Behind the seen
“I don’t make any plans,” says Danae Anderson, from her studio in Truckee. Any artist with gallery representation in San Francisco and an upcoming exhibit in Sweden has to make a lot of them, but Anderson’s not talking about the business side of art. She’s talking about her process of getting ideas onto paper.
“I just get in [the studio] and get in a meditative mode and allow it to take me where it will,” she explains. “My works are narratives. They’re visual narratives, rather than verbal.”
She might start with a few pencil marks that refer to her children, her family, or some detail from everyday life. She might add a rust-colored outline of a foot, a few graphite-colored dots that connect into amorphous shapes and comfortably imprecise sketches of something that looks like a physics experiment. They’re almost like the kind of doodles you’d draw while waiting on hold or ignoring your professor, but Anderson ushers them through a long, thoughtful process of becoming a finished, balanced artwork.
She builds layers on top of layers of acrylics, incising marks into the wet paint.
“I’m not actually seeing what I’m doing at that point,” she says.
At the end, she rubs off some of the paint to expose what she’s made.
She ends up with larger-than-life paintings made of marks so free they’re almost childlike, arranged in blank outer space with cartographic precision. Wavering shapes and lines float in darkness, where there’s just enough spatial perspective to keep from feeling lost. They read like maps of someone’s life or constellations of a moment. Anderson says she likes to honor the interconnectedness of things.
She often refers to other mediums when talking about her work. She comes at the creative process from a lot of different perspectives. She’s studied sculpture, been a dancer, worked on stage sets and owned a textile-printing business. When she’s painting, these past experiences all come into play.
“When I begin a series of paintings, I work on a responsive level to my own conscious and subconscious. The marks are a residue of my action,” Anderson says. “It’s a way for me to just sort of loosen up, like a singer would warm up her voice.”
“I think I got to this point, to this process from being a dancer,” she adds, referring to the Merce Cunningham technique she used to study. “He was working with random association. His choreography is completely connected to how I’m working now.”
It’s not unusual for an artist to follow a complex process of getting from idea to finished work, but most of the time, viewers only have access to the end product. Anderson’s exhibit at the Oats Park Art Center, Girl Looking / Not Looking, is something of a tour through her painting process. The show includes a selection of barely-started sketches, from square-foot-sized pieces laid out like a mosaic, to larger-than-life canvasses marked with just the beginnings of a piece of art.
The arrangement is partially inspired by Oats Park’s “reveal-the-man-behind-the-curtain” curatorial approach and partially by Anderson’s reflections on how art, in many traditional cultures, is less separated from everyday life than it would be in a commercial gallery, where convention dictates that artists don’t show their tracks.
Here, Anderson gets to present the visual equivalent of an expertly researched field guide to her own artwork.