As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Annie Vought. See the full studio visit and interview with Annie and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.
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.
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 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.
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.
To read the full interview and see more of Annie Vought’s work go to www.inthemake.com.