Artist Theresa Anderson explains how narrative plays into her drawings

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Theresa Anderson may not be the first artist to incorporate text and art -- Da Vinci's journals testify that written language can contain aesthetic merit. But according to contemporary standards, what Anderson does in many of her drawings -- adding an original narrative element -- defines her as a conceptual artist, or one who puts the idea or concept of a piece before everything else, even materials.

Anderson's work is showing this month at three galleries -- Gildar Gallery, Ice Cube Gallery, and even at Northwest Missouri State University. Despite her busy schedule, she took time to talk to us about what it means to be a conceptual artist, and why writing on her art helps visualize her ideas.

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

I am a very conceptual artist. I am a painter and I do a lot of drawing, but for me the idea is just as important as the end result. I do want the end result to seduce the viewer into spending more time with the work. For me there is a lot of questioning about what is current and what is valid. I'm a full-time studio artist, and my studio is my garage. I also have artwork all over my house, and kind of vignettes. And that's sort of how it works.

I noticed a lot of your drawings are called "Gate Keepers." What inspired that concept?

Well I was thinking about creating these kinds of barriers to protect, as in protective devices. My work, in essence, is very biographical. I am exploring the ramifications and what it means to put a lot of information about yourself out there. Just turn on the TV and there are people talking about themselves and trying to get help. I have always wondered what, for people who do that, they get out of it. The "Gate Keepers" were my response to "Private Listening Devices," another conceptual installation I did.

I was thinking about disrupting the private listening device by creating noise. I thought, "I can create a gate keeper to protect me or other people from other things coming in. My work is this long process. I have been doing the same process for a while and each time I start a new body of work I take a strand from my last body of work and go along this path, but I'm not sure where I will end up. What you see in those drawing is me explaining a little idea with a lot of other ideas. I read a lot, and all the things that seem important to me on a daily basis end up in those drawings. My process is to create daily works of art.

One of your drawings, "Gate Keepers With Complete Environment Masking System," includes narrative text, as well. Do you think adding text adds meaning to your piece?

I think so, yes. The drawing references putting too much out there and how people talk to me. The text says, "I didn't have six line up thirty dirty horses on your red hill. Now they tramp and champ, never do they stay still." That references President Clinton saying, "I did not have sex with that woman," and the play on the word. Then your dirty secrets being exposed and the "dirty horses" are my play on a Mother Goose nursery rhyme about gossip. So the red hills are your gums and the white horses are your teeth. The ambiguity represents what I was thinking of, so I'm referencing a little bit of rebellion and maybe what it means to be a woman.

Why did you start adding original text and narratives to your pieces?

Well, I write a lot. I have ten journals that are just for myself. And in those journals, there are a lot of visuals and text. I would say that it's very intuitive and spontaneous, and when it happens, it just feels like it's right.

It's a daily process, and I am not always sure what happening. Typically, I know what it is that I am researching and exploring, but I'm not really sure as I am working, since I am such a gestural artist. I'm interested in the aesthetic of the drawing, but putting the two together allows me to at once pull together these little strands of narrative that I think are important. There's a lot of ambiguity because there's a lot of information in each body, and the viewer can respond to the work.

Do you think the text and the images relate well to each other?

I do. I think that there's a bond, and it relates to how I'm putting the text on the image, in that the text is not clean. Quite often when I put text on, I might make it so that it's hard to read, so in that regard, I do think it does, because I could choose to do an illustrative method of text that's very graphic-design-oriented and I have chosen not to.

Would you say your images are "not clean," as well?

Yeah, absolutely. I tend toward very expressive drawing. These are drawings that I may be working on three at one time, but they are very spontaneous. If I don't like it I just rip it up. When I first started doing these, I didn't think of them as finished products. But there's a response that I have, and I think the viewer has, because they are so free and open, and that's a different type of response to them than a painting or drawing, where I have painstakingly and realistically rendered an image. The equivalent in conversation would be spontaneous outburst versus a prepared speech. I often think a painting is much more like a prepared speech.

For more information, or to contact Anderson, visit her website. Her work shows at Gildar Gallery (formally Illiterate Gallery) through February 24, and Ice Cube Gallery through February 17.

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