I doubt there are too many of you that are unaware of paintings by Anna Rose Bain, Anne Blair Brown, Ann Larsen, and Annie Kraft Walker. All are from different parts of the country, are multiple winners of many significant awards, and are profoundly dedicated to their chosen profession. Each are unique…reflected in an undeniable honesty that they bring to each subject undertaken. The variety of styles is invigorating, reflecting four distinct personalities and painting philosophies.
You wouldn’t know it, but Texas artist, Annie Walker, began by painting in a primitive folk art style…even having a piece in the permanent collection of the White House. Tiring of that, in 2000, she decided to “seriously pursue art.” You can see the incredible result. Her work is highly refined, tasteful, sensitive, beautifully composed and drawn…simply elegant.
While Walker primarily paints the classic still life, Colorado artist, Anna Rose Bain, prefers figurative works. Her style employs a direct painting method, while drawing from classical roots. She gains inspiration for her work from the joys and struggles in her life…seeking to make the world a better place through her art. I wonder if that goal was not nurtured during her years at Hillsdale College, a school that, according to its mission statement, “considers itself a trustee of modern man’s intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture, a heritage finding its clearest expression in the American experiment of self-government under law.” Oh, by the way, Bain was the first student in the school’s 173-year history to have a solo senior show.
In fairness to Tennessee artist, Anne Blair Brown, although she does a considerable amount of plein air painting, I asked her to just provide images of her fantastically beautiful interior paintings. Her paintings are filled with light, and she has the unique ability to say just enough, nothing more. Her desire is to express more than reality. Her work is loose, captivating, and expressive, with minimal detail. She adheres to John Carlson’s quote: “Too much detail in a painting is a disappointment to the creative soul.”
Finally, there’s New York state artist, Ann Larsen. I’ve been a fan of her work for some time, as she is a member of the Outdoor Painters Society and a consistent winner in its Plein Air Southwest Salon. Her work is colorful, bold, and well composed. She tries to simplify her compositions as much as possible in order to achieve the strongest possible paintings. She, like Brown, is not interested in capturing detail, nor making a copy of what’s before her.
I’m so pleased to be able to bring you this interview with four very talented artists. (Click images to enlarge)
“I have never felt I was anything else but an artist. I started taking art lessons when I was 6 years old and I always drew and did creative things from a very early age. I just think it was something reinforced by my parents who valued the arts. ”
Anna Rose Bain
“I consider art to be such an absolute vocation that I would be miserable doing anything else. Like many others, I was blessed with some natural talent, but more importantly, I have determination and willpower to keep going with it, because I love it so much.”
Annie Kraft Walker
”I’m an artist for two reasons: nature and nurture. I believe the desire to create is inherent in my DNA, and, my mother was an extremely talented, creative person. Growing up observing her joy in making things beautiful kindled the spark to create.”
Anne Blair Brown
“I cannot stop painting pictures whether on canvas or in my head. The ‘in my head’ part can be tricky…often I am driving and assessing my surroundings in terms of design and color. So far I have not landed in any ditches…”
What do you hope to communicate through your work?
Brown: I paint many subjects but find that interiors best convey my desired message. I try to communicate a sense of comfort and belonging with a splash of mystery.
Walker: A small reflection of the beauty in the world, which is in itself a reflection of the Creator.
Bain: I paint out of joy. My goal is to make the canvas a beautiful and exciting visual experience from edge to edge. I want my viewers to be as engaged with my painting as I was when I created it, and to relate to the subject matter in a way that allows them to find their own meaning in it.
Larsen: I would hope that when someone views my work they feel an emotional connection, not just to the subject, but to the way I paint, the brushwork, color and composition. Who can deny the emotions we feel looking at the brushwork of Sargent or the compositions of Edgar Payne?
Each of you are distinctly different; how did you develop your unique vision and focus?
Walker: It just happened. It comes out of my heart and mind. The things that are important or beautiful in my eyes, are the things I’m drawn to represent. A common thread in my still life work is the use of antiques, simply because that’s what is available in my house to work with.
Bain: I struggled for years to find my voice. Everything changed when I had my daughter. I briefly considered devoting myself to being a full-time mom, but instead of quitting painting, I leaned in harder and used my art to convey all the changes that were happening in my life. I documented my daughter’s first years through art, and have found that the rest of my work is infinitely better for it. To be clear: I do not just paint children and maternity portraits! I paint many things, but with a heightened sense of empathy and passion that wasn’t there before kids.
Larsen: After college, I sought out the professional artists that I felt I could learn the most from. I am always pushing to simply and understand the structure behind paintings and looked to those artists that I felt best represented that. A lot of working, thinking and trying different ideas just keeps moving me to define myself.
Brown: My style arose from the need to move away from “drawing stuff”. Once I learned how to piece together basic shapes in the correct dark/light ratio I could play with color and brushwork in a more freeing manner.
Briefly explain your painting process.
Bain: My process varies depending on the subject matter, but over the years I’ve come to be a huge proponent for direct painting. I love the immediacy and excitement of working wet into wet. Sometimes for larger studio works, I’ll combine alla prima painting with slower, more deliberate passages. I enjoy the juxtaposition of fast and slow brushwork, hard and soft edges, detail and obscurity.
Larsen: I learned early on to try and work out compositions before jumping into the painting; I do this through drawing and small oil studies. Often I premix a palette, after which I lay in the big shapes, including the lights and darks…all the while using my reference materials. I continue developing the painting until I have nothing further to say. However, when painting plein air I try to just paint intuitively, going for spontaneity and a strong statement.
Brown: I first lay in a monochromatic “wash” in an earth tone, paying close attention to simple shapes and limited values. Once I am satisfied the scene “reads”, I layer color on top of that wash in stages. I build the painting as simply as possible and save finishing touches (highlights, etc.) for the end.
Walker: I often work out the composition in charcoal, then do an oil transfer to the canvas. My still lifes are done from life, not photos (unless it’s something that won’t last a few days). I paint indirectly, usually three passes after the block in, and finish with glazes.
What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learned as an artist?
Larsen: Time at the easel, whether studio or plein air, is the only way to exceed. Also, that failing at times is OK.
Brown: The most important lesson I’ve learned as an artist is best stated in the following quotation by Bob Dylan: “The artist must never feel that he has arrived. He must always be in a state of becoming.”
Walker: To learn as much as I can (which is a never ending process) from all sources available: workshops, books, conferences, museums…but then to put on blinders to the noisy world, others’ opinions, and just paint from my heart.
Bain: Early on, an older artist told me that young people could never paint something great because they didn’t have enough life experience. But just because another artist is older and “wiser” doesn’t mean he or she has a more important story to tell. We all see through our own filters and life experiences. I’ve learned that it’s okay to paint each stage of my life, whatever that looks like. I give what I have to give, and I’m excited for the future chapters of my life when I’ll have new things to offer. Being present in every moment means that you will always have something to say.
What key things have you done to build your business?
Brown: My business revolves more around karma than any one thing one could learn in college. I work hard, I put myself out there, and I remain true to my artistic vision. The rest seems to fall into place.
Walker: Not much and not enough. A real weak spot. I keep thinking that when I have a body of work I’m proud of, I’ll get serious about the business side.
Bain: I have had my own website now for over 10 years. It keeps evolving, but a solid website is of utmost importance. I’ve made myself easy to find and contact. I post on Facebook and Instagram nearly every day to promote awareness of my work. Participating in group shows and national competitions, teaching, and volunteering have also helped me increase my credibility and visibility.
Larsen: Probably the most significant was participating in plein air events. I was lucky to be in the Grand Canyon Plein Air on the Rim and the Sedona Plein Air early on. Also, becoming a member of highly regarded art organizations. These things have allowed me to meet so many artists, collectors and gallery owners. Social media is a tremendous help as well.
What words of encouragement can you give to those desiring to pursue a professional career in the arts?
Walker: Regardless of how one’s art career goes, the act of immersion in art, for the love, joy and fulfilment of creating, is one of the most enjoyable, frustrating and rewarding experiences.
Bain: I would say that in the art world, you can’t skate by on raw talent. You have to be willing to put in long hours, handle rejection with resilience, and go back to the studio every day no matter how unmotivated you feel. If you can do that, you will succeed.
Larsen: To never give up, believe in yourself and always push to reach beyond what is “safe”. But, most importantly, study, draw and paint constantly!
Brown: Mileage! Take the pressure off of yourself to create perfect paintings and draw, draw, draw, and then paint, paint, paint! Repeat!
Why are the visual arts important?
Bain: There is a basic need inside all of us, for beauty. The visual arts meet that need and so much more; they provide an outlet for the human need to create, and in my opinion, are the most honest representation of our diverse and evolving culture.
Larsen: I think what most people miss about the visual arts are how they impact everything in our lives, from the design of our cars and homes to the clothes we wear! There have always been artists and will always be artists. The educational movement right now for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), tends to overlook the importance of the arts. The focus should be on STEAM!
Brown: I believe the visual arts represent the deeper, more civilized portion of our existence. Art, in its various forms, opens our minds to a higher consciousness.
Walker: Since the beginning of recorded history and through all the ages, people have been driven to create art. There is something undefinable about it that touches humanity deeper than words can express. I believe our desire and ability to create is a gift from the creator God, a privilege that I am most grateful for.
To view more of each artist’s work…
Special thanks to Ann, Anna, Annie, and Anne for this excellent interview. If you readers agree, will you please share this interview with your friends? Thank You.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE