Tell me a little bit about you!
I was born and raised in Nebraska, but over the past ten years I’ve lived all over the world including Peru, Syria, and Morocco, before landing on the east coast. I got my BFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and it fundamentally informed my ideas about place and home. Being a foreigner and learning other languages was the polar opposite of my experience growing up in the same house in the same city in the same state where my ancestors first homesteaded. When I went to grad school at the Mount Royal School of Art at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) in Baltimore, I delved into the experience of displacement and the relationship between my personal experiences and everyday technologies. My interest still lies in this relationship between rootedness and uprootedness.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
One of my first memories as a child is dressing up as an artist for a Halloween party where our costumes were supposed to represent what we wanted to be when we grew up. I used an old white dress shirt of my dad’s and drew on it with markers and splattered paint on it. I have a very distinct memory of sitting at the coffee table in our living room when I was 5 or 6 and trying to draw the fern that hung between two large windows. Whenever I watch old home videos, I’m always sitting at the kitchen table drawing or painting or making something. I don’t think I ever really considered being anything but an artist.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I recently went back to the land my ancestors first homesteaded on the occasion of a family reunion where distant relatives of mine still live. I visited the site where my great-great-great grandparents lived in a sod house, marked by an old oak tree where I have photos of myself as a child standing with my great-grandmother. Nearby is a farmland cemetery where my grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother and great-great-great-grandmother are all buried. I gathered objects, photos, video, and audio documentation of the place and am currently working with this material on a multidisciplinary installation.
What is your process like?
My process is very idea-based. I’m always reading about the concepts I’m interested in and writing down important quotes in my sketchbook that I often refer back to when I’m working through an idea. I usually start small and work up to the final piece. “Interior” started when I moved into a new studio that was right down the street from a hardware store that carried this line of house paint with these really esoteric color names. I took some of the most evocative ones back to my studio and started pairing them with old family photos. Later on I decided to paint a series of found objects with the colors that matched the photographs, and it wasn’t until I installed the work in a show that I decided to incorporate the architecture and painted the pedestals to match the objects. I couldn’t have conceived of the final installation without all of the steps beforehand. It’s all part of the process.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
The director of Mount Royal School of Art, Luca Buvoli, was immensely influential to me and my work. As Director he brought more than 50 visiting artists and critics to our program each year and encouraged us to go to New York and see hundreds of exhibitions every semester. I think his method shows you how many different ways there are to do something and how many different ways there are to think about it, but also that pretty much everything has been done before. Also, when I was searching for a job after grad school in the arts, he told me I would never make good money working in the arts because I would always be expected to do the work because I loved it. He told me if I wanted to work in the arts and not get paid then I should be a writer because at least then I would get some recognition, so now I write for BmoreArt.
Describe your studio.
I am lucky to have a studio at School 33 in Baltimore, which is a former school that was converted to an art center in the 70s. There are nine studios and three gallery spaces, so people are in and out of the building on a regular basis and there’s an atmosphere of openness and encouragement. My studio has super tall ceilings and six really large windows, so I get a lot of great light. I always keep my space fairly clean and organized. When I’m stuck, I like to move furniture around and sweep.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Rejection is the hardest part about being an artist. Even though I’ve learned that it comes down to taste or connections or a curatorial theme, it still hurts.
If you could sit down for dinner or a drink with anyone, who would it be and what would you chat about?
I would love to have dinner with Rebecca Solnit and talk about anything she writes about–maps, walking, feminism, the color blue. She is amazing.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
Clean, Conceptual, Poetic
What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut?
If I’m feeling stuck, I usually busy myself by cleaning. I’m always rearranging the furniture in my studio and house and selling and buying furniture on Craigslist. Cooking falls into the same category. There’s a sort of process–finding interesting recipes, going shopping, spending the time making the meal–that keeps me occupied so I don’t have to stress about my lack of ideas or progress.
What do you love most about your medium? What challenges or surprises you most about it?
I’m always surprised by the variety of forms my work takes. I’m happy to stay true to the idea and let the form work itself out in the making.
What do you need or value most as an artist?
My creative community. I’m super lucky to be in a city where I have a close group of friends that are all artists, and outside of that, the larger community of Baltimore that is super supportive and shows up for each other.
What keeps you creating?
At a low point in grad school I told one of the visiting artists that I wanted to give up making art. Her response was, “Don’t you wish we could?”
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working on a few projects–the one I mentioned above about the land my ancestor’s homesteaded, but also a curatorial project for artist books and editions called Ctrl+P, and another ongoing project about locating “paradise.” Tomorrow I’m going to interview and record my mother over FaceTime about the cabin she went to every summer called Hidden Paradise.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you! These questions were a good opportunity to stop and think about what I do, where I’ve been, and where I’m going!
Find more at ambereveanderson.com and on Instagram @amber_ander!
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