Vicki Sher: So, we’ve known each other for so long!!! Do you remember how we met?
Ky Anderson: Yes, we both were in a group show in a small town in Upstate NY. We missed one another at the opening, but then you wrote me and suggested we do studio visits. We kept in touch and over the years we continued our relationship, as friends of course, but also as one long studio visit and discussion of our work. We share an understand of each others work and the visual language we speak.
Vicki Sher: Yes, I remember missing you at the upstate opening and feeling disappointed. I had been feeling very isolated and I was trying to meet more artists. I had also just started to try my hand at curating and I think I came to your studio thinking you would fit into a show I was putting together (which you did). I remember walking into your studio and you were preparing for a solo show in a large space and you had so much work in your studio-wall to wall, floor to ceiling. You seemed to be in such a groove where things were really flowing for you.
Ky Anderson: I think I was preparing for a solo show in Kansas City. That time marks a moment for my work. It was the beginning of a flow, of sorts, that's still going. One of my favorite aspects of your work is the freedom and looseness of your line work. As I work, your work often flows through my thoughts. If I feel my line work is getting tight or I wonder if it's okay to leave a large swath of blank space, I think what would Vicki do? Can you talk about your process, how you keep your hand loose and how you decide when a piece is done?
Vicki Sher: It's funny because remembering that day I first visited your studio reminds me that I also think of you as having a looseness that I appreciate. Your work pours out of you in a way that always seems very natural. I strive for that but my studio days can be more tortured. My most recent work comes out of a lot of advance planning actually, I read poetry, whisper it into my phone and play it back into my ear while drawing, I mix colors in advance and prepare painted paper for collage. But then, all the best work really happens very quickly and when I least expect it. It's as if I have to be outside myself to make it. This can be hard to do on purpose.
Ky Anderson: I think there's a lovely link between poets and abstract or semi-abstract painters. Both seem to have an understanding of the space between the words, colors or shapes. It's almost as if you're using poetry as a trigger, to help you get into the right headspace. I would imagine this helps you clear your thoughts as well. It's a great idea. There should be more collaborations between poets and painters.
Vicki Sher: Yes, a lot of painters seem to be tuned into poetry these days. It’s great! It makes sense to me in that poets are navigating the same terrain of inventing a personal language out of conventional language, in the same way that visual artists reinvigorate and re-compose visual language. So, I have a lot of questions I'd like to ask you but I'll start with this: - Your work seems really fearless to me, like you know when to take yourself seriously and when to lighten up and embrace whatever comes. Is this something you think about?
Ky Anderson: It's hard for to think of myself as fearless because when I look at my paintings mostly I just think about what I should have done differently, but it's something that I'm always working towards. I do have an ongoing chuckle as I work and my paintings can make me laugh. This internal chuckle helps me from taking things too seriously. I like the mix of serious work and funny work. They need one another to make a whole. While I'm working I don't think about serious verses funny, but I do know that the more playful work can often be the spark that starts a whole new idea or series. When I'm in that headspace is when new ideas are formed and I let myself take the most risks. Similar to what you mentioned earlier, you almost have to be outside yourself.
Vicki Sher: I have this really great memory of coming into your studio and you had this painting on the wall with a shape that you said you hated, I think. You told me that you sometimes start a painting with the thing you hate most from the last painting, trying to figure out why you made it in the first place. I really loved this and it has stuck with me. I think we all make shapes that we don't like, and we have to face a bit of self loathing or confusion when that happens. But you seemed to embrace it and celebrate it. Can you elaborate on this?
Ky Anderson: Ha, yes. When I've painted an image or line work and I end up disliking it I'll often take that image and start a new painting with it. It keeps me in an uncomfortable problem solving state. I want to know why I painted it and what it means or symbolizes. Sometimes I can feel it as I'm painting, I know it's a bad move, but I do it anyways. Then I'll repeat it again and again. I suppose I'm trying to fix it, I can't let it go. It's nice actually, I've reached a place in my life where I can act out this somewhat obsessive behavior in my studio, and not on my friends/relationships! But seriously, I think it helps keeps some of my work in a slightly uncomfortable place. Or it does that to me at least. I find it an interesting space to be in, slightly uncomfortable but balanced.
Vicki Sher: Charlene Von Heyl: said "You have to go through bad painting to get to a better place...that she needing that giddy giggle of delight that comes from doing something embarrassing totally 'wrong' that surprising not only works but can actually make the painting." She has also said that she doesn't want to make the painting she wants the painting to surprise her and make itself. You must relate to that?
Ky Anderson: Interesting, I can relate to that. I have many bad, unfinished paintings lying around. But, I do think about that quite a bit as I’m painting, sometimes I look at a piece and it will be in just such a bad place, then one mark and it completely turns it around and it’s done. The lousy is still under the one mark, but somehow it works. I like it when that happens, and I have to remind myself that it’s ok to let it go in a bad direction sometimes.
Vicki Sher: One of my favorite things about your work is the way you layer your paint. I love going up close to your work and seeing that a grey-ish green actually has a pale pink color underneath and a drip of black. How much of that is intentional and how much is accident?
Ky Anderson: I find that I can be in a constant state of painting out, I paint something, don't like it and paint it out. The history of what I've painted feeds what I paint next, so I prefer my paint to be somewhat transparent. The drips are just part of painting on the wall with thin paint. It's like cooking; sometimes the food splashes out of the pan.
Over the past year you've started making videos, which was such an unexpected surprise to me. I love that transition in your work. You're videos are animated versions of your drawings. I'm curious, did you have a moment when you were looking at your work and it suddenly became alive and the images started moving? Can you talk about this transition and how you first felt it coming on?
Vicki Sher: Yes - I'm really excited by the video work, but it came about in a sort of accidental way. I wasn't attracted to looking at video much, or making it, until I was painting on translucent cotton scrim which can be layered with lights, video, multiple drawings...etc. At first I thought I might collaborate with an animator to make the video part but it became clear pretty quickly that it would work better if I learned to make my own. So I started to think about multiplicities in my work, more than one thing going on at a time, and how to manage that. I have always worked in a few different ways at once- naturalistic drawing, goofy gestural line/shapes, work that was conceptual or thematic or dark and work that was more decorative. With video I can weave all these tendencies into one piece and draw the connections. In learning After Effects, the video program I use most, I could see how my line work could move, and it has- ironically- re-animated my connection to that way of drawing, My paintings are becoming more gestural and more emphasis is being placed on Movement all around.
Ky Anderson: When I look at some of your new work it seems to me you're paring down your imagery. A couple years ago each piece had several ideas/thoughts going on. But now each piece seems to be one clear thought. Is this something you're thinking about?
Vicki Sher: Funny- I don't even know if I'd noticed - but you are right! I think this may connect to the new work in video. I can act out my need for more activity in the video and allow the drawings to be more pared-down. I have always liked very minimalistic drawing, at art shows or museums I always feel most drawing to the quietest work in the room. So while my larger-scale work and video gets more animated, the drawings can get more still and focused.
Ky Anderson: One thing that I enjoy about our studio visits is that we often pick out the work that the other thinks is the least successful as our favorites. I wonder why that is? I like it. It's nice to see the work I've tossed aside as something interesting.
Vicki Sher: Yes, this is true. I know that you have picked out a couple things from my studio and I gave them to you. I can picture them in my head and I just don't see it- why they work for you that is! But I'm glad you like them- I trust your opinion and I trust that over time I'll come to appreciate those pieces too. I suppose it's that you like some things that seem very raw and unfiltered to me - almost awkward, and I like the work that seems pretty balanced and resolved.
Ky Anderson: I think this also has to do with a personal concept of content in our work. I can’t see a work finished until the content and meaning has come alive. So my pieces are flat and boring to me until they have their story. But when you come into my studio, you’re looking at the work from a different place, you have a gut understanding that there is a story but you don’t necessarily need to know it. Where as I need to know it. So you can see the work from more of a visual place and not get distracted by the personal. This probably works both ways.
Vicki Sher: It's embarrassing how I like things to be neat and clean in my work - but funny too because I have the crazy messy studio with the tidy drawings and you have a really neat studio with very active, process drawings! But another thing I’ve noticed is that when I spend an hour with you in your studio, the drawings or paintings that I didn't like at first, slowly become my favorites as I'm about to leave. I think your strongest work takes a good amount of time. Things that seem off-balance to me are revealed to be just right once I learn the inner language of the painting. I think your work does that - define it's own language and set up a new set of rules for viewing which is what all good painting should do!
Ky Anderson: That’s nice to hear. I have a similar relationship with my work, I’ll often get very excited about something new and then realize a couple days later that it’s has no depth. My favorite paintings are a slow learn, after I can forget the act of making and just start looking.
I feel like we both often paint about specific topics. These topics can also be loose, they morph and change freely, but there is always something being worked out. Can you talk about recent topics in your work?
Vicki Sher: It's interesting- I've been doing very topic-driven work for a while, making series that were motivated by a particular narrative or thematic device, but I am shifting away from that a bit. The work I'm doing now seems more formal, maybe referring to a place or feeling or setting but not actually proscribing the narrative as much. I have been thinking a lot lately about bridging the gap between abstraction and figuration. It’s tough because obviously drawing any sort of figure, or body part or shape that is recognizably a head or vase or a plant, interrupts the abstract conversation, and takes the painting in a different direction. For me, it seems that a gesture- in its direct connection to the body, is a good way to go in understanding how formal decisions connect to our sense of selves. I don’t know where this will go for me, but I am thinking it could be pretty rich territory for while, to be embracing gesture as a concept that connects line to body, but also allows figuration a foot in the door. I heard a talk recently about how Amy Sillman is a good example of someone who rejects the opposition between abstraction and figuration. She is definitely someone I look at, but maybe more for her painting chops than in relationship to this question of the figurative though. What I'm most happy about is that a looping, gestural, intuitive line, that was so integral to what I was doing in my 20's, is resurfacing again like an old friend, and it has a deeper relevance. I had pushed it aside so I could work more conceptually, but it is back and demanding center stage.
Ky Anderson: Nice, I love that, a gesture coming back as an old friend.
Vicki Sher: I've talked a bit about poetry and inspiration- can you talk about how you get going in the studio? Do you think in terms of series that are based on anything in particular? What inspires you?
Ky Anderson: I usually get going in the studio by looking at what I did the day before, the continuation of ideas and imagery is important for the next piece. When I leave my studio after a days work I literally run out the door while the paint is still wet, with no cleaning up, work in progress piled up everywhere and all over the floor. So that when I return it’s as if normal life never happened and I’m just back working. This helps me pick exactly where I left off. I paint from what I painted before. Each painting leads to the next to create an ongoing story. Right now I have several stories/series going on at the same time. One series about a person who piles rocks, another about taking a thought and turning it a quarter way in space, and another about the reflection of one’s surroundings, a mirror image that’s slightly different than the real. Even though I’m painting about all those topics/stories there are still some basics that continue throughout my work, most paintings start as a landscape, of sorts, and end up being slightly symmetrical. The symmetry is what comes naturally to me, when they are not balanced it feels bad, like I’ve got vertigo.
I like this, I feel like we could keep going, writing back and forth. But I suppose we should wrap it up. Thank you, Vicki!
Vicki Sher: Yes! It’s been fun. Thank you, Ky! To be continued soon I hope!