Artist Studio Visits by Chi Essary
August 13, 2018
I wandered mesmerized through what reminded me of other-worldly bacterium or lattice-like smoke puffs, softly twisting into circlets and throwing off mini-me’s. Occasionally, the air gently perturbed the suspended wire sculptures, setting off subtle movements like ethereal dust bunnies. I discovered this zoological garden at Anne Mudge’s exhibition at Quint Gallery. To find out more about the artist who created these delicate concatenations of knots and filaments I found myself driving almost an hour North East of San Diego into the desert. Mudge meets me in the midday heat as I look out over the dry landscape set with greenhouses. Her husband is a nursery man and she’s lived almost 30 years on a nursery, allowing her ample quiet time for her studio work. She points to chewed stubs encircled with a short fence. “See! The chipmunks eat everything! You have to completely encase a plant to protect it.” Shaking her head, she points to a safe, but lonely, tomato plant in a cage and then invites me into her cozy home tastefully decorated with an Asian rug, trunk and mismatched antique chairs painted pale turquoise.
I’m instantly drawn to a shelf of curios under the window. She gives me a tour of all the little treasures: pottery shards, shells, rocks and fossils she finds on her daily walks; the largest one a barrel cactus skeleton. The inside buttons rhythmically radiate out to form the barrel. “It reminds me of your work!” I say after she points out the salient features. She smiles saying, “Nature informs my work.” We start to talk about what inspires her when, after a pause or two she apologizes: “Sorry, I don’t talk so much. I’m alone so much in the studio it gets hard to find words—I’m kinesthetic…my hands are where I do most of my thinking.” I’m touched by her gentle, warm and humble demeanor, feeling suddenly self-conscious that I might have cavalierly burst into her meditative world, as subtle as her evanescent sculptures. But this fear soon melts away. Fifteen-minutes later, she is excitedly explaining how chaos theory plays a part in her work. “What drives my passion is how things are put together. I’m fascinated by structure; how every small entity is part of the complex whole.”
Just then, her fifteen-year-old Australian cattle dog trots in fixing his eyes on her as he pants in the midday heat. “Okay! Okay! But this is the last one!” she says with faux exasperation. “He hates to hear that.” And with a smile that only a beloved pet can put on your face, she pulls a little dog treat from her pocket. He instantly freezes, staring at her finger tips until the treat is delivered and he saunters away happily.
Once I learn she had lived on a nursery for 30 years I ask if that has inspired her work. She agrees the experience of seeing the germination and the seedling curling out of the dirt— the whole metamorphosing growth process— informs her work. She explains her pieces, like the seedling, are made of “very simple acts of repetition— before you know it, you see an architecture of small acts – like the seed growing – a collection of small acts and eventually you have something complete; a sculpture, a tree…” She usually begins with a drawing as the genesis of the idea but adds, “I see where it wants to go instead of imposing an idea on it. They go in directions I had no idea about! You can’t control it. You have an idea but you have to see where it goes.”
She explains the work for The Quint Gallery exhibition was based on the Fibonacci series; a series of numbers where by every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21). “Math is embedded in everything I do.” She says after showing me how the Fibonacci series dictated the length of the next wire in a sculpture.
“Do you like math?” I inquire.
“NO!! I get it. I got through calculus.” She chuckles, “I was the only girl in calculus class and after the first day I went up to the teacher and said I wanted to drop. ‘You can’t?! You’re the only girl. What will they think?’” She shrugs her shoulders smiling wryly, “What could I do…? I aced it but that was the end of math for me.”
As we wander around her studio I admire one of the hanging pieces. Long straight wires terminate in little twisting pieces of white fiberglass and glue. Many stack up at the bottom of the wire cascade forming a half arch of piled up twisty pieces. “I hope this doesn’t sound grotesque but it reminds me of a sheet of fascia in the abdomen that is drawn in Grey’s Anatomy like ruffles; the small intestine connected at the bottom—but I have always thought it was a beautiful drawing!” I add, suddenly realizing I might have said something less than complimentary.
She smiles. “I’m glad to hear that!” and tells me how people shy away from the pieces with the added knotted fiver and glue. The biomorphic hints of ribbed, sinewy layers might be too strong for the faint of heart but they still have substantial grace—playing with balance and tension like her other, more celestial pieces. Later, I sent her a picture of the antique drawing in Grey’s Anatomy of the “gut ruffle” with its arteries. She wrote back, “I had no idea how beautiful that part of the body is. It certainly recapitulates other tributaries seen in Nature. What fun!” Finding loveliness in the simile of tributaries and gut vasculature again reveals her deep appreciation of nature. Through her artistic alchemy she is able to create something riveting from her “small” acts of repetition, augmented by her own unique window into the chaos theory of what holds everything together.
To view more of Anne Mudge’s work visit http://www.annemudge.com/
To learn more about her exhibition at Quint Gallery visit http://quintgallery.com/exhibition/anne-mudge-matterings-february-10-march-24-2018/