JANELLE W. ANDERSON's layered, graphite drawings on mylar evoke a
surreal sense of loss, nostalgia and confusion. Dreamlike, undefined
spaces are populated with juxtapositions of human limbs, gaping maws with sharp teeth, eyeballs, butterflies, birds in flight, bunnies and the tangled web of power lines
city-dwellers must peer through to see the vastness of the sky. Janelle
received her BFA in Painting from the Metropolitan State University of
Denver, where she won the Nagel Art Thesis Award in 2011. Her work will
be on view in The Octopoda Invitational, curated by Scott Bailey, at Love Gallery (Denver) until March 28, 2014. Janelle's solo exhibition All Together Now opens in July 2014 at Pirate: Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado, where she lives and works.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Are the juxtapositions of animals,
objects, patterns and body parts in your drawings random? Is it more
important to evoke a narrative or a mood with these juxtapositions?
Janelle W. Anderson: I use a lot of recurring symbols and animals in my work: rabbits, skulls, all-seeing eyes and, within the last year, the open mouths of carnivorous animals. I repeat these symbols because they have complex meanings for me personally but can also be interpreted in numerous ways by the viewer. I enjoy art that I can stare at for hours and still have questions about. The narratives in my work are loose enough to encourage multiple readings. Ultimately, the entire composition is designed to be examined closely and trigger a range of emotions. I want to get an immediate reaction out of my viewer, and I try to direct that through the wide range of emotions and human qualities associated with animals.
Rabbits, for example, are cute and cuddly. But they’re also rodents and will reproduce to the point of grotesque infestation. They’re also lucky, spontaneous, vulnerable, clever and quick-witted. I personally identify with the sensitive, timid side of rabbits, and I always associate them with "time running out" because of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. I try to draw my rabbits with a good balance of cute and creepy to make them mysterious. Right now, I’m obsessed with drawing roaring lions and barking dogs because of the sudden burst of that emotional release. It’s like an explosion. I’m fascinated by the texture and physical form of their open mouths. It’s the contrast of sharp teeth and wet tongues. There’s a sense of danger that makes the imagery really enticing.
Could you talk about the interaction of real and imagined space in your
compositions? I'm thinking about the differences between your series of
paintings Big Empty Sky (2012) and the surrealistic drawings from Voyage (2013).
JWA: Space and time have both been important components in my work since I was in school. The paintings in Big Empty Sky
are depictions of real, physical space, but the true subject of the
paintings is the uniform blankness and depth of the sky on a dreary day.
I’m still really interested in creating that feeling of blankness. The
great thing about working with mylar is that I can get that hazy effect
from the material. In a sense, I’ve progressed from depicting a blank
sky to placing my subjects inside of this ambiguous blankness. The
figures in Voyage, and in my current work, transcend time and
space. There is much more freedom in working with this indefinable
space; it allows me to be more creative with the ideas I’m trying to
OPP: Is there a pervasive mood to the blankness? Is blankness truly ambiguous, or do you see it as more positive or negative?
JWA: This feeling of blankness is definitely existential. I keep coming back to the idea that life is inconsequential, due to its temporary, fleeting state. I have both positive and negative feelings about being temporary. I consider my art practice to be an ongoing exploration in finding meaning and purpose in the ephemeral.
OPP: Many of your drawings on mylar have layered imagery, in which one image seems more tangible, more present, while other images seem like wispy ghosts. This is especially true in your series Entangles. How do you achieve this effect? How does it convey your conceptual interests?
JWA: The works from Entangles are each made up of three to four separate layers of mylar. I drew different elements on each layer and stacked them to create the ghost layer effect. I continue to push the effect in my current work by drawing on both sides of the paper and even creating double-sided pieces that become sculptural.
I’m attracted to the ghost image for several reasons. For one thing, people have to look more closely to see the ghost image. It requires a viewer to spend more time with the piece. I want to reward the patient viewer and give people something to seek out in my work. Another reason I like the ghost image is that it seems like a memory or dream and evokes the feeling of nostalgia. This relates to my interest in the passing of time, our perception of it and the desire to hang on to the single, fleeting moment.
OPP: In 2013, Curious Nature was a two-person exhibition featuring your work and the work of Myah Bailey. The hybrid animals in this show are less dream-like and surreal than in earlier work. They are more horrific or uncanny. I'm thinking of Beast and Baby Creature, which make me think of genetic engineering, or Seeing Shell and Octopus Flower, which make me think of fantasy and science fiction worlds. How do you think about the creatures you created?
JWA: I read Geek Love
by Katherine Dunn for the first time about four years ago and was
struck by how the narrator Oly Binewski, a blind, albino, hunchback
dwarf, felt that her “freak-ness” was special. She thought it would be
terrible to be “normal.” One of my favorite quotes of hers is: “I get
glimpses of the horror of normalcy. Each of these innocents on the
street is engulfed by a terror of their own ordinariness. They would do
anything to be unique.”
For this series, I created creatures that are confident their freak-ness. They’re not hiding, but they’re not flaunting themselves either. They’re comfortable in their own skin. I find them quite romantic and charming.
OPP: What's happening in your studio right now?
JWA: I’m showing a new piece titled Juice in the Octopoda Invitational. It's part of an ongoing portrait project I’m working on. The starting point for each drawing is a photo sent to me by another person. Most of the time people send me photos of themselves. But sometimes the photos are of loved ones or they contain two or more people. This challenges me with a starting point that I don’t get to choose. It forces me to construct a composition that uses a portion of the photograph and fits with what I’m trying to communicate through my work. The working title of this in-progress series is All Together Now, and the unifying theme of the series is the complexity of the human condition.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.