A conversation between Thierry Goldberg Gallery and Anna Wehrwein
Thierry Goldberg: Tell me about this series of drawings.
Anna Wehrwein: I did a two week residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and was experimenting with making drawings that look like paintings. I wanted these works to deliver the same opacity and fluidity as painting, but counterintuitively be dry. Working with color-aid paper and almost exclusively dry mediums, I was surprised that the translation was more intuitive than expected. I really expected that I would have to fight myself a bit more, but everything just made sense. I think that's because the surfaces of the color-aid paper are so rich and temporal. Color-aid both loves and hates being drawn on so mediums and materials really play upon the surface.
TG: I'm not familiar with color-aid paper. Could you tell me a bit more?
AW: All the drawings start with this full opaque color ground which comes from the color-aid paper. Color-aid paper is used for color studies related to color theory. It's usually an academic tool not entirely intended to be a drawing paper. Early on I found that I really liked it as a drawing paper and surface as it allowed me an immediacy to color.
TG: What do you find to be different in working with Color-aid paper rather than other drawing surfaces?
AW: Working with Color-aid paper positions color as part of the drawing itself. When you're working with this level of opacity you have to deal with these huge optical color shifts. A yellow colored pencil is not going to look the same on a white background as it does a blue background. In some ways my materials are always new to me because I can never predict how a certain color is going to act. I'm always shifting the foundation on myself.
TG: So there's a lot of exploration and urgency in these works?
AW: Yes. I have to figure out how this image works. I have to understand it. I draw it because I don't understand it yet. I draw so I can understand it better and once I start I can't stop.
TG: Is that because the mediums would feel different if you returned to them later or is that because or if you stop it loses the general feel of how the drawing comes out?
AW: If I stop I feel like the drawing loses the feel or the connection to the space or the memory. Especially for these larger ones I was noticing that I was trying to get into a space where my hand never stopped moving. So I'm always touching the work in some way. It means that things are thin or thick. It's a certain frenetic quality because the fill is always there. It's a way of accumulation. The works are very additive. There is a sense of more, more, more. It's also a way of countering an impulse to edit. If something feels right I move on. It allows my emotional brain to lead the process.
TG: Do you work from photographs or from memories? What is your process? How do you begin your work?
AW: Honestly, It's a bit of all of those things. I think memory is what really drives the feeling of all of them. But Ido use the photographs I take for reference. I work from really candid photographs where I document the movement above everything else. I usually start by making gesture drawings of the source imagery. I have to get a real sense of the emphasis or the feeling. I look at the bodies and think about the weight, the emphasis, and how I know these people. A lot of the people in the drawings come in and out. They’re repeated. In my work I am looking for a sense of recognition, not realism. These are not portraits of people; they are imaged aspects of connection.
TG: Who are the figures in your drawings?
AW: They are people in my life. A lot of them are also artists which I think really shows up in the things they are doing or how they relate to each other and their environment. That aspect of fellow artists in the studio which is literally a studio, but I think for a lot of us there is a blurry line between the studio and the home. I'm interested in that crossover. Especially after Covid the dining room table and the kitchen table have become an important site in my work. It's where discussion happens, it's where eating happens, it's where the nurturing of feeding each other caring for each other happens.
TG: Do colors hold certain meanings for you?
AW: I don't have symbolic or metaphorical correlations with color. Before color, I always think about temperature. Should it feel hot or cold? What I find interesting about temperature is it can relate to darkness and light. I am also very interested in the contradiction of color. How can I make a dark space feel light or a light space feel dark?
When I work from photographs I usually switch it to black and white so I can let more of my intuitions come to the forefront. But often there is something in the image itself that I'm responding to. In Over Your Shoulder he's wearing a blue shirt, so the color of the shirt becomes the color ground. What I liked about this particular work is that the shirt takes up most of the foreground, but the color is also used as the background color. So the distance between foreground and background becomes really thin.
TG: There is a looseness to your work, a sense that things are changing by the second.
AW: I love that movement or abbreviated type of painting language. It's almost illusionary where from a distance it reads but as you get closer the imagery slips through your grasp. I feel that I do this a lot with flowers, which come up in several of the drawings. I love flowers, that moment of color and texture they add within your home. But when I place them in a drawing they become a decoy. They're so seductive or so overly joyful they are maybe supposed to distract from the person. The gaze goes to the flowers first so that you don't consume the person readily. It slows down the viewing process
TG: Your subjects are oftens positioned in very personal and private moments. How do you feel you play with aspects of privacy in your works?
AW: The drawings are about intimacy and love, the two things you're not supposed to talk about. One of the constructs that I think is really important to the works is that the gaze of the subject is internalized. Everything has to happen within the scene, so the people are absorbed in what they're doing, or in their relationship to one another, but they are not engaged with the viewer. The works are about privacy. I like to imagine that the figures know someone is there but they are too busy in their moment to be interrupted. I think that ironically creates a sense of greater intimacy.