Interview with pop surreal artist Ann Harper

To discover more about the living life behind the Art Wonderland I started interview series featuring artists all over the world. Today I’d like to introduce you to Ann Harper , a talented pop surrealist.

Tell us a little about you and how did you find the artist inside you. How long have you been doing art?

I have been drawing and painting all of my life.  I remember my father encouraging us in art as little children, including one time giving us playboy magazine pictures to use as models! In college, I took as many art classes as I could but graduated with a Bachelors and then a Masters in Social Work, becoming a family therapist. 

What was / is your major influences? Other artists, books, movies, music or any other media....What inspires you to create your artworks?

I believe my greatest influences come from having worked as a therapist for many years.  My understanding of human strength and survival are revealed in my paintings.  I have worked with many issues including childhood trauma and abuse with my clients.  How children survive traumatic events and how adults can reach back to re-connect with those survival skills has been a focus of my work in therapy.  These same themes underlie my art. 

How does "a normal day of artist" in your life look like?

Prior to creation of a painting there is allot of time planning and sometimes sketching ideas that are going through my mind.  My family often marvel at my ability to concentrate... Once I begin to paint I often lose time and find myself still going late at night. 

What medium do you most often use and why?

I use oil paints and stretched canvas. 

How would you describe your pop surreal style? What themes do you pursue?

My work often comes from what I see and hear as a psychotherapist, still very involved in my practice. Themes generally focus on healing and winning the battles that we all struggle with and are always figurative. Though sometimes dark, the underlying theme often represented in symbols and metaphor is always about light winning out over the darkness. Subjects are often children/adults metaphorically finding their way to the other side. For instance, in the painting “Harvest” I use birds as symbols of what we need to harvest in our lives, freedom, wisdom, joy and love. Plant the symbolic seeds and they will be there for the taking. The painting “Circus Pet” is a bit darker and represents the harnessed soul inside each of us and the need to set ourselves free. We are often in bondage to the idealized self we want to present to the world.

What fascinates you the most about pop surrealism? What "pop surreal art"  means to you as an artist?

I love the freedom to create worlds where I decide the subject and style. 

What do you love most about creating? What does “being creative” mean to you?

Being creative is storytelling.  I believe that the universe is inherently balanced, with equal shares of good and evil, truth and lies, strength and weakness. Since balance holds dominion over all things, survival does not always go to the fittest or to the strongest, as many believe. Often, true victory is bestowed upon those with access to an inner world of magic, where each soul possesses the ability to create a world where evil fails in its quest for victims. In this inner world of childhood magic, evil is given little power to distort or to destroy and we are born knowing how to overcome and defeat the enemy. We all had access to this inner world until most of us closed the door to the magic. There are many souls who have survived unthinkable horrors yet have come to believe that they are weak rather than strong, feel shame rather than pride. Authentic reality must provide an understanding that it is not that which has befallen someone by accident of situation or birth that defines the essence of the soul. Instead, we can be only be victorious, just as we can only be conquered, by the reality that we, ourselves, have created out of shredded memories. If we listen closely enough, the whispers of the past still lead to a door where entrance is granted simply through a belief in the power left behind and a need to live in the magic that was once our birthright. My art expresses our early connection to the magic and wonder of a world that still exists if we choose to change our beliefs and to alter how we think. Deep inside of all of us are memories of how to reach this safe place of power and triumph. We all know how to do it, if we search for the early memories that we were convinced were merely fantasies. We can find our way again, to a world where there are always ways to escape and often a way to win, even when evil stalks those believed to be without power or champions. A world where the weak triumph and evil is defeated over and over again.

Can you describe your typical workflow / artistic process when you’re working on your art?

Ideas come from many places.  Often I will have dreams that assist me in defining a concept.  I know these are many times a reflection of my life as a family therapist, mother, daughter and wife.  I try to get these ideas down on paper until I have the time to paint.  I then look for models to put the ideas together, then begin with an underpainting sketch, using layers to achieve the finished painting. 

What is your personal favorite artwork from your portfolio and why?

My personal favorite is the painting “Queen of the Dolls”. It harkens back to a childhood where we were able to create our own worlds out of what we had to work with. The Doll Queen lives in a world that she controls and where she reigns supreme.

Where do you see yourself in the future? Professionally, what’s your goal?

I would like to paint full time and retire from my therapy practice.

What toughest challenges have you faced as an artist during your art career?

I became ill in the last several years, suffering from undiagnosed diabetes.  My paintings became fewer and fewer as I concentrated on my family therapy practice, unable to put in any time painting.  I started treatment and have begun feeling normal again, and have started painting in the last several months. 

What’s your background? Are you self-taught artist or did you study art?

I took several art classes in college but do not have an art concentration or degree in art.  I have learned by practice and experimentation, as well as the advice of others. 

What issues do you see with today’s art schools? Do you think an art education is important or imperitive for anybody wishing to be an artist?

My fear for people entering art schools is that their freshness and individuality will be drowned out by other people.  I would hope a young artist would learn what they can and not forget their own voice. 

What’s the best and worst advice you ever received in your art career?

Worst:  Quit – you can’t make any money at this.
Best:  Paint from your heart.

What do you dislike about the art world? What is the hardest thing on being an artist? Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?

I do not like the gallery system, many good artists are discouraged from working and we all lose.

Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others? Maybe advice for beginning artists out there?

Paint as often as possible.  Paint what is in your heart, don’t try to paint for others.  Sell your work wherever you can to buy more supplies, and keep painting!

What are you doing when you’re not creating? What (other) hobbies do you have?

I love to read, but I am pretty busy with my therapy practice and art.

Do you have an online portfolio or a blog where we can view your work?

Is there anything else you’d like to say? Is there any project you are working on right now or any ongoing event or exhibition you would like to share with our readers?

I am not sure where to say this so … I feel I must add it in at the end. 

My partner and husband Steve Shanks is also an artist and we are very influential and motivational of each other.  Some people notice the similarities in our work and others focus on the differences of our work. To us, it all makes perfect sense in a world filled with nonsense and chaos. We are a team and a partnership. We play off of each other, help give life to each other’s visions and lift each other’s voices in ways that no one else can. We balance each other. Our lives and our destinies are intricately woven together so it is reasonable to believe our art is as deeply connected. We’re married and the things that drew us together have multiplied over the years and the connectedness sometimes shows up in paintings. We each paint about hope in a world that is often void of hope and where an ugly reality pushes down the hope we all want. To find the hope we must first acknowledge the ugliness where both exists side-by-side. We paint uniquely and independently but we do it with our easels lined up next to each other, five feet apart. We share ideas and we talk about how to express them. We challenge each other and move each other forward. Techniques have been learned and practiced together so styles may sometimes be similar but we each have a voice that we work very hard to protect. We each have things that we want to say and we help each other to say them.

Thank you dear Ann, it was a honor to interview you, I wish you only the best for you and your art and I am already looking forward to see your new works :)