A look inside the world of contemporary art with Annika Connor
Has 2016 been moving at hyperspeed so far, or is it just me? In the last three weeks I've had more amazing work projects pop up than the last three months combined, I've been interviewed on MSNBC,* one sick kid, two rounds of bronchitis for me, my website crashed, and Charleston was taken over by both political parties within the same week. Phew! I need a mid-year vacation already!
Just before 2016's robust beginning I had the chance to meet Annika Connor during her book signing at Blue Bicycle Books. Annika is a New York-based artist, curator, and official friend to many established and emerging artists. The book she was promoting is called Point Suite, which was a collaboration with fellow artist Nicholas Papadakis.
The idea for Point Suite began in 2007, just before the dawn of the Great Recession. While I'm sure there were many art-related creative projects that died at that time, it seems that the economic downturn may have been exactly what this project needed. Ever conscientious of the highs and lows of the creative life, Annika kept in touch with the artists she'd already recruited for the project. As digital tools democratized access to the art world, she and the other artists experimented and tested them out in business, vision, and work. The result? A beautiful volume that acts as a tangible and portable exhibition of contemporary art. If you have a keen eye for the patterning that has taken place throughout history to develop creative schools of thought, you'll notice the sense of rebellion that runs through this volume. I'd love to call it a conservative rebellion, stripping the word "conservative" of its recent political undertones. What we have here is a rebellion that backs away from the bad boyish behavior of the aughts. There's no abstract show of disdain and fascination toward Western consumerism á la Damien Hirst. Instead you'll find an unabashed love of craft, concept, and creative labor.
Annika was kind enough to answer some questions for me, and I'm pleased to share her answers below.
*There will be more on the MSNBC thing later this week!
Is there a particular connection that happened through the project that stands out in your mind?
I have to say the biggest and most valuable connections I made as a result of this project were the business and legal lessons I learned in the along the way. When I had the idea for this project I was a young artist with no idea how to make this book idea into a reality. One of my first steps into finding out how to get set up lead me to discovering VLA.
Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts is an incredible resources for young artists. Through attending lectures, book camps, becoming a member, and working with their lawyers I was able to learn the ins and outs of contract law, reproductions rights, licensing, and copyright. VLA has offices all over the country and I urge any creative with more ideas then know how to seek out their expertise. Check out https://vlany.org for more info.
How about a new and expected connection between you and one of the other artists?
I have a lot of stories of fun times and studio visits connecting with the various artists in this book however one of the moments that stands out the most to me is the first time I saw Woody Shepherd’s paintings.
I was up at Yale to see my old classmate and artist in the book Micah Ganske for his MFA open studios. (At this point I am not event sure if I had the idea for the book yet, or if I did the idea was just in it’s infancy.) In any event, I was wandering out around checking out the open studios when in I walked to Woody Shepherd’s space. The size and complexity of his work instantly overwhelmed me and my eyes were filled with delight. His work, when seen in person, is so rich in surface texture and vitality it’s unimaginably arresting. The scale of the paintings engulfed me and the tensions between his marks and the color harmonies made the brushstrokes seem to dance. I can scarcely recall a time I have been more transfixed by a painting then on that day. It’s a memory I cherish and my admiration for him as an artist has remained as strong today as it was then.
How did you and Point Suite's co-creator, Nicholas Papadakis connect?
Nick and I met at the recommendation of a mutual friend Kristen Moser. Kristen had moved to LA a few years before and thought that I should speak to Nick as she had a hunch our ideas would over lap. Boy was she ever right. Nick came for a studio visit and it was in that very first meeting over a cup of tea and some art talk that the idea for this book project was born.
Was this your first collaboration?
Yes this was our first collaboration and I have to say I have the utmost respect and admiration for Nick for sticking with the project. When we conceived of the book initially we knew it would be a hard project but we had no idea how difficult it would turn out to be. There were many points on the road when it would have been possible to give up on this dream, but thankfully Nick never did. I can’t thank him enough for his patience in seeing this project to completion, and I would welcome any opportunity to work with him again.
How did your individual styles and artistic visions play off of one another during the typically arduous process of publishing a book?
Artistically Nick and I are very similar, we both make very labor intensive paintings. I think it was this, our natural patience as painters to devote ourselves to creating something very complex, that enabled us both to stay engaged by the book even when the time it took for us to publish it grew longer then we had ever planned.
You've had the unique experience of continuously working on the same project before, during, and on the way out of the “Great Recession,” during which cultural attitudes toward art and publishing changed a great deal. What was the most surprising “before & after” factor for you as you witnessed these cultural changes?
Ah well the upside of us having an idea for a book that took us nearly 8 years to create was that we got to see a lot of changes occur in the art world and incorporate some of that into our vision for this book. Point Suite highlights the work of 34 rising art stars, but at the time we discovered these artists they were all relatively unknown.
I’ve been living as an artist in NYC from 2004 to the present day. So I have had a front row seat to see the strange paradox of the art world. I have watched as the global economic markets crashed while the art markets continued to soar. I have gotten to see the lunacy attached to the astronomical price tags of auction values over the years while simultaneously seeing young galleries shut their doors due to lagging sales. I have been an emerging artist struggling to pay rent and barely able to survive, but inside the art world my champagne flute has never been empty. Through it all the strange economics of the art world have somehow managed to keep a dizzying buzz of creativity always afloat. What this all means and where it is leading us is perhaps the makings of another book though.
Did the financial markets crash help your approach to the business of producing and selling art?
Oh this is a complex question. It is no doubt that the events of 2007-2008 had an enormous impact on all of us. As an artist, I found that once people realized the full impact of what was going on it suddenly became nearly impossible for me to sell paintings for a few years. I had to learn really quickly how to adapt to this and how to get creative to make ends meet.
Fortunately I had joined the Screen Actors Guild in 2007 and when all other industries were slowing down Hollywood was booming and filming inNYC was growing at a rapid rate. Seeing this I quickly turned to my acting work (as it was the only job I could get) and hilariously it was through working as an actress that I was able to survive the lean times as a painter.
Ultimately this was great for me. The acting work gave me a much needed yet creative side income and over time it influenced my paintings to be more narrative in nature then they had been before. The acting also trained me to be more confident in front of the camera and poised when speaking with others. This training has been invaluable to me now when I lecture.
Paradoxically the lack of sales was also very valuable. Knowing no one was going to buy anything for a while gave me a certain creative freedom. Sure a few painting sales came in here and there along the way, but the relatively little sales enabled me to have an uninterrupted period of growth where I could work on creating a large new body of work. This ultimately was very helpful to me because when the opportunities finally started rolling in I was ready and waiting with quite a bit to show for my time.
Going back to the idea of connections… In what way do you hope people will use Point Suite to connect to others, and/or the world of art?
First and foremost I hope the Point Suite book and be a guide for anyone looking to have inside insight into what is happening today in the art world. I hope that by examining the artists in this publication, the viewer and reader will gain new insight into what is currently being created around them. I hope that young artists will see this book and be inspired by the DIY determination of Nick and myself to capture and create something beyond ourselves. I hope that by putting a tangible book in people’s hands and on to their coffee tables I can pull my viewer away from the screen for a minute so that they may see something new without the lens of technology. And finally, I hope that by opening this book my readers will turn a new page of inspiration in their imagination and that the art in front of them will be the spark for a whole new creative fire.
Click here purchase a copy of 'Point Suite.'