied Matisse's color because I wanted it for myself. I like Hans Bellmer's focus and honesty. Thanks to the internet, I can pay attention to what young graphic design students do. Many have fabulous talent and drive, and while they may be alienated from "fine art", they are all about communicating with economy, clarity and appeal. Lots of talented people are choosing this kind of education and using the techniques to do their own thing with wonderful results.
What do you find stimulating right now? How does this influence your creative process?
Stripes and polka-dotted textiles. Especially socks. I was stuck on variously colored fishnet and weave stockings for forever; I am thankful that I have finally moved on.
Read anything good lately?
The History of Greek Vases, by John Boardman (2001).
Personal iconography features heavily in some of your work; tell us a little about it.
I've built a personal vocabulary one symbol at a time. To acquire a symbol for my own use means three things: that I can draw and paint that symbol in any useful orientation without reference to source material, that I have spent some time pondering my own associations with that symbol, and I have thought at least a bit about how it has been used historically and at present times. The latter two parts of the process are fairly effortless; they seem to take place as I go about my usual reading, movie-watching, and journal-keeping. So, for example, my symbol set includes a middle-aged white woman of average weight, but not a child. A white man of working years in a business suit and tie, but not yet someone elderly. I've been studying ancient Greek vase painting for a couple of years now, trying to absorb all those conventions for handling the figure. A bonus has been learning many new-to-me patterns. After two years I can finally paint a meander-those mazelike border designs-without looking at an example or getting confused! But for some things, you really want to make a stencil. I've got horses and cows, but not goats or sheep. Small white shotgun houses, but not castles or redwood contemporaries. I've got roses, tulips and mums, but not ivy. To get a new symbol means practice with models or still lives, source images, etc. until I can draw and paint it without stress. It is a lot like practicing a word in a foreign language--you have really got it when you can pronounce it easily without struggling for recall, and when you find it in your dreams. I have to figure out which aspects of the symbolic object are important for me to include, and which don't matter to me and can be left out. This is not an intellectual process at all.
What would you like your fellow EBSQ artists and collectors to know about you and or your work?
What else, you mean? I believe in paying attention to dreams, noticing and allowing yourself to try what you love about other people's work, and allowing yourself to fail. My mother told me that if I was only willing to be a bad artist, I could be completely free to paint what I wanted. I chose freedom. I do use a good part of that freedom trying to push the paint better.

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