"Exhibiting You" - Story

Artist Interview: Anki King

By: Morgan Levey
Other authors: Anki King
Submitted: 04/15/2009

How did you begin making art?

I am originally from a small town in Norway that is surrounded by a forest. I grew up playing in nature. I always loved drawing and, as a kid, I would lie around on the floor drawing for hours and hours. I studied economics, but during my last school year, I was spending more time drawing my fellow students than paying attention in class.

I then signed up for another school year in what was then called the practical arts: sewing, drawing and craft. At the end of that first year we were introduced to oil paints. I was amazed by what oil paints could do and by what I could do with them. I went on to spend three years at an art school in Oslo, where my decision to be an artist was really made. When one of our teachers said, "Only twenty percent of you will go on to really do art," I thought, "I am going to be one of those!"

You have focused primarily on painting throughout your career. Why this medium?

I love working with my hands. On my Web site I have a painting called White and Red, which is a female figure with a red head and red hands. It's one of those works that I couldn't figure out for the longest time. (Often, I need help figuring out my own work, because it comes from those places inside of me that I haven't really explored. The images just appear to me and I need to create them.) Looking at this painting, it eventually hit me that the red areas are my creative areas. That's where the fire is: in my hands and my head.

I'm a really tactile painter. I like to feel the material ,whether it's paint or sculpture. I get excited about art that I can feel in my hands and fingers or even taste.  I'm trying to accomplish this same feeling in my own work by creating texture and layering. I love when the story of the work's creation is visible; you feel the layers and can find hidden things underneath the surface.

This layering also creates dynamism in your work. While your subjects show no movement, your paintings are far from static. What effect do the drips of paint and sketchy lines have on the meaning of your work?

In my newest series of paintings, "Sisters," I created a feelings of tension, expectation and emotion. I think most of my work has some of that. I don't make action paintings; they're always still, standing, in between. There's an expectation of an action, never the actual action. It could be right before or right after the action has taken place, but regardless, I always make these very still, direct images.

Like a snapshot, your work provides only a glimpse into your subjects' worlds. In addition to sparing action, you exclude facial features and background details. What is your motivation for showing the audience only a suggestion and not an actual occurrence?

My figures do have a simplicity to them. I think it is because they're drawn from memory, not a specific happening, or a specific person. I don't use any sort of reference material; I work completely from my head. I think that's partially why the figures are a bit fuzzy.

However, that is all intentional; if everything is described, you only get to see the work once. When things are left more open--not so detailed and not so specific--the work lets viewers experience it in a different way every time they see it. The artwork gets to express more this way. If you're sad one day and you see an artwork, it will reflect your sadness; if you're happy, it might mirror your joy.

It seems like you're giving your viewers a chance to project themselves onto the situation.

That's true. I've received many responses to the "Sisters" paintings, and I believe that people are projecting their relationships onto the images. I believe this is true of most of my art, since I rely so heavily on the human form. I know the figure so well and have been fascinated by it for so long that I feel like I can mold it and really use it for what I need to say. For me, it always comes back to the figure; I very rarely get something in my head that's not tied to the figure.

However, in "Sisters," it's hard to distinguish if what you see are white figures in the black space, or if the figures just stepped out and left the white space behind them. I used these paintings to say goodbye to myself as a little child. I'm not there anymore. I've left that space in a way.

Your "Sisters" series depicts childhood interactions with your sister. Is this series directly inspired by your memories?

I create art out of my life, the things I know and feelings I've experienced, so of course my childhood and my family are always present. In the last two or three years I've particularly focused on memories from childhood. Talking to my family, though, I realize that I remember very little. My sister, who is five years younger, remembers just about everything, so I always have to check with her. "I think this happened," I tell her, and she says, "No, no, no! It happened this way, not that way."

Do your memories normally influence your work?

My early work looks more outward. I used to make pictures or paintings of what I saw around me. But then, six or seven years ago, I turned inward. My paintings since then have been based more on internal images and memories, dreams and thoughts. These paintings are a lot more personal and much more intimate than my outward-focused paintings.

Are all of your figures supposed to be female?

Recently, a class of school kids visited me and asked, "Do you only paint females?" And that was the first time I realized, I do! After they left, I was determined to paint a male figure. I kept trying and trying, until I finally realized I couldn't. I just couldn't be honest about being a man, because I couldn't understand what it felt like to be a man. The result of my attempt is a painting called Strength. I ended up giving up and I painted a female figure over him, except for the arms. She's has these large arms, which are the only part left of my failed man.

Do you make sketches before you create your paintings?

I don't really have set rules. I do sit and doodle in my sketchbook and make these little two-inch mini sketches, which sometimes become paintings or part of a work. Other times, I just get a canvas out, see the image on there and do it. Lately, I've been very inspired by the size of the canvas; it sort of tells me what needs to be on it. For instance, I originally wondered why I was making many of my childhood memory paintings smaller than my normally large-scale works. I then realized that my work is tied to the size that I was when the memory took place. The adult memories tend to be life-size adult figures and the childhood memories, because I was a little girl then, tend to be smaller paintings.

One of your submissions to "Exhibiting You," Vine Woman, is a life-sized, natural sculpture you made in the woods of Virginia, United States. Made in 2006, the work is slowly returning to nature. Why is it important that Vine Woman have a temporary life?

Like many people, once in a while I wish to come to grips with death. I've done paintings and other works to try and get to know death better or find more acceptance of it. A few years back, I made a series of five rather large paintings called "Death and Decomposition," in which I painted my figure as a dead body.

Over the five paintings, my body was decomposing, basically vanishing in the last canvas. Vine Woman is actually physically doing that; she's disintegrating. For me, it's sad that she's fading from existence, because I love the sculpture so much. Yet knowing she is enduring this change helps me accept that I, too, will eventually be gone. This helps me live a fuller and richer life, and also lets me have a lot more fun while I'm here.

What are your future plans?

I've created one sculpture so far based on the "Sisters" series. The work is made out of plaster and it's white. I have this idea of making a huge room of little white girls. I don't know how that's going to happen yet, but we'll see!

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